Maintaining company culture in a remote world

In my job I talk to a lot of CEOs and business leaders. I know that right now a lot of us are thinking about what the new normal looks like.

Maintaining company culture in a remote world

In my job I talk to a lot of CEOs and business leaders. I know that right now a lot of us are thinking about what the new normal looks like. Whether it’s a full return to the office, a hybrid approach or a remote-first model. It’s actually something that we’re working on at The Happiness Index. For businesses of all sizes, it’s something that is top of mind at the moment. I often hear that business leaders are worried about maintaining culture in a hybrid or remote-first environment. Luckily at The Happiness Index we have millions of data points that look at culture, so I can share some of the insights we’ve gleaned.

Think about the positives

We’ve all fallen into the trap of making decisions based on the worst possible outcome we can think of. I know I have. I’ve learned from my time leading businesses, that it’s far better for everyone if you think about the best-case scenario instead. Don’t worry about a worst-case scenario where your whole team quits because you needed them back in the office. Instead think about how you can build the best company you can and trust that you will be able to build towards what you think would be the best possible outcome. If you create something fantastic, you’re likely to have fantastic people who want to come along for the ride. 

Listen to what people actually want

Have you heard this before, if I force everyone back into the office, then they’ll leave and go somewhere else where they can work from home? I know I hear it all the time. My question is always where’s your data? If you survey your people and they tell you that five days in the office is a make or break issue, then you’ll need to weigh up your options. But you might find that some or all of your people are chomping at the bit to get back into the office. Or you might find that people are keen to be in three or four days of the week. If you don’t have any data then you won’t know what you’re working with – it’s as simple as that. Listening carefully to what your people want (and need) will help you build a culture that can support everyone. 

Don’t confuse flexibility with location

If there’s one thing I’m confident about it is this… people love flexibility. I have data and scientific anecdotes to prove it. One of the things that people have loved about working from home is that it has allowed them to be more flexible. It has provided them with a better work-life balance. Whether that means being able to do the school run more often, take their dog for walks or go for a run on their lunch break. Everyone has a life outside of work, and if it’s easier to create balance between work and home, your people will be far happier. Even if you do need people at work sometimes, perhaps you can think about how you can provide the flexibility people are craving, while still getting the best results you can. 

Culture is bigger than free beer

In the pre-covid times it was easy to think of culture as the beer in the fridge or the location of your pool table. Even before the pandemic, HR and people teams were realising there was a lot more to culture than drinks. But the last 18 months have really sped up the process. We recommend listening to your people – what is it that they like about your culture? Is it time to hang out socially with their team on breaks to play pool? Was it feeling that their hard work during the week was appreciated by leadership and rewarded with an earlier finish and a treat on Fridays? Once you understand why you’re doing something you can replicate it with virtual options. Perhaps a team meeting where you discuss that weeks’ wins and losses, and have an early finish on Friday would have the same effect as drinks… 

The bottom line

You need to listen to your people and enable them to help you build a thriving culture. From there you can create something that fulfils those needs. Perhaps that is remote, perhaps it’s hybrid, perhaps it’s back on-site. The point “

Matt Phelan
Matt Phelan

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