Is management the missing ingredient in the fusion of organizational culture and remote work?
Those who have had experience working remotely are broad supporters of this notion. Its success depends, on the one hand, on an effective culture driven by senior managers who embrace the notion of remote working. On the other hand, remote work can offer an alternative to a toxic office culture resulting from management neglect.
Armando Del Bosque commented: “Organizational culture helps us find what we love, love what we do and then we can overcome many obstacles, including social distancing with our colleagues on our work teams. On the other hand, Melanie Roberts reminds us that “Charles Handy… refers to culture as the soup we are all swimming in, and that soup is thin when ‘here’ is not a place and the people work asynchronously and may not share a “common way of doing things”.
Those working remotely expressed enthusiasm for it. To the extent that it promotes loyalty, it can strengthen a culture. Betsy Dickson commented on her move to a remote area this way: “…my employer allowed me to make the transition to working from home…The freedom, flexibility and…enhanced productivity allow me to find ways to deal with issues (like a manager not supporting me)… In the past (presumably, in a shared office situation) I would have been gone by now.
Joan De Souza endorses remote work in her organizations and those of her clients. But it offers caveats. For example, it is more appropriate for certain types of jobs. As she puts it, “Remote work and workflow is better in some departments because they don’t have to deal with the somewhat unhealthy political environment at work. In other departments like sales and l admin…running to the coffee shop or watering hole after work energizes them She finds it “difficult to implement our ‘flexible’ mindset with our clients’ employees as senior management don’t did not adopt it herself.
Remote work can help some avoid a toxic culture. Alison Leuders comments, “Reasons I like it include: (1) saving time and money otherwise wasted on commutes…(2) avoiding the office, I also avoid co-workers who in the past, inappropriately commented on my appearance, asked me or said to my face that they would never work for a woman, (3) the flexibility to work evenings without worrying about my safety…Trust me when I say most men can’t even begin to understand that. Long live remote work!”
Adrian Zicari suggests that the problem of extending a culture to a remote workforce is not related to technology. As he put it, “the structures, procedures and culture (of the company) are not yet ready to maintain remote work as the new normal… It is not a technological question, but a managerial one. The technology more or less exists today. What we don’t have yet (in many cases) is the new mindset. »
Do you agree with Zicari? Is management the missing ingredient to combine culture and remote work? What do you think?
We’ve all had conversations over the past few weeks with people working from home for the first time while sheltering from COVID-19. I tried to take the opportunity to conduct an informal investigation: how is it going? Do you think you would like to change your work habits to continue working from home?
The responses I’ve received are mostly positive: “It’s going pretty well. In the future, I might like to change my schedule to include at least some of my time working from home.”
Many of us have joined meetings on Zoom and other meeting services. Some engaged in telemedical appointments with doctors. Social distancing has even permeated our television viewing: our favorite news and opinion shows have been little affected by social distancing. (In some cases they’ve gotten better, perhaps due to the increased availability of homestay celebrities. You also see what your favorite expert has been reading since most seem to be streaming past their shelves.) The experience is different side-by-side working as social animals, but thanks to 5G, internet and cloud capability that didn’t exist just a few years ago, we communicated without too much difficulty.
All of this suggests that responses to the virus could be accelerating a trend already underway, that of greater delivery of work done remotely.
The advantages and disadvantages of remote work have been discussed many times. Consulting organizations have found policies allowing consultants to live anywhere to be effective ways to recruit talent. However, although these people can live anywhere, they do most of their shift work on the road. My concern is the impact on an organization’s culture that a significant increase in working from home can have, particularly when culture is viewed by management as one of the organization’s strengths.
A case in point is Critical Mass, a 24-year-old digital experience design agency based in Calgary, Canada, with 950 employees employed in 12 offices operating around the world. CEO Dianne Wilkins said, “Our biggest threat for the years ahead is talent.” The culture of the organization has been an important competitive advantage for the Company. As she describes it, “You’ll likely meet your new group of best friends when you join Critical Mass.” Much of the work of the organization is done in teams.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Critical Mass had been in the process of implementing a new remote work program called Liquid for a few months. Nearly 10% of its talents now work from home. The intention is to accommodate those who prefer to work from home in the future. Sara Anhorn, Executive Vice President of Talent, commented, “People want a different way of working…people with the kind of talent we need at Critical Mass live everywhere, not just near the location. where we have different opening projects (an office).”
A fundamental challenge for Critical Mass is maintaining the organization’s highly valued culture. One policy to support this goal is to require people working from home to work the same hours as those working from an office. Remote work raises questions: what effect does it have on employee loyalty? What can be done to get remote workers more involved in their work? What should be done to ensure that everyone adheres to the values of an organization? Do effective organizational cultures and remote work mix? What do you think?
I am indebted to Dan O’Brien and Dan Maher for conducting interviews that provided insight into Critical Mass and Liquid.
A note to readers
James Heskett looks back on 20 years of writing his monthly business management column for HBS Working Knowledge.