Rebuilding a healthy organisational culture in the age of remote work

Published on 01/08/2022 by David Jani

We are living in a new age where remote work is common. A plan to maintain company culture when you have a distributed workforce is now a must. Creating a healthy organisational culture takes more than just having capable internal communication software; SMEs also need to strategise to get the best results.

Adapting organisational culture to remote work illustrated by an employee at a desk waving to a colleague on a sofa

The culture of a newer business is often much easier to calibrate than that of a more established company. Yet the shift toward hybrid and remote working models requires a significant rethink of workplace culture.

To address these challenges, we have looked at how UK SMEs have shifted their working practices in recent years. We also studied the most important ways to adopt a robust organisational culture that gives remote and hybrid workers a sense of connection to their core brand and team.  

What is organisational culture?

Organisational culture is defined by Gartner as a set of promoted rules of conduct that encompass core values, priorities, and shared beliefs.

These are used to guide a business and its workforce when it considers its decision-making, operating styles, and internal communications, amongst other things.

How have UK workplaces adapted to remote work since the COVID-19 pandemic?

There has been a considerable increase in businesses in the United Kingdom that have adopted remote work since the end of 2019.

OECD figures show that the number of people working remotely in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic was about 20 percentage points higher in April 2020 than the previous year. 

However, since the end of pandemic restrictions, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) observed in May 2022 that around 24% of UK employees are now working in a hybrid model and 14% are employed exclusively remotely. 

What are the attitudes to working remotely post-pandemic?

Whilst remote working became the norm during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions have since eased. However, today workers are often presented with more options to work from home, in a hybrid environment, or attend work in person daily. 

Yet, what is the overall sentiment regarding these systems amongst the UK workforce?

Data collected by the ONS last year revealed an overall positive sentiment on remote working amongst UK employees. Many reflected that working from home resulted in fewer distractions, better wellbeing, and improved work-life balance.

Our own study on mental wellbeing since the COVID-19 pandemic also observed a modest improvement in factors such as work-life balance and flexible working hours for around a third of UK employees respectively.

Graph showing how the connection to corporate culture changed over the pandemic

These studies show that UK workers are content overall with being able to work from home at least some of the time. 

However, 23% of our participants said their connection to company culture had worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This suggests there is still much that can be done to maintain a healthy corporate culture in companies in the age of remote work.

Why is business culture important for employees post-pandemic?

SMEs should not underestimate the importance of workplace culture. It takes many forms, from how companies foster social interaction to how goals are met. 

Naturally, the pandemic had a significant effect on how employees were able to gather socially. Whilst this created a need for a creative response, companies haven’t always ensured that the interaction between colleagues was maintained. 

For example, when we asked about company social events for SME employees during the pandemic years (for both online and offline activities), we observed a generally low incidence of organised group occasions for employees.

Graphic displaying the frequency of virtual or physical workplace social events in UK SMEs

In addition to this, it was shown that employees valued these events highly. Around 22% said employee social events were ‘very effective’ and 51% reported they were ‘moderately effective’ in connecting them with their colleagues.

This is only one minor concern related to company culture in general. However, it is an excellent example of where businesses need to look for solutions that keep employees engaged and connected.

Does a hybrid environment have negative effects on organisational culture?

Whilst it is easy to blame a shift away from employees gathering in a central location for a decline in corporate culture, it’s also important to remember that hybrid or remote workforce models don’t necessarily dilute a company’s culture. 

Research from Gartner found that 32% of employees that had recently changed to hybrid or remote working models reported that company culture in their business had improved a lot. Furthermore, 44% also reported that their workplace culture had improved somewhat. Only 24% reported that it had worsened a little or a lot.

This, in turn, led to benefits for companies. Those that reported this improvement in corporate culture also cited benefits such as employee engagement that was 2.4 times higher and were 3.5 times more likely to report higher inclusion than other participants who had observed a fall in company culture.

What can managers do to recreate company culture remotely?

Remembering that company culture focuses on more than just the place you and your staff gather for work is vital. It is an operating environment that should permeate through all of an SME’s processes and procedures, affecting its goals, means of collaboration, and communication style.

In many ways, the most challenging part of organisational culture change is already behind us. The initial shift to remote work due to the pandemic presented the most significant challenge, but since then many of its initial issues have been figured out. 

However, according to Gartner, around 68% of executive teams are still in the process of rethinking their company culture to reflect the shifting sands of the business world towards remote and hybrid workforces. 

To get there, SMEs should consider the following steps.

1. Foster a sense of connection

In the world of remote work, it’s imperative to create a culture that encourages a sense of belonging and connection amongst your employees. 

This could involve small steps, bringing staff together for meaningful moments and regular catchups. To this end, it’s essential to ensure that time is made for staff to socialise and get together online for reasons other than business meetings.  

It is also vital to ensure that managers are prepared for the task of overseeing remote workers. Managers are essential touchpoints between workers in remote locations and a business to convey company culture. They need to be ready for the challenges of this in remote and hybrid workplaces.

There are a few key elements to consider in this case. These include measures such as employing effective communication media and ensuring that inclusion, feedback, and mentorship are upheld remotely; this can be especially important with Gen Z workers.

What tools can help keep company culture alive?

Software is an essential part of a remote or hybrid working model. There are many types available that can help promote your SME’s cultural plan by helping you communicate, motivate, and project manage your staff.

Some of the choices available that can help you keep on top of your team include: 

  • Video conferencing software – An essential tool for maintaining contact with non-office-based employees by enabling remote face-to-face interactions. 
  • Internal communication software – Assists with the flow of information amongst your employees to help stakeholders communicate with one another or for management to share company-wide updates.
  • Employee engagement software – Used to create employee awareness of a firm’s culture, collect feedback data, or communicate company rewards systems. 
  • Remote work software – These kinds of tools combine many of the functionalities on this list to help remote staff keep in touch with fellow employees and stay connected to the company.
  • Project management software – Makes it easier to oversee, plan, and implement projects to reach collective goals and keep stakeholders updated on progress along the way.

2. Establish clear company goals

It’s best to work with a few clear company-wide goals that you believe will bring the most success. This can help everyone stay on the same page and avoid confusion or alienation amongst employees.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recommends setting agreed-on ways of working and showing how employee efforts fit into the business’s key goals. This can be achieved with regular feedback sessions and a clear structure for teams and organisational meetups.

3. Create a culture that fits your staff

It’s crucial not to create an inorganic culture that tells people how to think and behave. Instead, founders and leaders should work collaboratively with their teams to find the right way forward.

As we saw in our recent conversation with 4 experts in HR, motivation isn’t something that can be artificially created. 

Your employees are human beings with distinctive goals and motivations, and it’s essential to understand how a company culture could engage the people you already work with to keep them on board. 

4. Create a decent work-life balance

One of the benefits of working remotely is the potential to enjoy a better work-life balance. However, it’s crucial that companies understand that some remote company culture approaches could have the opposite effect.

It’s too easy with remote work to fall into a trap where employees are ‘always on’, leading to low morale and burnout. In our study into workplace mental wellbeing, we observed that difficulty managing home and work life was amongst the top five most significant stressors, affecting 19% of the UK workforce.  

Therefore, SMEs must consider creating formal (but not rigid) expectations on when staff need to be online and when they should get some well-deserved rest. This can be managed through various means such as annual leave, flexible hours, and a culture that acknowledges downtime and uptime. 

Looking for internal communication software? Check out our catalogue. 

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

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About the author

Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate, travel enthusiast, keen home chef and F1 fan.

Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate, travel enthusiast, keen home chef and F1 fan.