A YEAR and a half into the pandemic and in shifting operations online, we have seen what we would call emerging virtual cultures in organizations. With all the several workshops, trainings and other online activities we have conducted, there appears to be a main identifier or marker in initially understanding the company's virtual culture.

The identifier being referred to is: turning the video on (or off in many cases).

Much can be said when a participant's video is turned on or off. In our experience in conducting online engagements, two scenarios more or less are present whenever an organization-wide session is taking place: first, a clear support from the executive stakeholder with virtual rules to be complied to and followed by the participants (with HR policing and ensuring employees adapt) and second, a loose, anything-goes, internet-bandwidth-is-slow type of set up where participants mostly have their videos turned off. Of course, the first scenario describes a strong positive virtual culture espoused by the organization and fully felt by the employees while the second one shows the weak negative culture, which still has a lot of areas to improve on.

Those who have a strong positive virtual culture tend to also be transformative in the way they conduct business. Usually, organizations belonging to this category have their videos turned on even without being prodded to. It's instant for them. On the other hand, those who still choose to suffer from low internet bandwidth require more interventions - repeated activities, yet another update after another update, and so on and so forth.

While pre-pandemic times showed the importance of involvement of executives in business decisions, we are also seeing more involvement from the same stakeholders when it comes to delivery and execution. A keynote message from the chief executive officer (CEO) may not necessarily be enough - but in order to maintain engagement and attention it is important to mount a virtual, CEO-keynote "production number" to produce the same impact if it was done face to face.

There are many downsides in conducting business online, and of course, nothing compares to doing all of these in person but we have to adapt to the current situation and transform in order to survive and still thrive. Some of these disadvantages include having the ability to multitask, which lessens the attention span in the ongoing activity. Also, participants may not feel the need to dress the part and take webinars with their bed hair and what not, making the environment for learning not exactly conducive as planned.

Culturally, Filipinos are used to having a higher authority to tell them what to do in order to comply. In this case, it is imperative for leaders, such as CEOs and CHROs, to mandate employees on expected virtual behavior when getting online. These leaders will have to lead by example so employees can also do the same and foster - albeit virtually - an environment conducive to collaboration, learning and development, among others. In fact, leaders have to learn how to be tech savvy these days. We have enjoyed getting in a zoom call with an 85-year-old board director whose aptitude for technology is unparalleled.

Some of the things that are worthwhile to consider when conducting business online include:

1. Turning the video on. This cannot be emphasized any further because this is the closest we can get to having a "face-to-face" meeting. It is also good to use a proper virtual background to ensure that no other unnecessary background items can be seen. In fact, not using virtual backgrounds could prove to be distracting.

2. Dressing the part. When the video is turned on, it follows that the participant should also be professional and prepare himself or herself prior to the meeting. No to bed hair for virtual meetings please (you never know when you'll be called for a comment or two and be asked to show yourself!).

3. Turning on your audio only when you need to speak. The embarrassing stories of what can be heard when the participant is unknowingly not on mute are painful to hear.

4. Choosing laptop over mobile. This is very true, especially when it comes to trainings and other L&D activities. While using the mobile device is also convenient, the experience is diminished when you use your smartphone as it only has one screen and the constant changing of windows and apps just lessen the optimal learning experience. Rather, it is best practice to use your desktop and have another screen (for the group chat room or breakout room, for example) available and then have your mobile ready for other gamified activities.

5. Investing in the right tools and equipment. Some companies have revamped their employee benefits to cover for the WFH arrangement, and employees can take advantage of this. Invest in the right tools such as another screen, speakers (there are studies out there that talk about occupational hazards in using headphones for a prolonged period of time), microphone and even internet bandwidth. Take advantage of online shopping platforms doing monthly discounted sales when you decide to purchase some of these.

Organizations need to think about creating and maintaining a strong virtual culture in the workplace that would sustain its business at this time.

Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, sustainability education and financial literacy. The author may be reached at [email protected]