It’s supposed to improve productivity and boost employee satisfaction, so why are organizations struggling to adjust to remote working? The answer might lie in the types of corporate culture companies embed. Can it endure the absence of face-to-face interactions, the hustle and bustle, the routine, the chatter between desks?

It’s a challenge that business leaders everywhere are facing – maintaining the company culture. Keeping the “company spirit” alive, sustaining a level of camaraderie, ensuring employees feel as little disconnect as possible outside the office walls. But how feasible is this, in this new, unsettling period?

The ongoing crisis has raised a lot of cultural challenges associated with a remote workforce. While many employees work from home at least once a week, many more have started isolation completely unequipped of experience. Businesses are well aware that long term success in working from home rests on ensuring the workplace culture transcends the physical boundaries of the office.

Right now, business leaders must rely more on the digital workplace and its tools than ever before. It is the digital workplace that will be the key player in building and maintaining employee experience, not only presently, but going forwards.

What is workplace culture?

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Workplace culture is akin to the personality of the business. Its sensibilities, the way it approaches problems, the treatment of its people, as well as much more besides. A good workplace culture is a delicate balance of a number of different aspects of the organization, namely:

Leadership – do your senior figures lead, in a crisis or otherwise?

People – have you hired the right people?

Communication – do you promote open channels of communication?

Management – are your people treated with fairness and impartiality?

Mission, vision, and values – do you work to fulfill your values?

Work environment – is your office a pleasant, comfortable space?

Workplace practices – do your employees understand their duties and feel supported?

Policies and philosophies – is there an ethos of fairness and respectability in your organization?

All these factors are responsible for producing a workplace conducive to employee happiness, retention, productivity, and performance. It contributes largely to the long-term success of a business. A good culture makes people want to work for an organization; it also makes existing talent want to remain working there.

Why is workplace culture so important for remote workers?

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Without the face-to-face interaction that makes working in the office so enriching, remote workers can suffer from disconnect and isolation. While fulfilling their job role, they are missing out on the vital cultural elements that in-house workers participate in on a daily basis: the social connection and organizational experience. This is brought on by conversations, sharing information, witnessing ‘right’ behaviors, and the bonds that are created as a result.

Long term success in working from home rests on ensuring the workplace culture transcends the physical boundaries of the office.

Moreover, it’s about how employees regard the company. When workers feel supported, respected, and nurtured, it has a massive impact on employee satisfaction and retention – and as a result, the success of the organization.

How to maintain your office culture remotely

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Your workplace culture is unique to your business, honed by years of change and improvements. It is central to your identity as a business. So, when your employees are dispersed, and entire offices are forced to work from home, how easy is it to maintain it? Extending your company culture to people’s homes is very possible, but its success depends on how robust your workplace culture was in the first place.

The success of your remote workplace culture depends on how robust it was in the first place.

Building a workplace culture that is agile enough to adapt to people’s working environments at home involves a lot of care and attention. While it is essential in normal, everyday working life, a durable culture will pay dividends in a disruptive period like this. It requires a business that focuses on some important organizational factors:

Leadership: when it comes to remote working, senior-level figures need to maintain a good level of visibility. Leaders serve a symbolic and reassuring role, particularly in times of change or uncertainty. Remaining visible and building an authentic connection is fundamental during times of transition or in remote working environments. Regular updates, a more personable tone, even admitting you don’t know the answer to some questions just yet – it all helps create a relationship of honesty, authority, and trust that will be imperative as the organization adjusts to new circumstances.

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Management: Management styles need to be fine-tuned for remote workers, particularly those settling into lockdown conditions. Managing remote workers relies heavily on communication tools, and keeping those channels open is crucial. Alongside this is the inherent trust you need to provide for your remote workers. They might not be in the same room as you, but the chances are that they are working just as hard (if not harder) than they would in the office. When workers are aware of the trust you have in them, they tend to give more. The basis of this, of course, starts in the onboarding process – an integral part of the manager-employee relationship.

Core values: Most companies have a set of core values to which they align themselves. One of our values at Interact is, “We enjoy working differently.” This slogan is shorthand to explain our relationship with our work and the number of resources we have around it. And while we enjoy our work, we appreciate it, even more, when we embrace a different way of working: with each other, with technology, and in how we approach what we do. There has been no better time to prove this than right now. Enforced isolation has meant all our offices across the UK, and the US have shut. We are all working from home and dealing with the various challenges that this brings. It’s over these past few weeks that we’ve had to adapt our strengths to new ways of working, transfer our skills to other departments in need and share tips with each other on how to get the most out of a working day. The result has seen our organization become closer, more communicative, and more collaborative as a result. Our value of working differently has helped us during this period, in a way that has seen a collective approach to getting on with our work and helping others. Surely, a sign that the culture has made a successful transition to remote working.

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The workplace: With no bricks and mortar office to attend, the office space is now virtual, manifesting itself in areas within the digital workplace. This lack of physicality has seen innovative ways of using online space, converting areas of the digital workplace into hangout areas, meeting rooms, departmental areas, and one-to-one spaces. Workers are now mimicking their office space within these individual digital tools: whether it’s for private chats, group discussions, quiet space or social use. The office intranet fulfills its role as the virtual office HQ, with people from all areas of the business posting reminders, blogs, scheduling meetings, and sharing advice to the organization as a whole. Workers log on to the intranet to keep abreast, not just of business, but of the people and culture within it as well. 

With no bricks and mortar office to attend, the office space is now virtual, manifesting itself in areas within the digital workplace.

Communication: No longer are we able to speak at desks, stop colleagues in corridors, share jokes over lunch. For many workers, this has had the most significant impact – the human element of work is only realized once it’s taken away. As a result, remote work takes a lot of adjusting as we get used to the quietness and lack of face-to-face interaction. In its place, we find connection in online chats, video calls, and instant messenger. Of course, different comms call for different platforms. Teams can remain connected on instant chat, while the intranet is suitable for formal announcements, forum discussions, and updates. Video calls should be used regularly. These are ideal for company-wide all-hands meetings, or just daily team talks – both of which hold great value, uniting colleagues together to talk about both business and pleasure. Conversation and chat punctuate the working day and helps people to communicate outside the boundaries of work.

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Traditions: maintaining habits and customs goes a long way in securing a positive culture, particularly when you’re working in a team—people like routines, particularly when the outside world feels chaotic. Building rituals or traditions helps people feel more in control. And in a group, this acts as a social glue. Every member of your team is participating in something together, that is unique to your group. So, whether it’s a weekly pop quiz, or afternoon catch-ups, maintaining a tradition is massively important to the culture when working from home. As a manager, you must keep a consistency to your workers’ lives. Ad hoc catch-ups don’t cut it.

Maintaining habits and customs goes a long way in securing a positive culture.

Accountability: In a good team, there is no room to hide, but there’s no reason to hide either. Every team member should have a good understanding of the role they play within the dynamics of the team, and therefore know that if any one of them underperforms, it has a knock-on effect for the rest of the group. When everyone is accountable, there is openness and transparency in your work as a department, and regular communication makes sure that everyone is up to date – with help and support provided when necessary.

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Adjustments: While remote working may have seen improvements in employee satisfaction and productivity when it comes to working practices, it’s not simply a case of policy drag-and-drop from office to home. Settling into remote work takes a period of adjustment, while workers get to grips with their new environment and the distractions and change in flow that this brings. Open communication allows people to raise problems and issues and find solutions to new ways of working. This could mean more flexible working, focusing on output rather than hours worked, and providing them with the equipment they need to work better.

“Without a tangible space, how does culture make the translation to remote working successfully?”

Openness It’s important to create an environment of openness within your people. Having a sense of safety within your teams is one way of doing this. Allowing people to provide feedback, for constructive criticism to be taken onboard and listened to and for everyone to know that making mistakes is an important step of the learning journey. These behaviors are vital components of a positive and effective working culture. Leaders, too can help nurture this, shedding the omnipotent persona to reveal the fallible human is a powerful move that allows people to start trusting in their senior level. When this is standard in a company, there is a greater push towards success. The-no-such-thing-as-a-stupid-question environment allows those ideas to be shared, and people to stand up when they don’t agree with something.  

Can your workplace culture survive the shift to remote working?

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Making a move to remote work has an indelible impact on workplace culture. In ‘normal’ life, the physical boundaries and daily congregation of people play a valuable role in building your culture. Without a tangible space, how does culture make the translation to remote working successfully? 

But it is possible, and countless businesses are creating and maintaining great working cultures remotely. Many organizations, as they grow and secure talent, have no option than to create remote teams. So remote workplace culture is nothing new, and there are many examples that we can learn from as we adjust to the present situation.

With the array of digital tools and services available, it is more than possible for a remote worker to experience the same sense of community and camaraderie as an in-house colleague. As we’ve explored, you just need to make sure that you’ve defined your workplace culture in the first place.

Culture happens inside out. Get the bones of your business right, and your culture is an organic byproduct.

In order to create a workplace culture durable enough to be as impactful at home as it is in the office, your business needs the right foundations in place. And this relies on good decision making from the outset: from making sure you hired best-fit employees to having management styles that do not threaten the engagement and retention of your workers. Culture is an inside out process – if you make sure the bones of your business are well-thought-out, focus on nurturing your workers within, and aim to be as open and fair as possible, your culture will create itself.