How remote work affects company culture

As the number of remote workers increases, some companies will inevitably feel the impact within their cultures. Organizations need to ensure they manage remote work in the right way to have a positive impact on their culture.

Company culture relates to the shared values, goals, beliefs, and ways of behaving that characterize an organization. It is important because it helps to shape the way that employees behave, how they interact with each other, and how they approach their work. It can influence employee attitudes and motivation, and this can have a significant impact on how satisfied employees are with their jobs and ultimately how productive they are. And remote work can engender a different dynamic.

Positive or toxic company culture?

A positive company culture will lead to better employee morale and engagement, helping retain talent. Teamwork and collaboration are likely to be strong, which can lead to greater innovation. And as people want to work in a positive environment, a good company culture is also likely to attract the best employees

Remember when Google introduced bean bags and ping pong tables into the office? They made their working environment fun as well as offering other perks like free food, an on-site gym, and medical benefits. Suddenly everyone wanted to work for Google. It should be no surprise to learn that they still get three million applications a year, with only 0.2% of people applying actually getting a job. No wonder they are pretty good at what they do!

A toxic company culture, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. Companies with poor employee cultures often have hostile work environments. They tend to have low morale, leading to high employee turnover. Employees often lack motivation and are less productive than they could be. No one wins.

Offering employees the option to work remotely

Remote work, when employees carry out their job in a location away from their employer’s premises, whether all or part of the time (hybrid work), has become a much greater part of working culture since the pandemic. Many employees now expect it to be automatically offered by companies. 

The Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2022 (US) report found that ‘if the ability to work from home was taken away, two-thirds (66%) of workers would immediately start looking for a job that offered flexibility, and 39% would simply quit’.

Having employees that are working remotely, either entirely or on a hybrid basis, will alter company culture. It can have either a negative or positive effect, depending on how it is handled and how employees work and socialize together

The conditions we were living and working in during the pandemic returned to a more ‘normal’ basis with vaccinations and the end of lockdown protocols. However, we were left with many people still willing and able to work remotely. And many companies had seen cost benefits and increased productivity from having part or all of their workforce based remotely.

Remote and hybrid work after the pandemic

Some organizations embraced remote work and changed very little about the way people were working when the lockdowns ended. They allowed their employees to continue to work remotely if they wished. Others felt teamwork suffered and that they needed their employees back in the office. These organizations are insisting on a 100% return to work policy. This has not been universally popular.

Physical interactions and in-person meetings were often a large part of company culture, so many organizations are concerned that their values and ethos will be diluted with more workers based remotely. They worry that teamwork will suffer, and productivity will become lower. 

With remote work being such an important part of a good employee experience, it makes sense for employers to offer it. So, how does remote work impact company culture, and how can employers ensure that it is positive?

Why was organizational culture so dependent on in-person interactions?

The way that people communicate and behave in face-to-face interactions can have a significant impact on how they work together. With in-person interactions you can get non-verbal cues from another person’s behaviour. 

For example, body language and facial expressions may be easier to read when you are with someone in a meeting than speaking to them on a phone or video call. These cues can help to build trust and a sense of belonging amongst employees. However, negative interactions can also be amplified in person and can lead to toxic working cultures.

The importance of getting to know your co-workers

If you are going into an office, you might chat with people that are in the same workspace as you but that you might never have any reason to interact with on a professional level. 

For example, you might speak to people from other departments in the lunch queue, or in the lift. You might be invited to a social event or even just go for a quick coffee with someone you often see around the office, but do not actually work with. 

You might spend time socially with others in your teams as well as the time that you spend together in meetings. All these additional social interactions can help to build stronger relationships and foster a sense of community within an organization.

Teams working together could become more tightly bonded if they were spending long hours on the same project. Team rituals become established and are an important part of the bonding experience. Things like weekly team lunches or drinks after work, daily catchups, or other activities that can be regularly shared as a team can help foster teamwork. That is why some companies are afraid that their company culture will suffer if they permit remote work.

Keeping up with work and colleagues

When everyone worked in the office, if you had some time off you could easily feel like you had missed out on important information and events while you were not there. You could feel excluded from the ‘gang’, and might feel you needed to catch up just to be on the same page as everyone else again. 

Unless you were physically in the same office workspace and meetings you might be missing out on important work-related knowledge that could negatively impact your performance. In this system, without everyone in the office at the same time, productivity and teamwork could suffer.

How does remote work change social interaction?

During the pandemic remote work could be extremely challenging. We were dealing with a pandemic that threatened our lives and ways of life. We were unable to interact with others outside our immediate household on a personal level. 

People were often working in extremely difficult circumstances. Many had to share the kitchen table with other working family members – and possibly teach school-age children at the same time – or had hardware and software that was not fit for purpose. They were often isolated and lonely and had been given no chance to adapt to working from home. For many of us, the conditions were not ideal.

The impact of remote work on teamwork and collaboration

Social interaction was almost entirely carried out online during the pandemic. Not only did we have virtual meetings and workshops, we also had virtual parties and quiz nights. Employees joined companies or teams without ever having met their colleagues in person. They had to adapt to a new company, new ways of working, and new people, all at the same time. 

The usual ‘bonding’ and team events did not happen, or if they did, they were limited and virtual. Teamwork suffered. Research published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology on 61,000 Microsoft employees at the beginning of the pandemic found that ‘firmwide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts of the organization’.

Despite this, and as time passed, many found that working remotely improved their mental health and wellbeing. The time, cost, and stress of commuting was alleviated for many. People gained autonomy and were able to use their time more productively. They also gained new skills working remotely

As the pandemic eased, we had better adapted to remote work. With countries opening up again, children going back to school, and people able to work in more conducive environments, we found that remote work could be a valuable asset.

The impact of remote work on organizational culture

Without the bonding opportunities that meeting in-person offered, many organizations were afraid that the strength of their working culture was at risk. After all, if much of a company’s culture is down to a group sense of shared beliefs, behaviours, and goals and you are not together in person, this culture could be diluted.

However, if employees wish to work remotely but are unable to, it is highly likely that company culture will suffer also. Team members that are forced to come into the office when they want to be working from home are unlikely to be great team players. 

If they are frustrated that they have spent hours travelling and a lot of money to attend a meeting that could have been more effectively held online, for example, they are less likely to have a positive mindset and to want to interact and contribute. This also has an impact on company culture.

How can employers address the aspects of remote work that can threaten company culture?

Remote and hybrid work, if managed badly, can lead to people and departments acting in siloes, a sense of isolation and lack of belonging, and employees who are not invested in the outcome of the business. Remote and hybrid work do not have to negatively impact company culture, but that culture might express itself differently.

Giving employees the right tools for teamwork

There are some things that can be replicated in remote work, and some things that can be replaced. For example, having the right technology available to make teamwork and collaboration as effective and efficient virtually as it is in person is key. 

In fact, good technology can even allow for better collaboration and teamwork. New team rituals can be established virtually, or old ones continued on a slightly different basis. For example, you could ensure that team members who all work on a hybrid basis meet up in person regularly.

You can also empower your teams with tools that aid collaboration and better teamwork. Online whiteboards can act as a centralized hub for team projects. There are many ways in which they help teams work more efficiently. Whether it is collaborating on ideas in real time, brainstorming to find new and innovative solutions, or running a meeting, an online whiteboard can make your teams more efficient. They also help team members work on a project on a more equal basis.

Online whiteboard project management tools and templates help teams understand and work towards a shared goal. They can be used to manage tasks, prioritize projects, and track progress, helping to reduce the silo effect that remote work can have. They can even be used to create new team rituals.

The sense of team and belonging is very important for a strong company culture. Making sure that team members are comfortable within their teams and feel like they belong is key. For this, using icebreakers in virtual meetings can help people feel more open and relaxed.

Try collaborative tools to improve your company culture with remote and hybrid teams

Making remote and hybrid workers feel valued and included will in turn make them more productive and efficient. They will be more invested in business outcomes and company culture does not need to be adversely affected. There are many benefits to using a virtual whiteboard and collaborative tools in general, and here at Klaxoon we have the platform and the Templates your teams need.

Our activities help promote teamwork and more effective collaboration, whatever business sector or industry they may be operating in. Why not check out our resources to see how we can help your teams and teamwork and improve your company culture?

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