In Culture

As we transition to more of a sense of post-pandemic sense of normalcy, organizations must understand how to build a positive, remote-work culture for their employees. We’ve had more than a year to work on work-from-home culture. However, many companies are now moving to a hybrid model. Teams will be collaborating with some people in the office, and some working from anywhere (WFA). No one was prepared for the last year, but decades of research can inform our approach moving forward. 

man sitting on sofa while using laptop

A Positive Remote Culture Matters

According to a Glassdoor survey, 56% of employees report that company culture is more important than their salary.

More than  50% of executives say corporate culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, firm value, and growth rates. 

However, culture is hard to transmit when employees never spend time with each other or with their leaders. It’s even harder when new employees never get to experience the intangible qualities of company culture that can only be perceived in person. 

Loneliness Was an Epidemic Even Before the Pandemic

Meanwhile, surveys of American workers show that most of us enjoy the flexibility of working remotely. However, one issue that often ends up at the top of our list of downsides is “loneliness.” Moreover, “camaraderie” is the top thing people are looking forward to about eventually returning to in-person work.

Studies show that even before the pandemic, up to 40% of wage earners felt isolated at work.  Thatstatistic that has surely not improved with the advent of working virtually. 

A BetterUp survey found that employees who feel they belong are happier and healthier than other workers. They’re also more successful; they get twice as many raises and are 18 times more likely to be promoted. They take 75% fewer sick days. Those sick days are worth $2.5 million in lost productivity per 10,000 workers . . . every year. 

HR departments know loneliness is a problem and have increased the numbers of virtual happy hours, Zoom coffee breaks, and distance book clubs. However, it’s not clear if such things really help people develop what University of Michigan researcher Jane Dutton calls “high-quality connections.”

They’re certainly better than nothing, but they don’t seem to address the deep-seated loneliness that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, nor do they do much to build relationships in an increasingly isolated workplace culture. 

“Our understanding of biology, psychology, and the workplace calls for companies to make fostering social connections a strategic priority. A more connected workforce is more likely to enjoy greater fulfillment, productivity, and engagement while being more protected against illness, disability, and burnout.”

~Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General, in Harvard Business Review

How Can We Build Positive, Remote-Work Cultures?

According to Harvard Business Review, “culture is the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.”

In other words, we can’t improve culture with a focus on softball games, bagel Thursdays, and bring-your-dog-to-work day. (This is good news in an era of remote work, because we can’t offer those traditional perks anyway.) 

An Opportunity to Define Work Culture More Meaningfully

As companies reconceive WFH and WFA policies, remote work, and hybrid options, we have a unique opportunity to try new things and redfine an ideal, positive, remote work culture.

  • Give employees ways to do meaningful work and make quality connection with colleagues.
  • Ensure psychological safety at work. People need to have a genuine belief that they will not be punished, embarrassed, or discredited if they raise concerns or ask for help
  • Elevate and reward leaders who feel their mission is to support or serve their teams (e.g. servant leaders). This dynamic is better than the other way around.
  • Demonstrate to teams that leadership wants them to be successful by giving them access to the knowledge and information they need to do their jobs. 

One of the best ways to improve in these areas is by encouraging respectful engagement between coworkers, leaders, and teams. When employees are able to meet and interact in the context of exchanging help, it fosters trust, gratitude, understanding, and deeper relationships. These are the real cornerstones of a strong corporate culture. 

Give and Take is helping organizations prepare for the future of work.

This is post #3 in a five-part series on the Future of Work:

    1. Remote Team Collaboration
    2. Equity, Inclusion and Belonging
    3. Building Culture (this post you just read)
    4. Learning and Development
    5. Knoweldge Sharing (coming soon)

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