Closing The Cultural Divide in Hybrid And Remote Work

Tech Industry

We talk a lot in these pages about the powerful influence culture has over every significant business activity — from digital transformation to artificial intelligence to product design. Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s also possible to be a cultural void. This can be particularly vexing in remote-intensive companies, in which everyone is essentially an “independent contractor” of sorts, linked via an electronic network. (Not formal independent contractor as defined by labor laws, but sharing the same detached situations.) Do the work, and move on.

The cultural divide is evident in a survey of 1,200 workers by eLearning Industry, which finds close to two-fifths (37%) believe culture doesn’t exist in the workplace today. In fact, 50% say their leaders “don’t understand what constitutes a strong company culture or what employees want.”

Even more damning is the fact that 53% of workers in the eLearning survey say their leaders think that simply working in an office is “company culture.” Maybe leaders and managers aren’t that shortsighted, and truly want a more supportive and forward-looking culture — but that is not the impression they’re leaving with their workforces.

The key to success in a hybrid or remote world “is finding new ways to foster your culture,” Christa Quarles, CEO of Corel, observes. “Culture is not a location, nor is it free food or foosball tables. Culture is a narrative and a purpose. It’s the decisions people make when you are not in the room. And the reality is, office or not, I was never always in the room. To be successful, your culture needs to be able to scale beyond boardrooms and cubicles all the way to home offices and kitchen tables.”

Separate research out of Accenture found another surprise – people who feel the least connected are those working fully onsite (42%) compared with 36% who work in a hybrid model and 22% who work fully remote. “Giving people flexibility, as well as the tools and opportunities to work together, is so important,” says Jimmy Etheredge, CEO for Accenture North America. “When people feel highly connected to their leaders and their work, their organizations experience a 7.4% boost in revenue growth per year, and their people feel more trust in the organization.”

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The stakes are high. Four in every five of employees in the eLearning survey could be more easily swayed to jump ship by a favorable hybrid work environment or salary than strong team culture. They should also note that this is probably the new normal: 67% believe company culture is less about “team building” and more about offering employees benefits and flexible work options.

When asked for their most favorable aspect of corporate culture, the top choice among employees is flexibility and ability to work when or where they want. Another 29% prefer having good benefits, perks, and bonuses.

Still, 48% say they either haven’t been asked or haven’t had their input considered by leadership in improving or changing culture. Training and education would help, but two in five (37%) are concerned they don’t have the skills needed to get promoted or obtain a higher-level role at their company, and 32% say their employers don’t provide the time and resources to improve their skills.

At Finch, a 100%-virtual company, corporate culture is an important focus. “You can’t just take a group of people, throw them into a virtual environment, and expect people to stay engaged, productive, and happy,” says Jane Pennoyer, chief of staff at of Finch. “It’s important to put structures and processes in place to ensure that company culture comes through in a virtual environment. Creating space for informal chatter at the beginning of meetings can go a long way.”

Processes in place at Finch “include a #daily-standup channel in Slack, where each team member outlines their priorities, blockers, tasks accomplished the previous day, and anything personal they’d like to share with the team,” says Pennoyer. “I think it’s crucial to have that peak into the personal side of our lives on a daily basis – it keeps things real and brings the company culture alive. Allowing people to get to know each other in real life is also super important.”

The budding metaverse and other virtual 3D environments get a boost in the survey. A majority of workers, 84%. would attend meetings in virtual conference rooms; 81% would practice new tasks or job responsibilities through simulations. Another 80% would complete training or learning programs with virtual teachers or simulations.

“We’re all-in on emerging technologies that can help us create engaging virtual experiences,” says Etheredge. “Instead of onboarding our global new joiners – all 150,000 – in person this year, we have been bringing them together on the ‘Nth floor,’ Accenture’s enterprise metaverse. They learn about the company, interact with colleagues and leaders and experience our culture in a meaningful and personal way. It also shows them how serious we are about innovation starting from day one.”

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