Sustaining workplace culture in a remote work world requires employers to be intentional about how they demonstrate their culture in every aspect of the organization’s environment. Cultivating a culture starts during the talent acquisition process and continues throughout the exit or offboarding of a worker.
Sustaining workplace culture is more complex now than ever
The challenges associated with building and maintaining workplace culture have become even more complex now that the majority of knowledge workers are working remotely.
Conventional wisdom maintains that pay rate and salary are primary factors in determining whether someone accepts a contract or permanent position. The fact that 71% of contingent workforce program managers have increased pay rates over the past year to address talent shortages speaks to this statistic. However, today, it takes more than bigger checks to win and retain top talent.
Workplace culture is catching up to pay as a top talent priority
As monetary compensation increases have spread across the market, however, cultural factors such as meaningful work, workplace respect, collaborative environments and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion have begun to show increased influence on talents’ decisions to accept an assignment – or to end one early.
For instance, a recent Procom survey of over 1, 740+ knowledge workers found 39% of respondents cited a company’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is very or extremely important to them when considering an opportunity. Similarly, 69% said meaningful work was most important when considering an assignment.
Challenges to remote and hybrid workplace culture
A recent Harvard Business Review article identified three critical challenges to fostering culture in a hybrid workplace:
1. Balancing culture, DEI and belonging practices
Modern talent — particularly younger workers — desire diverse and inclusive workplace cultures in which employees feel valued and respected regardless of their differences. Organizations must also recognize that they can’t indulge the individual preferences of everyone in their workforces.
As Harvard Business Review report observes, “a culture that tries to be everything to everyone could easily become interesting to very few.” One approach for achieving balance is to have a clear organizational identity and straightforward value propositions that appeal to diverse talent who are also optimal cultural fits for your organization.
2. Retaining work’s social element in remote and hybrid environments
Work is about more than the duties associated with given job roles. It presents an occasion to form personal connections and meaningful relationships that can enhance productivity, spark new ideas and improve well-being.
Humans are social beings, and we need interpersonal interactions beyond Zoom meetings. For organizations that have converted to hybrid or fully remote work, it’s crucial to maintain at least occasional social contact. This may be accomplished through several means that align with your organizational identity and values:
- Engage in informal coffee meet-ups or happy hours.
- Host weekly or monthly social walks.
- Participate in fundraisers or other charitable efforts.
- Offer professional skills seminars or ongoing training programs.
- Organize monthly or quarterly gatherings to recognize team or individual accomplishments.
- Celebrate employee anniversaries or birthdays.
3. Allowing culture to evolve
The pandemic and Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle forced changes to how we work collectively and how organizations recruit and retain talent. While companies must be intentional and direct about their identities and values, it’s also essential to let culture develop organically.
In the wake of such seismic shifts in the workplace and workforce, many organizations have instinctively tried to make old practices fit into an environment with which they’re no longer compatible. There are many lessons to be gleaned from the pandemic and Great Resignation, including that no one knows what the future holds.
Instead of trying to repeat cultural components that were successful in the past, let new ones emerge based on collaborative engagement with your leadership and workforce. This circles back to address challenge No. 1 by encouraging diversity, inclusion, and belonging while refining and sustaining your organizational culture.
The elements of maintaining workplace culture in a hybrid world
One of the most significant factors in building and maintaining strong interpersonal bonds and workplace culture is proximity. But proximity is obviously difficult to achieve when workers are either remote or not in the office at the same time.
Sustaining culture in hybrid work models can be achieved through intentional tactics for both creating tangible proximity and instilling a sense of perceived proximity. The idea is to make workers feel “close, connected, engaged and intertwined with each other’s success and the success of the organization,” even when working remotely.
There are five fundamental elements of proximity relative to workplace culture:
1. Shared Purpose
It’s easy to experience a feeling of common purpose when everyone is in the office together. While virtual meetings allow for some carryover in this regard, the level of connection is not the same.
Leaders must be intentional and direct about establishing purpose and goals while ensuring that workers feel linked to their team members and collective outcomes. This is another area where regular in-person gatherings that blend work and social aspects can be beneficial.
It can be easy in a hybrid work environment to give employees too much leeway to do their work or resolve problems. Accountability is critical to culture because it reinforces to employees that their work is integral to other team members and the organization.
“If purpose is the big picture of how things matter,” the author notes in the Forbes commentary, “accountability is the mechanism which operationalizes how the work matters.” Leaders must fairly balance flexibility and accountability.
Speaking of fair, employees will begin to lose motivation if they sense inequity in the treatment of themselves and their coworkers. A perceived lack of fairness can erode culture.
Leaders must be conscious, for example, not to play favorites with those who spend more time in the office than others. Remote workers should be treated as inclusively as those who work in-house.
Organizational success and a clear workplace culture stem in part from leaders who are visible and accessible. This is both more important and more difficult to accomplish in a hybrid work environment.
Leaders must try to retain visibility and impart accessibility in remote and hybrid workplaces. Make regular check-ins with team members and let your workforce know when you’re available to talk and how to reach you. Encourage contact and collaboration among team members.
Workplace transparency promotes open communication and an explicit understanding of organizational identity and values. This transparency can grow cloudy when employees work remotely or are only in the office part-time.
It’s vital to the efforts of sustaining workplace culture to keep talent appraised of information that directly affects them and their duties, as well as details that impact the organization as a whole. Transparency cultivates trust, inclusiveness and belonging, which are the roots of a robust workplace culture no matter where employees work.
The Re-Imagined Recruitment Playbook
Over the past two years, we have captured hard won lessons learned across thousands of worker hiring engagements by our team of professional recruiters and distilled them into practical ideas that you can start using immediately. The Re-Imagined Recruitment Playbook is a step-by-step guide to help source, screen, select, onboard and retain talent in the New World of Work.