In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced most organizations to operate remotely, one of the concerns for industry leaders was the impact this transition would have on company culture. The challenge of reimagining the office-centric culture was to keep the employee-morale high and productivity unhindered. In retrospect, many managers across multiple industries today sigh a breath of relief as they observe that the experience turned out better than their expectations.
As of now, most organizations have adapted to a hybrid working model, in which both remote and office-based operations run simultaneously. With work-from-home (often shortened as WFH) becoming the new norm, it will be too early to comment on whether we will return to the fully in-person model soon or not. For the business owners who want to keep employee interactions as an integrated part of their organization’s culture while working remotely, it is time to embrace the change.
In the CXBuzz interview series, we’ve come across some fascinating views from industry leaders and experts who see work-from-home as an opportunity as well as an experiment that can steer the corporate ways in a new direction.
In this article, we have compiled some of the most absorbing takes to lend an insight on the sustainability of remote work culture and how industry leaders are taking up the new normal.
The New Normal… Says Who?
For organizations like Almentor, remote work was a part of company culture even before the pandemic. Karim Ali, Customer Experience Director at Almentor says it works perfectly for them.
“At Almentor, 70% of my team used to work from home before the pandemic. Currently, 100% of the team is working from home. Executives should promote work from home to all employees with at least 1 day per week at the office to maintain human interaction. It works!”
But maybe not for all.
Innovation, Peer-Bonding at Stake
One thing that many workers miss, regardless of their likes or dislikes about working in person, are the fun and instructive times with colleagues. Socializing and networking at work has certainly shrunk to a great extent, and communications have become more formal, losing a lot of “team spirit.”
Boaz Grinvald, CEO of Revuze, points out these crucial factors on which the influence may not be very positive.
“I think that, when the dust settles, most companies will stick to a hybrid model. Meaning employees will come to the office part of the time and will have more flexibility around WFH. We have not been able to assess the long-term impact of WFH, but I suspect it doesn’t influence well on innovation, peer bonding, company affiliation, and other areas.”
Grinvald also highlighted a silver lining in his comment:
“On the flip side, the world saw firsthand that business could function (if must) with WFH. This is why hybrid is the way to go.”
Peter Cohan, the founder of Second Derivative, also shared similar thoughts on peer bonding:
“Interestingly, while business meetings can be done quite effectively over the web, the relationship building that takes place over lunches and dinners, etc., has been lost with a web-only level of interaction. It is often in these informal settings that deeper relationships evolve and richer levels of information exchange take place.”
Cohan, while sharing his visualization on “High Touch”, “Low Touch”, “No Touch” and “Physical Touch” strategies, rightly put out that, “B2B execs will need to determine when to invest in face-to-face meetings and when to continue interactions over the web.”
Blurred Lines Between Home and Office
Aside from the management, the shift has also been a major transformation for employees. With the fine line blurring between home and office-boundaries, frustration, fatigue, and pandemic depression caused employees to work in an environment that impacted their productivity. Under such a scenario, “being genuine and respectful is the best way to go, ” said Alex Sharpe, Consulting Founder of Sharpe Management.
Sharpe also highlighted some of the most common and unethical ways that have seeped into the working procedure:
“We are struggling with the blurred lines between work, home, and school. Our sense of time has become skewed. What annoys me the most and seems to be what I hear the most from others is the barrage of people wanting to connect, the unsolicited emails, and the like outside of normal business hours. The truly most annoying are the ones who pull a bait and switch.”
Sharpe suggested that reaching out during business hours should be practiced along with embracing empathy towards employees.
Similar views were shared by Ellen Sluder, Head of Marketing at SmrtPhone, who believes that, “When operating on a distributed model, you have to take a more active hand in keeping employee morale up.”
Sluder also talked about how executives should build upon a non-work routine to improve team relations:
“As work from home conditions persist, executives should tune into how to capture and build upon non-routine work and aspects of team relations that support the daily work being done. It’s primarily through culture, team building, and finding moments to enjoy and celebrate each other.”
While pondering this statement, I felt like this may also be the right time to nurture the qualities that somehow take a backseat in the humdrum of workload and I am glad to admit, Hannah Louise Cox, Practise Lead at Douglas Jackson poured my views perfectly.
Time to Build Leadership Qualities
“Adapting leadership styles is key. Let go. Trust people to do their work, at the times that they want to do it. As long as the outputs are there and the results, then we do not need to control how people achieve any longer. Don’t make people sit on video calls all day just so that attendance can be monitored. Trust people to do their work and they will usually perform much better for you.” — Hannah Louise Cox.
I can still visualize the office desks set-up in a particular fashion that allowed bosses to hover over anytime. While in few cases it was a necessity, the majority of the time it was an uncalled move that didn’t even allow trust to grow, let alone leadership and ownership skills. If given a chance to build leadership skills and incorporate them into your work culture, then it is now.
“Be ready for the change, first of all! We live in an extremely fast-paced environment, where marketers need to be agile and not to stick to the past, since proven methods and approaches might not work any more. Today we work from home? Great. Tomorrow we work from the moon? Ok, as long as the internet connection is good enough! At the end of the day, the message to marketers is to keep your finger on the pulse, be backed by a team you can trust, and embrace the change,” said Natalia Vasilyeva, VP-Marketing, at Anzu.
Well, I couldn’t agree more. COVID-19 taught us nothing is permanent and the dynamicity should empower the new ways, whether it is about digital transformation or cultural-transformation of the businesses. It may be a period of trial and error, however creating more communication channels, reimagining functionalities, and fostering an empathetic culture can lead the way to a healthy work environment, whether from home or office.