A mainstay of company culture has always been the social aspect of work.
Without the casual conversation that accompanies hallway chats, breakroom conversation, or even the pre and post work-related meeting banter, much of the interaction during work hours becomes just that, work-related.
While remote and distributed workforces offer many positive aspects, they threaten to deprive organizations—and their employees-- of that daily interaction that if not carefully curated, can also rob the company of many aspects of its culture.
"Let’s be honest, only talking about work-related topics all day every day is boring, dry and considerably more stressful," says Netsurion CEO Kevin Watson. "It is not a culture most of us want to be a part of."
From his perspective, company culture needs to be a thing that is considered, cultivated, and made a topic of management discussions and evaluation, just like any other business goal.
"In a full work-from-office environment, the culture often naturally stems from the personalities of the employees," he says. "Without that natural culture creation, organizations now need to create a company culture, lest they fall into a culture vacuum."
Arthur Lozinski, co-founder and CEO of Oomnitza, adds culture is driven by history, values, and behaviors, which are set, conveyed and sustained by people.
"This is reinforced through communications and interactions," he says. "Employees must understand and align with the values and recognize desired behavior."
But with a remote and hybrid workplace, this interaction can’t be done in person, requiring a more frequent company-wide and team effort, using various collaboration tools, to share culture value and operating norms.
"It also needs to be easy and attractive for employees to do so in hybrid or remote settings," Lozinski adds. "Achievement is possible, it just takes longer and with more concerted effort."
The Limits of Tech Tools
Watson points out hybrid worforce concepts struggled to gain adoption for decades for the simple reason that without current technology it would have been wildly inefficient at best and impossible at worst.
However, the introduction of easy-to-use and inexpensive technology has not only made it possible but in many cases made hybrid work environments preferred by many employees and businesses.
"Obviously, the biggest tech tool change is the prevalence of video conferencing technology," he says. "Every conversation, either between two employees, a half dozen, or even hundreds can be done via video. And that face-to-face matters. Facial expressions that were lost in a phone call are back."
That return to personal interactions, and a personal view of co-works, creates the opportunity for a return to the casual social banter lost when workers stopped seeing each other physically in the office every day.
"Video chat also creates the opportunity for specific company culture activities, events that are scheduled with specific purpose of helping create culture in a remote setting," he notes.
Boosting Productivity and Culture Simultaneously
Watson says other tools that are critical for maintaining company culture in a remote setting include file sharing, secure instant messaging, and better employee review tools.
"While these seem more about improving company productivity, if used correctly they create the opportunity to drive more and easier interactions, and interactions drive culture," he says. "By far the biggest threat to company culture is isolation."
Lozinski adds diverse WFH and hybrid setups require IT management to be as streamlined and automated as possible, which is where Enterprise Technology Management (ETM) platforms come into play.
"Streamlining workflows benefits an organization in any context," he says.
In WFH settings, automating manual processes is especially useful to ensure efficient onboarding, and in provisioning and deprovisioning applications.
"Empowering employees and allowing them to avoid operational drudgery in favor of more interesting and impactful work has a direct positive impact on corporate culture," Lozinski notes. "More so, it creates more efficient, productive, secure and compliant operations."
The Importance of Inclusion
Fostering a sense of inclusion for company culture is also more crucial today given a remote workforce adoption because companies are social structures.
"If people can't convene in person, they need to do so virtually," Lozinski says. "This necessitates seamless access to a wide set of technologies, ranging from endpoints to applications which support collaboration."
Watson notes when everyone was in the office it was easy to see who didn’t participate in the workplace banter, who didn’t go out for drinks and who wasn’t interacting with their co-workers.
In remote settings, it can be very hard to notice who isn’t there, or who just attends or speaks up for the work-related discussions.
Watson says this may be the hardest part of creating a hybrid company culture, convincing those that are naturally less inclined to put themselves out there to be part of the conversation.
"Again, isolation is the enemy of company culture, so it becomes critical to not just foster a sense of inclusion, but to ensure that people at all levels and of all personalities don’t slip through the virtual cracks," he says.