According to the KPMG Current Trends in Remote Working 2022 report, which surveyed 530 organisations globally, 89% had either introduced a remote working policy or were in the process of considering one. Whilst some organisations had backtracked on flexible working, it seems that remote and flexible working will continue to become the mainstay of how many people experience work.
McKinsey’s State of Organisations 2023 report, identified that more than four in five employees who had worked remotely over the previous two years, would want to retain it, due to the flexibility and improved work life balance. So, it’s clear that remote and hybrid working is here to stay. While many employees would prefer remote working, with research from platforms such as Buffer, showing 91% of survey respondents enjoying a positive experience, this does raise challenges in how we immerse remote employees into a shared work culture, allowing them to remain connected and committed to their organisations.
Creating optimum organisational cultures has long been a focus for senior leaders, yet despite all the attempts to cultivate them, it’s difficult to come across many specific examples of organisations with a distinct culture, crafted with intent. When considering culture, whether it’s aspects such as artifacts, values and assumptions as described by Schein, or the management systems, practices and behaviours (underpinned by the beliefs, values and principles) as described by Denison1, every organisation has a particular way in which they get work done. Pre-pandemic, when remote working wasn’t even a consideration, these cultural norms were more obvious and visible. With so many employees working remotely, organisations will need to consider how they can make them feel part of a shared company culture.
In a recent WSJ article, only 28% of remote workers across the U.S. felt a connection to their organisation’s purpose, whilst 35% of hybrid workers felt a greater level of being valued through being connected with their company’s mission. So, it would seem that having some physical connection to the workplace may improve how valued people feel, able to connect better with the mission. What then can organisations do to create the right culture with employees working remotely?
An important part of creating a distinctive culture is having a clear purpose. Having the ability to articulate the impact an organisation has for the greater good, allows it to attract like-minded people, who are equally as passionate for the same cause. Research by McKinsey into the importance of purpose found that for 70% of those surveyed, their purpose in life was defined by their work, yet only 15% of frontline managers and employees felt they were living their purpose on a daily basis in work.
A global survey by the HBR found that 90% of executives said their organisation was aware of the importance of purpose, yet only 37% stated that their organisational purpose was well understood and well-articulated. The opportunity for organisations is clear – to help employees understand the organisational purpose, why it’s important, and to clearly communicate every action and decision through this lens, allowing everyone to understand the role the purpose plays at work.
Identity through Aligned Values
Culture is a group phenomenon. It’s the actions and interactions of a collective that forms an organisational culture, therefore it’s important that organisations help connect people in a way that aligns to their identity. Organisational identification defines how people affiliate their own identity to that of the organisation. When individuals highly identify with their organisations, it provides them with a greater sense of themselves, leading to better work performance and commitment.
One way of defining organisational identity is to define values or principles that others can connect with and relate to. The values system of organisations is often an aggregate of the human values expressed by the people within them. Behaviours are driven by what people value, and for an organisation to clearly define their values and subsequent behaviours, allows everyone to understand what the organisation stands for, what it represents.
When people highly identify with an organisation, for many, it becomes an extension of themselves. Working remotely can be isolating, therefore organisations need to consider how they interact with, and facilitate interaction amongst others. Having forums, internal social media channels or other methods of feeling connected, where people do so aligned to the stated values, will go a long way to defining the culture.
Human connection is important, combining the need for belonging. Remote working can quickly become transactional, with individuals only having video calls with colleagues when undertaking work. We need social time at work, where we can connect with the people around us, build relationships and feel a sense of belonging with the people and the organisations we work with. Building in a culture of ‘socialising’ where at set times during the week, there’s an opportunity for teams to get together and connect with one another, can bring people together and reinforce that social identity.
Clear Measures of Success
The McKinsey’s State of Organisations 2023 report cited earlier, identified that almost half of managers were uncomfortable leading remote or hybrid teams. Whilst some roles have clearly defined KPIs to measure success, there are many where success is not so clear cut. Historically, many managers have struggled with objectives setting, and measuring the performance of their teams.
A BBC article cited research showing how performance reviews had no impact on profits, meaning for many, they are a poor measure of assessing performance. This is often because managers haven’t taken enough time to identify which measures will demonstrate the impact any individual is having at work. Poorly defined metrics, leaves remote workers demoralised, unsure of the value they add, and managers struggling to manage remote teams.
Setting short term goals and objectives, with regular reviews of progress, check-ins and opportunities to support, should provide managers with the confidence that their remote teams are working hard, and opportunities to celebrate the efforts of individuals who can quickly lose sight of their own successes. Creating a culture focused on performance and recognition can again reinforce the degree to which people identify with their organisations, leading to better work outcomes.
Whilst some managers may feel uncomfortable managing remote teams, it’s important that this doesn’t translate into creating a two-tier system, where those that come into the office or workplace, are given more attention, leading to better opportunities, than those working remotely. Fairness is an important human value and when defining a culture for remote employees, this will need to be taken into consideration. Remote workers should have the same opportunities for development and promotions, and this may require upskilling leaders and managers, to make them aware of internal biases, considering those who they see more frequently, as obvious choices for progress.
In summary, one could argue that when remote working didn’t exist, organisations could rely upon their cultures organically evolving, through the daily interaction of people in the workplace. Remote working now means organisations will need to take steps to define their culture, and create opportunities for individuals to experience it, and become a part of it. In the past, defining organisational purpose and values, might have been seen as more marketing activities than having any other impact. The importance of organisational identification – the degree to which individuals identify with their organisations through a shared purpose and values, and having managers focused on helping employees be successful at work through clear metrics, will help create a culture where remote workers have the potential to feel as connected to their organisations as those who work onsite.
1. Edgar Schein and Daniel Denison are renowned scholars in the field of organizational culture:
- Edgar Schein: Proposed a three-tiered model of culture:
- Artifacts: Visible organizational attributes like dress codes and office layouts.
- Espoused Values: Stated organizational values and rules.
- Basic Assumptions: Deep, often unconscious, organizational beliefs and perceptions.
- Daniel Denison: Developed a model linking culture to organizational effectiveness, emphasizing:
- Mission: The organization’s direction and purpose.
- Adaptability: Responding to business environment demands.
- Involvement: Enhancing human capability and commitment.
- Consistency: Establishing firm values and systems for a robust culture.
In essence, both scholars provide frameworks to understand the intricate layers of organizational culture, which the article uses to discuss the challenges of cultivating culture in remote work settings.
Amrit Sandhar is the CEO and founder of & Evolve, formerly known as The Engagement Coach. He partners with prominent UK brands to enhance employee engagement and organizational productivity. With a deep interest in neuroscience and psychology, Amrit adopts a data-centric method to pinpoint organizational challenges, and collaborates to craft lasting solutions. He emphasizes the importance of values and is devoted to nurturing talent, convinced that engaged leaders can extract the best performance from their teams. Amrit's credentials include collaborations with major brands like BUPA, Asda, Dunelm, and NetworkTV. He is an accredited executive coach, a Walmart-endorsed change trainer, and holds a CIPD Advanced Diploma (Level 7) in HRM/HRD. On a personal note, he is a father of three, married, and resides in Warwickshire.