As we approach the summer, many people and businesses are now convinced that workers will never return to offices at the same rate as before the COVID pandemic – despite the UK returning to a semblance of pre-pandemic normality.
The most recent data from YouGov collected towards the end of 2021 revealed that 60% of employees in the UK would prefer to work remotely always or at least some of the time if they could choose. And it’s not difficult to understand why: a better work-life balance, reduced commuting costs and improved productivity are just some of the proven benefits.
Clearly, the freedom to work from home is something the British workforce have truly embraced. But, what does the shift in how we work mean for positive company cultures?
No office, no chance of a positive culture?
The physical workspace can help support the culture of a business and spark all the good stuff an organisation needs to thrive. It can help connect people to its values, drive desired behaviours and support vital social interactions that can be the catalyst for creativity and collaboration.
But, if a business is now embracing remote or hybrid working, it can be very difficult to maintain those all-important face-to-face interactions shared workspaces can provide. In addition, data collected from YouGov found half of business leaders saying it was likely that remote working will be a drain on both creativity and collaboration – two crucial parts of maintaining a positive company culture.
So, does that mean you can’t have a positive company culture if you don’t have an office?
This year, we conducted an in-depth survey into the state of working cultures in 2022 to find out if people believed the traditional workspace is still a vital part of a company’s culture, or if continued remote working was in danger of killing it. It revealed 63% of employees believe the physical workspace was an important part of a positive company culture. In fact, this feeling was even more evident with those aged 54 and over, with a massive 85% of them saying that the traditional physical place of work was vital.
Another unexpected result from our survey was that, despite being embraced by large proportions of employees, 50% of respondents said hybrid and remote working were not beneficial to supporting great workplace relationships. Rather worryingly, nearly 31% of them believed that hybrid or remote working were outright harming them.
This puts employers and their HR teams in something of a quandary. On the one hand, employees don’t want to give up the new-found freedom to work in an environment of their choosing. Yet, on the other, they also want to enjoy the benefits of traditional office life, and the social interactions that go with it. How can you get the best of both worlds and maintain an effective culture?
Creating culture moments: the new imperative for HR
Employees may not always want to work in an office and are embracing the ‘new normal’ of working remotely, but the social interactions that come with a conventional workplace are something very difficult to replicate in a virtual or remote environment.
Sharon Quinn, Head of HR for growing European technology firm ByrneLooby agreed with this assessment, commenting that “There are some situations where remote working cannot replace workplace interaction: Offices provide ‘water cooler’ chats that are difficult to replicate in a virtual environment.”
“In an office, you can maybe go for a coffee break and chat with other people, which can spark creativity or ideas. These ad-hoc meetings and coffee breaks don’t work as well remotely as they can feel strange or ineffective for people.”
That’s perhaps why nearly two-thirds of staff believe the physical workspace is vital to supporting a positive culture and why a large proportion of employees felt remote or hybrid working were culturally-damaging.
As a result, organisations and their HR teams must find the right balance between the remote and the physical experience to sustain a positive culture. This is where creating ‘culture moments’ comes in…
There are five simple actions HR can take to create culture moments within a business with a remote or flexibly-working workforce:
1. Reconfigure the workspace to facilitate face-to-face moments
According to research by Forbes, 84% of executives say they prefer in-person meetings for their ability to build stronger and more meaningful business relationships. However, it’s not just meetings you should be mindful of – it’s also the everyday interactions of employees.
If you still have a shared place of work, perhaps look to reconfigure the workspaces to make it a more collaborative environment for your employees. For example, you may want to ditch banks of desks in favour of clusters. Replace office chairs with comfortable tub chairs round a coffee table, or use partitions to create personal spaces when privacy is required.
Ultimately, the traditional office needs to be somewhere that can facilitate vital collaboration and social interactions. Perhaps most importantly though, it must be somewhere your employees want to spend time in. Open windows, good light levels, cleanliness and ventilation can also play an important, if subconscious, role in how relaxed and assured everyone feels being back in a shared workspace.
2. Encourage managers to arrange regular face-to-face team meetings, either in or out of the office
Did you know a large proportion of communication can be nonverbal? While MS Teams and Zoom have made it easy to have collaborative team meetings online, they can be a lot less personal. So, instead of confining meetings to a video call, why not encourage your team managers to mix it up a bit?
Meetings don’t have to be at work, either. Chatting over a coffee in a local café, or going for a walk together, can be just as good for that all-important bonding moment. Encourage your managers not to be afraid to look beyond their office walls or computer screen for a little inspiration.
3. Form a company social team
Positive company cultures are not all about work. Aside from work-based meetings, the social activities that come from working in a thriving office environment can easily be forgotten about when your workforce is remotely based.
One thing you could look to do is to form a social team to plan and create company events or get-togethers. This can give everyone the opportunity to maintain those vital social interactions and perhaps have a little fun, too – all without the pressures of work.
4. Keep tabs on those that work remotely most of the time, and ensure they don’t feel neglected
HR can help managers by providing some best-practice advice for managing team members who may work remotely full-time. They might want to introduce daily virtual check-ins, for example, where people can discuss priorities, update others on their progress and seek advice from colleagues.
Managers need to ensure this isn’t perceived as ‘checking up’ on people to make sure they are glued to their laptops. Rather, it’s an opportunity to maintain team spirit, keep everyone focused on their goals and avoid anyone feeling neglected.
5. Cater to the different demographics of your workforce
Our survey and accompanying report discovered that company culture does not mean the same thing to everyone. With that in mind, investigate the demographics of your workforce before implementing any new strategy so you can introduce methods of engagement that will truly resonate with them.