Remote work culture and how to build it, is a hot topic these days. I see it popping up frequently in my Google Alerts and in social media comments. But as I read the article and the responses, I find myself shaking my head. Remote work culture is organizational culture. It’s not a separate construct. There is research and articles already available on organizational culture. These are just as effective at solving common culture challenges experienced by remote workers, teams and organizations.
We don’t have to reinvent the virtual wheel.
In fact, there are research articles on this fracturing phenomenon: in research, remote work is sometimes treated as if it is different than office work. It’s not.
Organizational culture, is simply organizational culture. No matter where people perform the work.
What is “Organizational Culture”?
Culture is not about chance meetings around a water cooler. Organizational culture is defined as “the formal environment and norms that characterize a specific organization, as well as the informal behavioral and social phenomena that occur among individuals in an organization” (Mercadal, 2021). It is part top-down: policies, procedures, and branding. And it is one-part bottom-up: how employees react, utilize, and influence.
The top-down approach is what most people associate with organizational culture. But how do you guide the bottom-up approach?
It Starts with Values (or Principles)
You can guide employees to adopt informal behaviors that support your organization’s culture through organizational values. These values transcend whatever physical work arrangement you have. And, because organizational values influence decision making in the absence of specific rules, they act as a type of organizational glue.
I find that organizational values are best when they are written as a statement rather than a single word. Individuals interpret words in slightly different ways. My level and understanding of a concept is probably different than yours. I love Amazon’s four guiding principles because they are more descriptive, but still allow for some individual interpretation:
- customer obsession rather than competitor focus
- passion for invention
- commitment to operational excellence
- long-term thinking
Guiding principles like these can influence how employees approach decision making when faced with a new situation while working away from and having limited communication with others.
It Ends with Employees
A recent article by Julie Reiken, CEO of Trakstar in HR Executive Magazine suggested three warning signs to tell if your remote culture is struggling: Low meeting engagement, siloed departments, and poor employee communication. However, these are more likely symptoms of problems that contribute to the breakdown of organizational culture in general. They are not specific to remote work. Problems such as meeting fatigue, errors in organizational design, and poor expectation setting around communication norms – brick and mortars face these same problems.
Guiding principles, when truly embraced and practiced by the organization can influence not only from the top-down, but also from the bottom-up. And, from the home office as well as the corporate cubicle.
How have your companies’ guiding principles or values influenced your work-at-home routines?