The organization's progress in the last two years has been much more than it managed for remote work adoption in the previous two decades. The COVID-19 pandemic drove organizations towards a remote work model, beginning with fully remote and gradually evolving to hybrid work. The hybrid work model embraces the best of both onsite office work and remote work from home.
The hybrid work model found favor with both organizations, specifically employees, considering the high level of adoption across industries. Though the transition to the remote work model seems easy, it requires a great deal of realignment on the organization's part, especially in organizational culture. The corporate culture is important, considering companies with strong organizational cultures achieve 300% higher returns to shareholders than others with weak cultures.
Corporate leaders are concerned with creating an organizational culture in remote work environments. The critical challenge is how to reorient their organization's cultural practices designed for in-person office environments with employees having little or no face-to-face interactions with their team and the leader in the current remote work model.
The critical question is building employee bonds to create a strong and lasting organizational culture. The practice must factor in the new workplace realities where employees are present in the office on different days while others work from home. Even as the organization has begun to realign its existing processes and create new routines that were non-existent earlier, these are early days. The remote work culture initiatives will evolve with time as the new normal stabilizes.
Organizations' most prominent risk is the potential for employees to have different interpretations and understanding of the culture, which may impact performance. There can not be fixed remote work culture practices that can be applied universally across all companies. Each company needs to develop processes and systems through experimentation that works best for their organization.
How are work culture and remote work culture related and yet distinct?
In any industry, what companies do may not differ significantly, but how they do it can help them to distinguish themselves as high-performing organizations. The cumulative effect of what a company does and how it does it shapes its work culture. Culture includes the observable behavior and the underlying values and belief system governing how people behave individually and collectively as a team to reflect the ethos of the truly represented organizations. It encompasses the purpose of an organization and how it binds the people who form part of it.
The work culture is a standard set of behaviors and values that govern how people behave, work and interact with each other and the stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and others in the ecosystem.
Remote Work Culture
Remote work culture can be defined as an extension of a company's work culture that enables employees to stay connected through digital shared experiences and build strong bonds with the organization through digital channels and in-person activities. A strong remote work culture that transcends physical boundaries is essential to create a sense of belongingness among employees and bind them together in a common organizational culture.
Companies adopting hybrid work models will work at cross-purposes if people in different business units follow their direction. The company needs to adopt a common cultural aspiration that will enable people to align to common goals and direct their efforts to create value for the whole organization rather than limit themselves to their team and business units.
Why does culture at the workplace matter?
The superior product and services help organizations gain a competitive advantage, but the long-term sustainability of the benefit depends on something more fundamental. The work culture is essential to the organization's longevity and growth. The reasons why culture matters are
Innovative companies such as Adobe in Information Technology or Stryker in health care have demonstrated abilities to reinvent themselves with time. Innovation is about the futuristic mindset that is open to new ideas and willing to drive change.
A positive work culture promotes diversity and inclusion, enhancing creativity and creating greater innovation potential. A business with a diverse employee base and run by culturally and ethnically diverse leadership teams have a better ability to detect new market trends and develop new products leading to better innovation capability than a homogenous leadership team.
A work culture built on a high level of trust encourages employee behavior that supports innovation. It requires an emotional connection of employees with the organization to enable them to contribute new ideas to support innovation efforts.
Attract and retain top talent
The employer brand has great value for attracting and retaining talent, with 82% of candidates considering an employer's reputation before applying for a job. Human Resources (HR) leaders and the talent acquisition team are aware of this and take the initiative to highlight and showcase positive company culture to the world to create aspirational value among prospective employees. The candidate researches company culture through websites, media articles, and online employer review sites and inquiries during the interview.
Even though there is agreement among professionals and employers about the importance of organizational culture, they differ about the relative importance and relevance of different cultural elements. While 80% of employers think that performance assessment methodology and rewards are essential to candidates, only 60% of candidates agree.
An employer must focus on the aspects of the company culture that are most important to their employees and devote their efforts to developing them. It will enable them to attract and retain culturally fit professionals who deliver results. Employers must broadly consider different elements that comprise their company culture and prioritize those that matter to employees. A good cultural fit ensures higher employee engagement and better performance on the job, and employees are less likely to leave the organization.
Improves employee engagement
The work culture that supports employees at different stages of their life cycle within the organization enhances employee engagement. When employees feel supported and encouraged from the beginning, they form a strong emotional connection and bond with the organization. An organizational culture that includes empathy as one of the core elements creates an environment where employees want to come to work, leading to higher employee engagement which translates to higher profitability.
Improved business performance
A positive work culture leads to better business performance and financial returns. According to a study, organizations with top quartile cultures posted a shareholder return 60% higher than the median companies and even higher than those in the bottom quartile of the organization health index.
The products and business models are always under the constant threat of disruption with the fast pace of digital technologies evolution and innovation. A healthy organizational culture can be the ultimate differentiator in a fast-evolving business environment where competitors can easily replicate products and services. A positive culture enables companies to respond efficiently and effectively to the changing external environments to find new ways to succeed.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of organizational adaptability and amplifying culture. Organizations with high-performing cultures thrive on changes which is the only constant. An unhealthy culture doesn't respond well to change and gets weighed down due to a lack of trust and collaboration among its employees.
Who is responsible for building workplace culture?
Both the employees and professionals agree that companies need to invest in building their workplace culture by clearly defining a set of values and practices for the employees individually and together as an organization. However, the employer faces challenges in identifying the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders for creating workplace culture.
Based on the employer's and professionals' view, senior management in a company has the greatest responsibility in building company culture. Both professionals and employers have similar views on the responsibility of mid-level managers in reinforcing the company's culture among their team members and while recruiting new employees. Human Resource (HR) personnel are expected to ensure that corporate culture is followed across the organization.
What are the core elements of company culture?
A vision or mission statement describes the company's purpose and is the foundation of a great work culture. It guides a company's values and helps it to align employees towards a common goal. When vision or mission statements are authentic and prominently displayed, they can even orient the external stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, and others in the ecosystem.
Nonprofit organizations often excel in crafting simple, compelling vision statements. Oxfam is a confederation of independent charitable organizations focused on alleviating poverty. Its vision is a simple statement "a just world without poverty." Some of the most successful corporates have simple vision statements that have guided the organization's behavior and mindset needed to achieve that vision. For example, IKEA's vision is to create a better everyday life for many people. The vision has enabled the company to align employees with a common purpose of creating simple and affordable products that customers can use in their daily lives to make them better.
A company value system defines the acceptable practices governing the delivery of products and services. A vision articulates a company's purpose or the reason for its existence in this world, while values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision. Google's original value statement, "don't be evil," has been replaced with a positive "do the right thing". Besides the value statement, Google has listed ten things we know to be true that guide its value system.
Trust is the core of all relationships, including employer-employee. When an organization considers employees trustworthy, they'll generally prove them right Employees feel a greater sense of ownership and responsibility when trusted and will go the extra mile to meet business goals and uphold the organization's reputation. The trusted employer-employee relationship enables employees to create a similar trustworthy relationship with customers, vendors, and others. Netflix's unlimited vacation policy exemplifies employer trust in their employees.
Management honesty and reliability
Management actions must match its words and should set examples of honesty and reliability for employees to emulate. It s an essential aspect of culture that determines the organization's preferred workplace status. According to research, 83% of employees at the 100 Best Companies believe their management actions match their words, against 42% of employees at companies considered an average workplace. Trustworthy, credible, and reliable management significantly impacts talent acquisition and retention, workplace satisfaction, and employees' commitment to excel in their job.
Open architecture is more conducive to human behavior, such as collaboration which is essential for creativity and innovation. Many companies, specifically in technology and the creative industry, have put great efforts into creating an open work environment that promotes impromptu interaction and communication.
Pixar headquarters has an open atrium where employees run into each other, prompting informal communication and interactions. The media company Bloomberg created a "bullpen" environment for employee discussion instead of soundproof conference rooms.
How different is remote work culture?
Traditionally in-person communication and interactions in office settings have been the basics of organizational culture, often reflected in how employees behave and collaborate. The physical setting in the workplace, from open office spaces to desks, chairs, and recreation facilities, are all key aspects of exceptional employee experience, an integral part of the corporate culture.
In a remote work environment, some key elements that contribute to organizational culture are missing, making building culture difficult for corporate leaders and human resources (HR). The first step is acknowledging and accepting that the company can no longer build a culture in the old-fashioned way of the pre-Covid era. The remote culture for the post-Covid era requires a new way of thinking to develop organizational culture that is strong enough to rally employees towards common goals yet flexible enough to be modified to align with the evolving external environment.
What is the need for remote work culture?
The pandemic has transformed the workplace, and the future of work is primarily hybrid and, to a lesser extent, fully remote. In a hybrid work model, employees work from the office and home on specific days as determined by the nature of work and organization policies. According to a future workforce report in 2021, 67% of businesses have adapted to new workplace realities by changing their long-term management practices. Some companies such as Atlassian, Dropbox, and others have allowed their employees to work remotely permanently.
As the world transitioned to remote work overnight, the long-term changes required are more nuanced, specifically in the context of work culture. The organizational culture based on in-person interactions and communications needs to evolve to ensure no dilution to any aspects of the culture. Companies must modify their work culture to adapt to a hybrid work environment. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for companies to reshape their organization and build competitive differentiators that are difficult to copy.
How is remote work evolving across the globe?
Even though hybrid work has become the preferred work model indicates that it is working. Some of the latest remote work trends are
40% of full-time employees are remote workers
Almost 60% of employees are full-time onsite while 40% of employees are either fully remote or in a hybrid work arrangement.
Average days per week working from home
Employees want more fully remote and less in-person work than employers are offering which is an average of 2.3 days per week.
The technology industry has the highest levels of Work-from-home
The information-intensive industry verticals such as technology, finance, and other professional services have the highest concentration of WFH from employees.
Popular WFH days combination
The biggest challenge for the companies and employees is the choice of days in the office and whether employees would like to flip that around each week for professional and personal reasons. As per the most recent data, Thursday/Friday and Monday/Friday are the most popular two WFH days-a-week combinations. The onsite office work will keep evolving with time and will settle down into team by team.
Top 11 elements of remote work culture
Help employees find purpose at work
The pandemic has caused employees to reflect on their purpose in life, resulting in the Great resignation wave, which was different from the earlier waves as employees were not leaving for monetary reasons or better opportunities. They want their job to bring a sense of purpose to their life to make them more meaningful. The organization needs to help employees find purpose at work because employees who live their purpose at work are healthier and likely to stay longer. When the employee's purpose is aligned with the organization, it leads to stronger employee engagement and loyalty.
Build effective information-sharing practices
In the post-pandemic remote work environment, communication and connectivity have increased within the team, but inter-team communication and collaboration have decreased. The regular office hours allowed employees to collaborate outside the team and across functions. The inter-team linkages and cooperation are essential for innovation and driving future agendas.
A healthy organizational culture emphasizes the free flow of information - knowledge sharing, team and individual performance, role clarity, and evaluation.
Clarity on performance expectations
As employees work remotely, there is an anxiety about being away from the scene of action, i.e. office or performance not getting noticed. It is essential to clarify to employees about Key Performance Indicators(KPIs) individually and as a team how they will be tracked and measured. Sharing a career roadmap and skill development plan will help clarify employees' future in the organization. It will help to lessen anxiety and motivate employees, especially in a remote environment.
Asynchronous learning facility for employees
Asynchronous learning is autonomous learning that enables learners to access learning content online at their convenience without any constraint of location and time. Asynchronous learning does not require an active facilitator or instructor. The learning tools used in asynchronous learning are videos, online discussion forums, and social learning tools.
Asynchronous learning will help employees update their skills and knowledge based on their career roadmap and future growth prospects. It allows employees to schedule their skill development based on their professional and personal commitments.
Effective communication practices
Communication is critical to productivity, but it doesn't mean that employees have to be always on. According to a Microsoft study, the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time, and the number of weekly meetings increased by 153%.
The company must develop best communication practices to help employees become effective communicators and have productive online meetings and interactions. Besides optimizing online meetings, the managers and leaders should have regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports and all-hands meetings online and offline at least once a month. It will help align individual and team goals with the organization. In addition to formal communication, the team should engage in some social communication.
Communication with individuals on a personal level will help to strengthen professional relationships and bonding. The weekly team meetings can begin by asking members to tell one thing that is top of their mind in their personal life and one that is in their business life.
Office as the new offsite
More than a third of hybrid employees are unclear about the purpose of going to the office.
Hybrid work requires the organization to reimagine the role of the office and why employees should come together in person. The office should be leveraged as a new off-site, where the team gets together to collaborate and plan for the future. The in-office interactions should be well thought out and planned minute-by-minute to ensure the day is utilized productively and make employees realize it is worth commuting to the office. The employees need to be incentivized to come to the office for a specific purpose and drive to achieve a particular outcome.
Incorporate team-building activities at a greater frequency
The organization should incorporate team-building activities periodically during team meetings. The in-office team meetings should include team-building activities to build trust and collaborative team spirit. In addition, the team can leverage remote employee engagement activities to break the monotony of online interactive sessions and build camaraderie among members.
Facilitate informal communication
Remote work has limited the informal communication among the employees that used to take place within open spaces within a traditional office environment. The organization can leverage technology solutions such as a virtual water cooler to facilitate informal communication across teams and mitigate digital exhaustion as employees have a reason to take breaks between tasks.
Set norms to prevent workplace ostracism
The organization needs to set norms so that employees who are not in the office feel included and there is no overt or covert workplace ostracism. The norms can be simple measures, such as ensuring every employee in a conference call are on their screens. Suppose employees operating from the office collectively join the call through a common screen from the conference room. Employees working remotely may feel guilty about not being in the office. The group messaging channel of the team should be promptly updated to reflect conversations in the office.
53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work than before the pandemic. Employee well-being should be an important element of remote work culture. Additionally, the organization must emphasize creating moments that matter across the complete lifecycle. Onboarding new employees and adjusting them to the culture is particularly important in a remote work environment.
Leadership capabilities development
The remote workplace models, including hybrid work, puts new demands on leaders to create, build and sustain the organization's culture. The leaders require new skills to reorient their team to adjust to new work paradigms. Besides communication and listening skills, leaders must have more soft skills, such as empathy, to be effective. They need to recognize and celebrate the success of each team member and be accessible to them. The organization needs to develop a capabilities development program for leaders to build skills and knowledge for building and sustaining remote work culture.
The top 5 companies with the best workplace culture
According to FlexJobs' Rachel Pelta, when employees understand company culture, they believe they are part of a team and are motivated to do their best which helps the company grow and succeed. Comparably, a platform that provides compensation data for private and public companies releases annually a list of companies with the best company culture. Comparably uses its proprietary methodology that leverages the employee rating on the platform to create the list. Technology companies have topped the best company culture list for 2022, with Microsoft ranked number one. Here are the top five companies and the factors that enable them to get the top rankings.
Employees believe the company leadership led by Satya Nadella is inspiring. The employees feel reassurance in a company with strong values that have kept it steady in turbulent times. They believe the company has a good vision and strategy, providing equal opportunities to people from diverse backgrounds and enhancing creativity and innovation, translating into higher growth. The company is emphasizing gender diversity, with women forming 29% of its employee base. Additionally, it is the first major US employer to announce that it will include pay ranges in all US job postings, heralding a new era of transparency and pay parity.
- International Business Machines (IBM)
IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. is credited with creating a progressive corporate culture well ahead of its time. The century-old values-based management philosophy rooted in respect for the individual as one of the key drivers of success continues to date as a part of their modern-day company culture.
IBM employees feel challenged at work, and the company provides meaningful opportunities for career development. Employee empowerment is a defining aspect of their work culture.
Google's founding mission was to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Since then, the company has broadened its mission and goals to include social impact through its products and services. According to the Comparably survey, more than three-fourths of the employees surveyed are driven by Google's goals, bringing inherent motivation to their work. Employee satisfaction is high with company perks and benefits, compensation, open communication and work-life balance.
Hubspot has been open about its company culture and has proudly shared the key tenets of its culture with the world. The company work culture is encoded as HEART, meaning Humble, Empathetic, Adaptable, Remarkable, and Transparent.
The core company philosophy refers to its employees as growth-minded people whose values include using good judgment and solving for the customer's success and happiness. The company prioritizes results while leaving work hours to employees and the team. The employees have flexibility and autonomy, making them effective even in a remote work environment
Elsevier is a dutch academic publishing company specializing in scientific, technical, and medical content publication. The company has defined its goal as creating possibilities for an inclusive, sustainable, and healthy world. The goal drives the company's employees and the team with a shared purpose and growth objectives. The company believes its business thrives when employee thrives and makes great efforts to ensure employee
Another company that has not found its name in the list but has redefined the company culture is Netflix.
The company has eschewed gyms and free lunches for its employees and instead focussed on empowering them to become ambitious professionals. The company has prioritized people over the process with policies such as unlimited vacation or no vacation policy. It puts employees in charge of deciding when to work and when to take a break. The employee doesn't need express approval beforehand. Even as the company offers freedom to employees, they are also expected to take ownership and deliver high performance. Employees should be curious and find the problems to solve without being explicitly told to do so. Netflix's work culture aligns with today's information age when what matters is what you achieve, not how many hours you clock.
How to implement work culture in remote work?
Human resources can focus on the following elements to build a high-performing remote work culture.
Communicate the vision, mission, and the value system
It is pertinent to share the company vision, mission, and value system to create a high-performing remote culture. When employees understand the company's vision and mission, they can align their life purpose with the organization, improving engagement.
Human Resources should ensure that the organization's vision and mission are communicated clearly and concisely.
Effective and efficient communication
Communication is critical in the remote workplace, and HR needs to ensure effective communication tools and practices are implemented at all levels within the organization.
In the remote work model, the opportunities for informal communication has got limited as employees are no longer gathering in common areas of the office. HR should facilitate informal communication through virtual water cooler solutions or other innovative technology solutions. Additionally, HR should encourage social communications within the teams to ensure higher bonding and engagement.
Learning and development opportunities
An essential aspect of building trust and engagement in a remote team is helping employees learn and grow. HR needs to implement formal processes that facilitate learning through knowledge sharing among employees.
Besides, HR needs to plan career roadmaps for employees and identify new skills required to advance in their careers. HR should also implement asynchronous learning to enable employees to learn at their own pace to build capabilities for career advancement.
Remote employee engagement
Keeping remote employees engaged is an effective way to create a positive work culture. HR should encourage teams to incorporate team-building activities and games into regular calls. HR can host online happy hours at the end of a workweek to enable employees across the organization to unwind and form bonds with employees from other teams and departments.
Performance expectations clarity
In a remote work model, employees are always anxious if they will be evaluated fairly and equally. HR should provide clear information on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including evaluation methodology and frequency. HR should encourage team leaders to conduct periodic one-to-one feedback sessions with their team members to keep them informed about their performance and guide them to grow.
Virtual employee recognition and rewards
In the remote work model, there is a greater need for appreciation and recognition, considering the lack of employee visibility. Besides the formal R&R (rewards and recognition) programs, HR should encourage mid-level managers to periodically recognize their team members with certificates and gift vouchers.
Besides the measures mentioned above, each organization needs to utilize methods relevant to its company context.
Remote work has become a reality even as the model keeps evolving to meet employees' demands and enable companies to achieve their goals. Although some companies have allowed their employees to work remotely 100%, hybrid work is the preferred remote workplace model.
The new workplace model, hybrid or 100% remote, requires companies to reimagine their organizational culture. The workplace culture built for the physical office environment needs to be redesigned to suit the requirements of the new workplace models and employee expectations.
Even though the core elements that comprise the work culture don't change much, these need to be tweaked to make them relevant for the remote workplace. The remote work culture relies heavily on technology solutions; however, human aspects require more careful consideration.