I recently graduated from a Masters in International Business and Leadership, and during the ceremony I was reminded of my final piece of course work which was focused on the importance of organisational culture and how remote work may impact it. I concluded that organisations need to pay very close attention to their culture if operating a remote workforce, and adjustments are typically required to ensure that the culture continues to provide a competitive advantage (Jefferies, 2022). To maintain a positive culture, organisations must ensure that lines of communication remain open and that employees feel connected to each other and the organisation. Leaders should also strive to create an environment that encourages collaboration and innovation in order to ensure a thriving remote work environment. Managers should create strategies to foster team unity, trust and camaraderie even in remote work settings. They should strive to create an inclusive environment that encourages employees to feel heard and valued. Additionally, by providing the necessary tools and resources, employers can create an environment that encourages employees to take ownership of their work and achieve success. By creating an environment of trust and respect, employers can ensure that remote working is successful and beneficial for all parties.
Whilst somewhat obvious, one of the key findings of my research was that employee engagement was absolutely critical to ensuring organisational culture is not weakened by remote work. One of the main challenges for managers and leaders in any organisation, but especially those with a large remote workforce, is ensuring they are engaged with employees, and that in turn, employees are engaged with the organisation. To do this, managers should focus on setting clear expectations and goals, providing feedback, and offering opportunities to learn and develop.
Creating a strong positive organisational culture, that encourages collaboration and fosters engagement, does not happen overnight. Instead, it is a long-term commitment that requires dedication and consistency from the organisation's leadership. It is important to create a culture of trust and respect between managers and employees, and cultivate an environment where everyone can succeed. It takes time to build and requires constant vigilance from leaders to ensure adaptations are made as the business evolves and as it reacts to internal and external events. Building and maintaining a great culture that creates a competitive advantage is no easy task, but luckily, there are some tried and tested methods and tools that leaders can implement to help them achieve this, which I have summarised below.
Define the culture
Organisational culture is a set of shared values that help to moderate and drive specific behaviours. To ensure everyone in the organisation understands what those shared values are, the first step for any leadership team is to clearly define what the organisation's culture is, and what behaviours are expected. This definition should be communicated to staff, either through written material or through regular meetings and conversations. It should also be reflected in the organisation's policies and procedures. Finally, the organisation should strive to ensure that these values are consistently practiced throughout the organisation. To do this, leaders must define and articulate the mission and vision statements of the organisation, set clear and concise values, and communicate these to the business regularly. By defining where the organisation is, where it wants to go, and values are expected, employees have a clear understanding of what is required and how they can support the organisation in achieving its goals. This helps to create a shared vision and shared values that everyone can work towards. It also helps to build a culture of trust and accountability, which leads to better performance, productivity, and engagement.
Lead by example
If the leadership team expects employees to adhere to a set of values but don't live them as well, then employees will quickly lose trust in the leadership team and cultural erosion will occur. This can lead to a decrease in morale and productivity, as well as the potential for more serious issues such as employee turnover and a drop in customer satisfaction. It is crucial that leaders model the values they expect employees to follow in order to foster trust and create a positive work environment. Leaders should openly engage with their employees to create an open and positive environment and constantly look for ways to demonstrate their dedication to organisational values.
Every organisation requires goals; however, not all excel at setting them effectively. Too often, goals lack specificity, fail to align with the organisation's vision statement, and exclude employees. Goals should be created using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) framework, aligned with organisational values, and developed with employee involvement to encourage commitment.
Not every message delivered by the leadership team will be positive, nor will every decision be popular. However, by regularly sharing information about the company's goals, performance, and how decisions impact these, leadership fosters trust with employees and creates a culture of transparency. Open communication encourages employees to provide their honest feedback, leading to increased engagement throughout the organisation.
Recognising and celebrating the accomplishments of teams and individual employees is crucial. Too often, great work goes unnoticed, impacting future productivity. By celebrating achievements, regardless of size, leaders demonstrate that success is valued, positively impacting overall engagement and productivity.
Establishing a robust internal reward and recognition program linked to organisational values and acknowledging employees' efforts publicly can be an excellent way to motivate and reinforce desired values and behaviours.
Seek and Act Upon Feedback
Taking the pulse of the organisation is essential for maintaining employee engagement. Leaders must listen to employees' ideas and concerns, and most importantly, act on their feedback. Creating regular feedback mechanisms, such as town halls, one-to-ones, and surveys, fosters an open culture that helps leaders understand the business's mood, address issues promptly, and obtain diverse feedback to achieve goals. Responding to and acting on feedback demonstrates that employee opinions are valued, building trust and maintaining engagement.
Encouraging frequent engagement among teams within the business is vital, especially in remote workforces, where silos can form, and cross-functional tensions can arise more easily. To combat this, leaders should encourage teamwork through organisational values, goals, and cross-functional initiatives. Consider establishing a secondment or mentorship program to build cross-functional knowledge and engagement.
Bureaucracy and micromanagement can hamper productivity and morale. Leaders should strive to reduce internal red tape and provide employees with autonomy. Equip teams with the tools and skills to manage their work, make decisions, and take initiative. Allow creativity and innovative solutions to challenges. When goals and values are clearly defined, employees will have the guidance they need, and leaders should trust them to manage their work. Support employees through professional development, training, and feedback to enhance skills and increase role satisfaction and overall engagement.
Take Action on Cultural Deviance
Leaders must address any individual or team that consistently behaves in ways that do not align with the organisational values. Unchecked poor performance or toxic behaviour leads to disengagement, mistrust, and internal friction. Establish a process to address cultural deviations, working collaboratively to understand the root cause and find solutions.
As an organisation grows, the culture must adapt to meet changing needs. Culture is shaped by employees but created by leaders, who act as guardians to ensure its evolution aligns with the organisation. Leaders must embrace change and encourage new approaches to ensure the culture continues to provide a competitive advantage.
Jefferies, I.R., (2022), How has the sudden mass move to remote work, as a result of the pandemic, impacted Organisational Culture? A study of remote work and organisational culture within a financial services organisation. University of York.