As a remote-first organisation, Etch are experts in fostering remote working cultures, enabling great collaborative work with our partners. Our Commercial Manager, Elbrie de Kock has taken a look at the rise of remote working, and how businesses can build strong company cultures.
2020 has been a year like no other. It has thrown up a host of challenges for employers. Perhaps the greatest of these is adapting to managing a remote workforce. Figures released by the ONS in October reveal 24% of employees were working exclusively from home. This compares to around 5% at the beginning of the year, according to the Annual Population Survey (APS). This is a seismic shift for both businesses and employees to adjust to.
The level of remote working has been growing for some time. In 2016, a survey in the US by Gallup found 43% of employees were working remotely for at least part of the week. Advances in technology has meant that many roles can be performed successfully virtually anywhere.
However, this year everything changed. Teams that sat and worked together most of the time have now been apart for months. Physical separation has changed the dynamics of the workplace, which is completely new for many organisations.
Is remote working here to stay?
A simple answer is yes. Commentators agree that more employees will continue to work remotely at least some of the time. It is estimated by the end of 2021 that between 25% to 30% of employees will be working from home multiple days a week. Employees have welcomed the flexibility, the release from the daily commute and the greater autonomy it provides. Expectations have changed forever, with only 2% saying they would not like to work from home at all in the future.
The most successful organisations are likely to be the ones that adjust their thinking accordingly and consider how they create a virtual culture that people want to be a part of when there may not be a physical hub to shape it.
What is company culture?
To understand how to build a strong company culture, it’s important to firstly understand what it is. A culture is based on the customs and practices of an organisation that unites a group of people through shared experiences. It is created by actions and behaviours. While company values can shape a culture, they are aspirational, representing what the company is aiming for, not necessarily how people think and act in real life.
What are the issues created by remote working?
While there are clear benefits to working remotely, there are downsides too. The biggest struggles that employees report are issues with collaboration and communication, loneliness and not being able to switch off at the end of the working day. These can significantly harm employee wellbeing and cancel out the positive benefits.
Employers also have concerns over the productivity of employees when they can’t see them. Despite a majority of employees reporting that they feel more productive working from home, the demand for employee surveillance software has skyrocketed, with one provider reporting up to a 600% increase in sales. This can be extremely damaging to employee morale with most employees feeling uncomfortable about being monitored.
Creating a strong company culture that brings employees together, no matter where they are based, which encourages and facilitates sharing views and ideas can tackle these issues.
What are the barriers to creating a happy and healthy culture when employees work remotely?
Most of the traditional ways that organisations look to build their culture involves being physically in the same place. A large proportion of culture is created and supported through shared experiences such as social events and team building exercises. Not being able to involve everyone at the same time presents a challenge to employers that they need to address to maintain a sense of belonging.
The workplace has also played a huge part in building company culture. Millions of pounds have been spent on creating vibrant and exciting spaces that people want to work in. Perks like free coffee, sports facilities and onsite classes have been used to create a positive atmosphere and entice the best talent. Now that employees are likely to be spending less time in the office, employers need to think about what is important to support the physical and mental health and wellbeing of remote teams, whilst still creating this positive vibe.
Culture is created by actions not words. While having values to aspire towards are important, it is how people act and behave that really makes a difference. Senior leaders and managers set the tone of an organisation through their conduct in the office. It is more difficult to witness them living up to the company values when working remotely. The visual cues around their manner and demeanour are lost. Employers need to think how they recreate these examples through alternatives methods and channels.
Tips for creating a culture that remote teams can relate to
Building a culture that suits the new working realities of a post-Covid 19 world requires a change in mindset. Employers need to think about what is important when it comes to bringing people together, taking inspiration from what has worked in the wider world. They key elements are:
- Communication – employees need to be able to talk to each other in an easy way, that replaces how they would naturally bounce ideas off each other in office. There are a huge range of tools available, like Slack and Microsoft teams, that keep people connected. Every employee needs to feel they have a voice, that they have a platform to share ideas and that what they say matters.
- Collaboration - getting employees to successful work together is the driving force behind any successful business. Employers need to put the right digital tools in place to facilitate this. For example, Mural is a visual collaborative workspace designed to elevate work. Also, setting shared cross-function goals or building a skills directory, highlighting who in the organisation has expertise in certain areas can help this process and bring people together.
- Setting expectations – employees need to have clear objectives which set out what they are working on and when this needs to be delivered. These can be connected to the values of the organisation, reinforcing expected behaviours. Employers should also draw up remote working guidelines so there is a definite policy on out-of-hours contact, the times employees are expected to be online and when they should be available.
- Recognition – for those working remotely it can be easy to feel forgotten or excluded. Employers need to encourage saying thank you when it’s deserved. Just those simple two words can make a huge difference. 70% of employees say that their motivation and morale would improve if managers simply said thank you more. This carries even more weight when it comes from senior leaders who can use it to set the right tone.
- Having fun – the social aspect is hugely important to creating a strong culture and the thing employees miss the most about the office is socialising with colleagues. Employers need to think about how they can achieve this virtually. Empowering employees to set up online groups that reflect shared interests, such as running, baking, or singing, helps to bring people together and maintain those important bonds.
Etch’s remote working principles underpin the working culture of all Etch divisions. If you’re interested to know more about our remote working methodologies, get in touch. To stay in-the-know about our very latest thoughts and insights into business transformation, sign up to our business briefing.