The Office Culture Shift: Making the Transition to Remote While Keeping Your Company Culture Intact

There are ways you can keep your culture alive without forcing workers to return to the office in person. Below we outline strategies your small company can leverage.

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The Office Culture Shift: Making the Transition To Remote While Keeping Your Company Culture Intact

When the pandemic hit the United States in March of 2020, most offices had to quickly adapt to being remote. At first, the general impression was that remote work would be a temporary arrangement. Now we see it’s here to stay, as more than half (54%) of workers want to keep working from home after the pandemic is over.

If your company culture was based on in-person dependencies, you might need to rethink your strategy. Adapting to the new way of working means shifting the way you think about culture in the virtual working world.

In one LinkedIn study, researchers found that 81% of the 500 C-level executives would change their company policies to allow more flexibility. And this is indeed what your people want!

According to PWC research, what employees want is:

  • More flexible working arrangements
  • The opportunity to work remotely at least 3 days a week
  • The option to go into the office a few days a week

In large part, this is because employees miss the social aspect of physical workspaces. So whether you become fully remote or introduce a hybrid model, both large and small businesses need to build a culture that serves and inspires virtual and in-person employees.

This article will discuss the different components involved in shifting your culture to suit a virtual workplace.

The impact of the post-pandemic return to office policies

While people miss seeing their colleagues in person, many employers find it difficult to rally their teams to the office. Research on the sentiments of returning to work shows us that:

  • 43% of office workers say that the reality of returning to the office is not what they expected
  • 37% of office workers said, “they feel worse being in the office than they did at their lowest point during remote work.”

Some areas where employee expectations and reality have not aligned include:

  • In-person collaboration
  • Higher productivity
  • The social aspect.

In other words, people expect these areas to be better by going back into the office. Unfortunately, they’re finding that their expectations are falling short of reality.

People are also spending more money when they go into the office since perks have been cut. These include tangibles such as:

  • Coffee
  • Meals
  • Snacks

These challenges are just some of the culprits contributing to a significant portion of the workforce not wanting to return to the office full time. So it’s time to consider your culture strategy for keeping your employees happy and engaged while they spend time working remotely.

Keeping culture alive while shifting to remote-first offices

Your business should adapt to your employees’ changing needs and wants.

The data is clear that people value a strong company culture: 41% of American workers say company culture is a top consideration when picking a company. So how can you keep your workplace culture alive while catering to your employees’ desire to work from home, at least part-time?

In a People Operations-centric business, you know your people are your most valuable asset. This means that your business should adapt to your employees’ changing needs and wants. As your company evolves to a remote-first or hybrid working model, you’ll need to make sure your culture remains strong.

Luckily, there are ways you can keep your culture alive without forcing workers to return to the office in person. Below we outline strategies your small company can leverage.

1. Treat remote and in-person employees the same

According to BambooHR, 78% of remote workers feel their career development has been negatively impacted. Another 53% believe they’ve had to put more effort into proving their worth. Even more alarming is that a study conducted before the pandemic found that despite being 13% more productive, remote workers were half as likely to be promoted when compared with their colleagues who worked in the office!

Remote employees should not feel their growth and career trajectories are impacted by choosing to work offsite.

It’s key to make sure managers are not biased against remote workers in favor of their in-person counterparts. For example, you can keep an eye on any numbers that show the following patterns of favoritism:

  • More in-person employees being promoted
  • Bonuses aren’t going to both groups equally
  • The sought-after projects are being distributed unfairly

Addressing inequitable treatment in meetings

Your company can address these concerns of equality in a few ways. The first is training managers to communicate in regular one-on-ones. Employees who met with their managers more often had greater rates of career progression. You can also watch for quantifiable differences between the two groups, particularly if you have clear-cut remote vs. in-person teams. This means making sure one group is not getting promoted at an overwhelming rate or receiving higher bonuses.

Another important way to ensure both in-person and remote workers are getting treated equally is to make sure everyone has access to meetings and the information shared in them. What this means is that meetings should be standardized.

For example, if you have both a remote and in-person workforce, virtual invites should be sent out for every meeting so your remote workers can join, even if the meetings are taking place in the office.

Another example is if you’re hosting a workshop. You can do it once in person and a second time virtually for your remote workers, so everyone is on an even playing field. Depending on the type of workshop, it might be difficult for your remote workers to jump in and participate if some employees are physically with the person running the workshop.

Your goal is to make sure your remote workers do not feel alienated or missing information in any way.

2. Address remote worker burnout and mental health

Burnout has been rising since the pandemic began, particularly for remote workers. Seventy-nine percent of remote workers feel burnt out monthly, 53% weekly, and 21% daily. The most significant contributing factors include:

  • An expectation to “always be on”: 56% of remote workers feel tethered to their desks
  • Balancing their work and personal life: 41% of remote workers feel burnout from having to balance their home life and work-life
  • Taking on additional work responsibilities outside their jobs: 30% of workers say taking on more work contributed to feeling burnt out

One of the most important ways you can combat burnout, and maintain a culture of empathetic management, is by investing in health care and mental health. If your small business doesn’t have health care yet, we have some guides to help you navigate through all the jargon.

Providing health care benefits allows your employees access to the medical care they need – both physical and mental. Making health care accessible will also help in your recruitment efforts. Consider the fact that 70% of small business employees in a Zenefits survey said they’re unlikely or very unlikely to accept a job that doesn’t offer health benefits.

If your company is struggling with budgets, there are more cost-efficient ways you can invest in mental health. These include training leadership to create mentally healthy workplaces and communicating readily available mental health resources.

3. Help struggling workers achieve better work-life balance

While many workers say their work-life balance has improved since working from home (73%, according to one report), other studies show the opposite. BambooHR’s study about remote work’s impact on culture found that 40% of respondents say work-life balance needs to be better managed.

For the workers struggling to balance their work life and home life, managers can take steps to help alleviate this stress. It’s essential to make sure your managers understand that more than half of remote workers feel they need to be available around the clock. Even making them aware of this might make them think twice before sending a Slack message after typical working hours.

You can encourage managers to use the “schedule for” function on Slack so that messages can be scheduled to send at appropriate hours.

Other suggestions from companies LinkedIn interviewed include:

  • Giving workers more time in their day: Peloton encourages employees to block off time in their calendars to address personal tasks.
  • Closing the office for a few days: LinkedIn and Nike close the office universally for a few days a year because employees can be reluctant to take their vacation days. Closing the office means everyone is off at the same time, forcing employees to take time for themselves without the pressure of having to request vacation.
  • Having leaders take a vacation: This sends employees the message that taking time off is essential.
  • Explore a four-day workweek: This allows employees to have more flexibility over their schedules.
  • Focus on results instead of hours: “Companies are going to see a pivot around measuring outcomes — not activity — and that’s going to play a big part in company culture.” – IBM CHRO Nickle LaMoreaux.

4. Create opportunities for social interactions

A third of workers say feeling lonely or isolated from colleagues is one of the most significant factors contributing to decreased job satisfaction. Having social connections at work is part of what makes us human.

The importance of workplace social interactions should also not be underestimated from a business perspective: Companies with solid workplace networks have better innovation and higher productivity. But workers who have returned to the office and remote workers feel social interactions aren’t as strong as they were pre-pandemic:

  • 40% of workers thought they’d have more social interactions by returning to the office
  • Only 35% said they experienced this as a reality.
  • A Stanford study found that more than half of remote workers decided against being 100% remote because they felt too isolated.

Some initiatives remote or hybrid model companies can put in place to encourage social connection include:

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5. Remote work should be allowed and encouraged at all levels

The research is clear. People want to make their own schedules. If you’re reading this article, you likely already know that forcing your workers to return to the office might not work for everyone.

Remote work should be encouraged and allowed at all levels of your organization. This requirement stems from a critical misalignment.

Management and employees are not on the same page when it comes to remote work.

Forty-three percent of employees believe most people want to work remotely. In contrast, only 32% of people in management think so, and 22% of people at the VP level. Even worse is that 10% of respondents said that only executives at their company were allowed to work from home!

The freedom to work from home and who exercises that benefit should be equal across the hierarchy. This means that both management and employees should have the ability to work from home. And they should actually do so from time to time — including upper management. It’s important to have senior leaders work from home to model that it’s encouraged for employees to do the same.

The bottom line is that your goal is to foster a culture of trust where you trust everyone to work remotely.

6. Invest in the right tools

Remote work comes with a technical cost. Your company will have to invest in communication platforms and tools to facilitate organization and collaboration. While there are hundreds of options, here is a list to get you started:

  • Slack: A communication tool
  • Fellow: Facilitates virtual meetings
  • Miro: A collaborative whiteboard tool
  • Gather: Customization spaces for gathering virtually
  • Trello: Helps teams manage tasks
  • Google Workspace: Comprehensive collection of virtual working tools (email, calendars, etc.)
  • Asana: A project management tool

What no longer works in a remote-first company

As you move to a remote-first workplace, there are traditional practices that you’ll have to say goodbye to or transition away from.

1. Rigid working hours

In a remote-first organization, you’ll have to ditch rigid working hours if you want to maintain a strong company culture. It’s not only beneficial for your employees but also for your retention and referral rates. In the words of Unilever’s VP Paddy Hull: “Flexibility is the way forward.”

When workers are happy with their time and location flexibility, they are 2.6 times more likely to report being happy and 2.1 times more likely to recommend working for the company.

When workers are happy with their time and location flexibility, they are 2.6 times more likely to report being happy and 2.1 times more likely to recommend working for the company.

2. Not prioritizing your employer brand

Employer branding is vital in today’s market, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. LinkedIn’s deep dive into “The Great Reshuffle” found that people are on the hunt for companies that put culture, mental health, and wellness at the forefront.

In their report, they outline that “the share of members changing roles in October 2021 was up 25% compared to the pre-pandemic period in October 2019.” The results showed demand was firmly skewed towards remote or hybrid jobs.

The importance of company culture is evident, with a 67% engagement boost on LinkedIn posts that mention culture. Your employer branding should be a focus in 2022, with an emphasis on your company’s culture and values.

3. Communicating without a strategy

Open and transparent communication needs to be a top priority for your company. It can’t be done on the fly. Strong and intentional communication within organizations has been linked to higher engagement, especially during the pandemic. Companies need to make sure they’re communicating the right messages at the right time.

To keep your company communication and culture strong, here are some steps you can take:

  • Have frequent check-ins between managers and employees
  • Ensure you have a feedback loop in place between leadership that trickles its way down to individual contributors
  • Have the proper people in place to take control of communication strategy
  • Train your people to be effective communicators and to understand a variety of communication styles

A remote-first company can have a strong company culture

Keeping your culture strong while shifting to a remote-first company is challenging but far from impossible. Culture is not just the physical space and the tangible perks, like ping pong tables and snacks. In fact, most employees define culture as “the values and principles a company tries to operate by” (75%) or “an organization’s overall vibe or feeling” (66%).

Make sure to keep your company culture alive through flexible work policies and promoting values around mental health and wellness.

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