Is company culture a victim of remote working?

Is company culture a victim of remote working?

Agency life is famous for its work-hard, play-hard culture. Working all hours on a proposal is OK if you know the post-pitch agency drinks will be worth it or you’ll get a nice big ‘thank-you’ at the next all-staff meeting – right?

Company culture is important to employees; workers are more likely to enjoy work when their needs and values are consistent with their employers.

For the last 5 decades or more, agency leaders have banged the same drum about company culture, claiming that to achieve positive team comeraderie, a common sense of company purpose and a good dose of office frolics and banter, people need to be ‘bums on seats’ in the office. After all, doesn’t a great company culture in the most simplistic of terms, actually manifest as getting everyone to the pub at lunch time or out for an after-work beer? Yet with the new WFH protocol, even though more people are returning to the office, the new world is rarely seeing 100% of employees in the office at the same time. Instead companies are favouring a 2:3 home/office ratio or a flexible, remote work pattern, meaning the days of getting everyone down the pub or together for an all team meeting are pretty much a thing of the past.

When employees feel part of a company, its values and culture, they tend to be happier and more loyal. But remote working just isn’t conducive to building relationships outside of your immediate team, so people risk feeling siloed. The all-important quick chat at the coffee machine in the morning with the guy from finance or the banter in the stairwell with the team on the other floor, become impractical impossibilities. I for one know that the office chit-chat just doesn’t have the same zing on a glitchy zoom call.

But here’s the thing…on the whole remote working is working well. People feel they have a better work-life balance, no longer resenting the 1 hour commute and enjoying the flexibility that comes with being able to fit work around home commitments. Whilst the rigour of 9-5 office hours can blur a bit and I often find myself still glancing at the laptop to check for emails when I’m making dinner, that is a price people are happily making in return for getting a bit more balance and freedom in their lives. Indeed, company leaders tell us productivity rates have remained the same and in many instances have increased.

The Office of National Statistics have also said the UK’s sickness absence rate declined from 1.9% to 1.8% last year (2020) – the lowest level since its records began in 1995, when the rate was 3.1%.

So it appears company culture is in fact, the unidentified victim in this post COVID world. Therefore, internal comms teams, HR teams, Managing Directors and company leaders are having to work harder than ever before to ensure their company culture doesn’t dissolve. Keeping teams connected has never been more important OR more challenging. After reading many white papers on this topic and lots of really good (and really bad) ideas for keeping team spirit alive, here are my 5 favourites:

1) Fun chat channels – keep an agency social channel just for chat and banter – Whatsapp, Teams chat etc. The only rule is don’t talk office!
2) After-hour virtual socials – the vision of walking into our home office on a Friday afternoon and seeing my husband with 3 beers on his desk and a cowboy hat on playing beer pong, will stay with me forever.
3) Calendar dates – bring the entire company together once or twice a year for an our of office get-together. The annual office Xmas party alone, wont cut it anymore. People need to be brought together in companywide initiatives more frequently.
4) Communicate company values – traditionally these are saved for the team meetings and monthly all-agency gatherings. However now more than ever companies and agencies alike need to use every opportunity to communicate their values to their employees – plaster them on your website, back of the toilet door, team chat or employee handbook.
5) Upscale your tech – lastly, make sure you have the right systems and tech in place to make remote working smooth. If this means an employee allowance to upgrade their home laptops, do it.

When employees feel part of a company, its values and culture, they tend to be happier and more loyal.

Remote working is here to stay and company leaders need to work hard to ensure that team morale isn’t the COVID casualty.

Kate Whitehead

TW Marketing Director