Why culture is critical for creating a successful remote work environment

By Sarah Kim
April 8, 2020

Remote work has recently become a hot topic, especially amidst the current Covid-19 pandemic. Stay at home and lockdown orders have caused many business all over the world to shut down, while others are leveraging their existing remote work infrastructure or scrambling to set up the infrastructure necessary and transitioning to them. The whole world literally went virtual and the Zoom application went from 10 to 200 million users in just a matter of days!

Even before the impacts of Corona Virus, the traditional workplace environment has been changing and the idea of remote work has been a growing trend. More progressive organizations offer this as a form of an employee benefit. Creating opportunities for a better balance in life, work at their own pace, and can result in more productive workforce when implemented correctly. Virtual workspaces also allow access to a larger talent pool, as recruitment is no longer constrained by geographical boundaries. And as we can all see now, this is great in times of crisis response. Businesses that can function with remote arrangements are maintaining their productivity and keeping their staff employed.

While remote work opportunities do contribute to stellar corporate cultures, culture itself is a critical aspect in creating a successful remote work environment.

Here is where we have got to first acknowledge the risks associated with the fact that a non-co-located team exposes vulnerabilities, one of the main reasons why not all organizations have jumped on the bandwagon to introduce remote work in their workplaces.

It’s already challenging enough to engage our employees when we are sharing the same office space. It is even harder to do this in a remote work setting, where it becomes more difficult to build relationships and connection. There is also an art to effective communication. In fact, studies have shown that most of the message is actually communicated by body language and tone. Without in-person social cues, the chances of misunderstandings and miscommunication are much higher, which can lead to poorer coordination and compromised results. It is also difficult to track the progress of work done remotely. Managers and supervisors would have to depend on data (which requires infrastructure) and also trust (which depends on the culture). Let’s face it, when we’re not sharing the same location, it becomes easier for people to abuse the situation and not do their work when they should. In essence, that is stealing time from the company and is not acceptable.

This is why culture is a critical component to the success of remote work environments. That is why many organizations that have the technological infrastructure still hesitate to pull the trigger on it. If we have a healthier culture, the remote work environment is more likely to succeed in maintaining, or even boosting productivity.

Culture matters

A healthier work culture exhibits greater trust between employees and managers. That means managers extend trust, and employees don’t take advantage of it. This is important in remote work, especially since managers have decreased visibility of the work progress. Even with a healthy work culture, people are people, and this tone needs to be clear. There does need to be a mutual consensus that this benefit is contingent on maintaining productivity. This isn’t a gimmick to get people out of work. If people take advantage of it, the program will be killed, so don’t be the one to ruin it.

Organizations with great cultures tend to have employees with higher baseline self-management and communication skills. They acknowledge that remote work environments have additional obstacles, and they neutralize this by keeping themselves motivated and overcoming the increased obstacles for clear communication with their team. This isn’t easier to do, it’s harder!

Considerations when launching a remote work environment

  • Short-term
    Is this a short-term effort as part of crisis management? Is this to offer side-benefits of work? If so, we can use the best of both worlds that co-located space and remote work have to offer. This means that we can get work that can be done remotely in a virtual space, while still having the option to gather in the co-located space for critical issues that need to be addressed in person.
  • Long-term
    This can be more challenging, due to the fact that gathering in a co-located office for critical issues is not a feasible option. Having a strong Culture is even more essential, as there’s even more room for abuse. However, if this obstacle can be overcome, it can be an amazing benefit and have access to talent pool across the globe.
  • Logistics
    Often times, smaller companies lack the infrastructure for a sophisticated work space. Fortunately, there are many simple solutions that can provide basic virtual meeting and task management functions. They reach a critical size, they can consider more elaborate infrastructure capable of tracking data, work progress, processes, etc.
  • Collaboration
    Larger companies often have existing technology infrastructure, but their primary obstacle is having a healthy work culture. If this is the case, it may be worthwhile to consider reassessing the organizational culture, and whether invest in it.

Whatever your situation is regarding create a virtual work space, it’s important to understand the considerations. It can be a highly beneficial program. However, remember that the success of such a program is highly contingent on the culture of the organization, and not just the technology.

Stay safe during this time, guys


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