What happens to the culture of the company when we work from home?

In companies where people work closely together a culture unique to them will emerge. In successful work cultures people show ‘esprit de corps’; they have great loyalty to one another, share common values and support one another through difficult times.  Nowhere has this been more evident recently than in the way NHS staff have worked under intense pressure and at great personal risk to keep the death toll from Covid-19 as low as possible. We have clapped to show our appreciation but they have been sustained by the help and support they have got from one another.

All organisations would love to have a dedicated workforce of this kind but how does it develop and how is it fostered? Some important ingredients are that people work together in tight teams with common goals and that they are able to develop empathy and understanding for one another. This can be accomplished most easily when people work in face-to-face settings involving close interaction and have plenty of opportunities for informal gatherings.

How is this to be replicated when people are working at home? There is a danger that they will lose the sense of being part of a team because there is little to sustain it. If they have come from a strong face-to-face team culture, they may be able to sustain the culture for some time but what of new people joining? How do they get to know their colleagues?

There are two ways to promote company culture. First, ensure the organisation is not completely virtual: that some of the time people do meet in face-to-face settings and that, when they do, there are opportunities to share experiences and sort out problems. Second, use on-line meeting capabilities not just for getting through normal work but also to replicate all the other ways people interact with one another at work. During lockdown there have been many examples of people ‘getting together remotely’: to share family stories, to do physical exercises together, to sing together. How many of these kinds of activities could become a normal part of remote working organisational life in the future?

We don’t know very much about sustaining organisational culture when people work from home and organisations will need ways of monitoring the state of their working culture as time goes by to test whether the actions they are taking are effective.

Professor Ken Eason