This month we sat down with Marita Price, Founder of Hello Performance and all-round workplace culture expert who discussed the future of working from home, the importance of company culture and tips to improve the culture in your team.
How has working from home impacted workplace culture?
Working from home brings many advantages as employees gain flexibility, avoid long commutes (which has shown to impact job satisfaction) and also remain free from office distractions. Businesses reduce costs on office space which can be considerable in larger cities and opens up the possibility to employ talent from further afield.
However, what we see is that it makes it difficult for organisations to create and solidify their company culture. Company culture is fostered, in large part, by face to face interactions whether its meetings, one to ones, corridor chats or team building activities. So remote teams make strengthening a company culture more difficult to accomplish.
How important is company culture?
We have heard the statement “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Even though personally I believe you need both, in equal amounts. A culture can certainly make or break companies, if we recall the Enron Scandal of 2001 which was the epitome of a company culture leading to demise of a Wall Street corporation.
Developing a company culture isn’t just something to be done for its own sake; it has meaningful impact on employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity. The reason for this is simple: When employees clearly identify with a company’s values, they’re more likely to engage with their work, and engagement is key in today’s workplace.
So, what is the future of working from home?
Even though in the UK, employers expect the proportion of regular home workers to double, from 18% pre-pandemic to 37% post pandemic1 a large percentage of companies are moving to a ‘Hybrid’ approach. Hybrid work tends to include more freedom around when to work as well as where.
One approach to hybrid working that was common, even prior to the pandemic, is designated days in the office for collaboration type meetings and then home working for the more individual focused tasks. This approach considers that physical presence is valuable and will accelerate orientation, team building and a project kick off for example but is not necessarily critical for all tasks.
Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor with expertise in remote work believes that that working from home 2 days a week will be optimal for balancing collaborative and quiet work while benefitting the reduced stress of less commuting.2
Some companies are going further. Kissflow, a provider of digital workplace services with offices in the US and India, has introduced a mixed working model called REMOTE+. This combines three weeks of working from wherever you choose with one week of office-based work. The company covers accommodation costs for the office week and then encourages employees to return home for the rest of the time. 3
How does face to face interactions support workplace culture?
Face to face can overcome the 4 key challenges we come across as we support remote working companies to strengthen their culture:
- Face to face prevents colleagues and teams being siloed from each other – Culture is the unwritten “its how we do things around here”. When new (or longer term) employees are continuously exposed to the behaviour of their colleagues, they’re able to grasp the standards of performance and communication much more quickly than they would remotely. This is the core of a culture. Positive behaviour breeds positive behaviour so face to face just accelerates this process and can bring you closer to your aspirational culture sooner. One idea that has arisen is modularisation, where an employees tasks are divided into collaboration tasks which should be done face to face and then individual tasks which can be more easily achieved working alone.
- Face to face reduces the feeling of isolation – Though working from home can make life easier at first, it can be detrimental to employees’ mental health. Humans are social creatures and working without seeing anyone can make employees feel cut off. Remote working can also cause anxiety. A recent study concluded that the lack of close contact hinders the formation of trust, connection, and mutual purpose, three key ingredients in any effective working relationship. Second, social interaction is strongly correlated with workplace engagement and satisfaction. A Gallup study4 surveying more than 15 million employees indicated that those with a “best” work buddy are “seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, [and] have higher well-being,” compared to those without
- Face to face make it easier to create enthusiasm for building & growing – You want employees to be passionate about the work they’re doing. Inspiring passion across a dispersed team is not impossible, but certainly not easy. Unless your employees are 100 percent intrinsically motivated, it’s difficult to stimulate enthusiasm about your service or product without ample social engagement—high spirits are tough to express digitally. Face to face can certainly be smartly used to develop that enthusiasm.
- Face to face reduces conflict – Conflict is more likely with digital communication, partly because our social inhibitions are more powerful when dealing with people face to face. Face to face can also support a feeling shared social identity which promotes team effectiveness and performance. This is more difficult with distributed remote teams which can impair trust and team spirit.
Top tip to improve the culture in your company or team?
The top tip we preach is MEASURE MEASURE MEASURE – find out where employees are at! The old mantra of “what get measured get managed” is very true here. A regular cross company survey will identify how engaged employees are and which areas are strong and which need to be improved. This allows leadership teams to select a key area of focus that the company can commit to improving. Taking a regular temperature check (a ‘Culture Pulse’ in our language) allows you to see if the action you are spending time and resources on is having the impact you need.
“A culture will form no matter what you do, so you can either influence it or take your chances”. By measuring it, this is the first step to identifying what actions needs to be taken to so you can consciously lead the culture in the direction you need to achieve that strategy!
What should an organisation consider when redesigning their space to support the workplace culture?
The design of a company’s office can cater for many of the aspects of their culture they’re trying to promote. Wanting to create an autonomous and free-thinking culture? Provide various workstations for different purposes to allow activity-based working. Wanting to foster a culture of caring about your team’s wellbeing? Adorn the space with plant life, good lighting, and spaces to relax and break-out in. Wanting to create a culture of pride and belonging? Celebrate your business achievements, the brand and the qualities of the people who make up your teams as part of the design. It’s also important to have the right technology and AV equipment within an office to allow people working from home to feel like they can still have a presence in the office, albeit virtually. This helps to promote a culture of inclusivity.
Your surroundings impact your wellbeing, performance and overall engagement. Companies should consider what the space is being used for, what the aspirational culture they are trying to create and what do the employee wants. Creating environments which foster collaboration and interaction is key going forward.