I recently read a funny comment from the Chief Executive of Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, who said the most commonly used term for 2020 was ‘unprecedented’, followed closely by “you are on mute”! I thought both accurately summed up the whirlwind of last year.

Working from home is likely to be the most discussed workplace issue of 2021. What we are seeing with many businesses is greater flexibility with offices hours, dress and working locations. We’re not talking about work-life balance these days, it seems to be all about work-life harmony. This covers the compatibility of managing work, the different roles we play in the family and an emphasised focus on our mental wellbeing. For many people, work and home have now merged.

Because of the intensity of this subject in the media, one would be forgiven for thinking everyone is working remotely. However, this is not the case. Many businesses are unable to let people work from home due to the specialised or hands-on nature of roles such as equipment operation or mining or transport. However, for those white collar or knowledge workers who can work from remote locations, there is increasing pressure on businesses to allow this to happen.

A recent Boston Consulting Group report said there was a “clear expectation gap between employee desires and the working models envisaged by their employers”. Almost two-thirds of employees want a hybrid model that involves some working from home and some days in the office, but employers say it will only be available to about 40 per cent of staff. A study by AlphaBeta consultancy, a part of Accenture, found one in four businesses had a drop in productivity when working from home during the pandemic. Productivity was about the same for half of businesses during that period while 25 per cent said it had improved. There is certainly a case for businesses to alter their working models to accommodate new employee expectations in some way – but with the right frameworks in place to ensure success. A key part will be for employees to continue to feel connected, part of something bigger and accountable.

I’ve given this a lot of thought recently and in this blog, I wanted to share my ideas on how to ensure your culture and workplace continues to thrive in this new world.

Culture drives engagement and connection. The downside of being remote is employees may struggle to build connections and may work in silos. Engaging staff in a shared purpose can be more difficult to drive. Managers need to effectively lead and ensure outputs generated from multiple workplaces are strategically aligned. Culture is important and is a key catalyst with productivity and performance through increased employee engagement, team moral and job satisfaction.

Take steps to alleviate the remoteness. This may include:

  • Having more one-on-ones, inviting all remote employees to activities and arranging meet and greets when possible
  • Tailoring communication so things are more individualised and personalised so team members continue to feel seen as a person and valued as an employee
  • Listening more and taking greater interest in the person and their contribution
  • Trusting and being open to discovery.

Understand how different personalities engage. Some will love working remotely and some will hate it. This will depend on the personality of the individual. I have previously spoken about the exercises we conducted with clients during the first COVID-19 lockdown, where we completed a deep dive looking into the personalities of the staff and managers. This provided greater understanding of their strengths and specific needs for engagement and interaction with others. Once they were aware of these areas, they could better complement and work with one another remotely.

Managers lead engagement. Research shows 70 per cent of an individual’s engagement is driven by their manager. It is about creating opportunity to allow staff to positively impact the organisation and telling them so. But coming back to my earlier point, it is about allowing a harmony to be created with their family or home situation, which can mean people may be working any time between 6am to midnight.

Without face-to-face, be conscious – and forgiving – of non-verbal communication. When communicating in a non-verbal way or in video, things can be amplified without you realising. This may be anything from a look of disinterest or distraction on a video call. Don’t try and micro-manage. The key for managers is trust and being open to discovery. Remember most of us are on a new journey with this. Think about daily communication, regular internal blogs and even weekly fireside chat updates that allow everyone to connect, share and engage, all virtually. Remember communication becomes a key driver for embedding the behaviours that will cement the values and desired culture within the team.

Be open to future candidates looking for flexibility. In an environment where the right skills and experience are going to be harder to get, candidates will choose employers that allow them greater lifestyle choices than those that do not. We are already getting candidates asking about remote working policies as one of the early questions in the recruitment process. In one instance a candidate accused the employer of lacking a progressive visionary attitude for not allowing them to work from home five days per week. While that is an extreme example, just be mindful of the person you require with key skills, they may be someone who needs greater flexibility in their work life harmony.

I hope you will find these observations useful. As always, I wish you prosperity and job satisfaction from your cultural alignment and if I can help you achieve this, please get in touch.

Happy recruiting!

Ian Hamilton

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Further reading and reference material:

How to build workplace culture when you have a remote team (businessaustralia.com)

Leading Remotely: What Managers Need to Keep Teams Engaged (gallup.com)

How to Manage Your Company Culture Remotely | Partners In Leadership

how to manage a remote team | tips to manage a remote team (essemy.com.au)