Does Remote Work Hurt Company Culture?
A prominent national narrative that gained steam during the first several years of the pandemic and has continued to resonate throughout the business world states that remote work can be harmful to company culture. There are, however, recent findings that provide evidence for a different conclusion on the value of remote or hybrid work.
Before we study these new findings, let’s discuss what company culture means with the understanding that definitions vary in multiple ways. Depending on an employee’s position, what industry segment they work in and the company culture prior to the pandemic, people will come at this issue differently. Some believe it is defined by a sense of organizational belonging and a strong connection to their team or fellow employees. Others state it derives from a set of shared values and beliefs that guide decisions. Still others define it as an intangible asset that makes coming to work fun and rewarding. The bottom line is most agree company culture plays a major role in company success.
Executives of a company may worry about productivity and morale. Other employees can share those concerns, but also wonder if they will get the same level of internal support or have the same access to colleagues or data working remotely. If the company worked remotely prior to the pandemic, continuing to do so may not make a difference, but for companies that had workforces in a physical office prior to the pandemic the transition may have been tougher.
According to a MIT Sloan Management Review and Webex by Cisco study, fewer than 5% state that remote or hybrid work has a negative effect on company cultures. Many other of the respondent findings may be surprising, but are consistent:
- More than 90% said remote or hybrid work had a positive impact on company culture
- 88% stated alignment with company values improved or was unchanged since working remotely
- 89% said inclusion, expression of opinions and diversity improved or stayed the same
- 80% responded their organizations treated everyone equally by including them in decisions
Those are pretty high percentages and the study shows the responses also cut across generational lines. From Baby Boomers through Gen X, Millenials and Gen Z, only an average of 6% of respondents said remote or hybrid work had made things worse.
Another takeaway from the study is more evidence that company culture is impacted by leadership more than location i.e. being in a physical space together. For example:
- 83% stated they are confident in leader’s ability to create a sense of belonging
- 80% said their leaders encourage honest and open feedback
- 75% responded that their managers assign work to everyone, not just their favorites
- The leadership also shows they have confidence in their employees; 76% of executives believe employees will produce quality work on time while working remotely
Related to the above evidence that having options is important to all employees, it becomes clear that not all people would choose remote or hybrid work. Some do very well in an office environment and the responses support companies providing those options to all.
59% stated having their choice being optional rather than mandated as company policy was their preference; in essence, being able to follow more of a hybrid approach where work from home is balanced with days in the office.
To drive that point even further, 68% responded that letting people choose where they want to work remains an important indicator of job satisfaction, employee engagement and their overall well being.
As all of us continue to navigate a complicated work environment; dealing with inflation, trouble finding & hiring workers, wage and benefit volatility and general economic uncertainty, companies that focus on investing in and supporting their employees should succeed. Where people work is an important component of that investment and support formula.