The Challenges of Remote Work
On its surface, remote work offers a plethora of benefits to employees. No more pesky commute, you can show up to meetings in your pajamas (or at least pajama bottoms), you’re working in a comfortable environment tailored to your tastes, you’ll likely save money, and the scheduling is altogether more flexible. However, several disadvantages, including boredom, monotony, and isolation, have made the past few months a struggle for many workers suffering from burnout and other mental health consequences.
For many, this time has sparked revelations about the importance of face-to-face interactions. Scientifically, there are grounds for concern about the toll isolation and loneliness can take on a person — research shows these feelings can be “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.” A 2019 study found that 19% of those who work remotely report loneliness, meaning that millions of Americans are likely feeling the impact of work-from-home orders on their mental health.
Additionally, there are the logistical pains that hold particular importance for those with children. With schools shut down, just like offices, parents unable to arrange or access childcare are having to juggle their children and their jobs, leading to intensified stress and distraction from the workplace.
That’s not to say that everyone hates working remotely. In fact, a survey released by getAbstract found that 43% of full-time American employees say they want to work from home even after coronavirus-era restrictions are lifted. Many major companies are hearing positive feedback from employees and are moving in the direction of selling office spaces to accommodate a remote workforce.
Why Work Culture Is Important
Even if many people enjoy working from home, employers have a big responsibility to ensure that they’re maintaining a positive work culture for their workers thrust into this new situation. Workplace culture is the enforcement of a company’s values, which informs the daily life of employees. An emphasis on building a positive workplace culture has become increasingly prevalent in recent years as workers have become more outspoken about the inner workings of their businesses and what is or isn’t working for them.
Research shows that building a strong workplace culture has several core benefits that serve to bolster a company’s success. The most important benefits of having a strong workplace culture are creating a strong identity (both internally and externally), attracting and retaining better talent, and competing with other companies. People now expect businesses to have a strong company culture, so if they don’t, their brand image will be negative.
According to a widely accepted model developed by University of Michigan researchers, there are four distinct types of company culture:
- Clan culture, otherwise known as Collaborate Culture, involves a people-oriented, friendly work environment.
- Adhocracy culture, otherwise known as Create Culture, involves a dynamic and creative work environment.
- Control Culture, otherwise known as Hierarchy Culture, involves a process-orientated, structured work environment.
- Market culture, otherwise known as Compete Culture, involves a results-orientated, competitive work culture.
Which culture you decide to implement depends entirely on what industry you’re in and how you want to achieve results, as all can work, but some will set with your employees better than others.
How to Build a Remote Work Culture
The first step is figuring out precisely what your work culture is, which of the four distinct types best fits your company. You can do this by looking at your company’s history—how the best results have been achieved in the past — and by talking to and surveying employees. They should certainly have input on how the company will be run.
The first step to building a strong remote working culture is by handling the basics. You need to ensure that the proper mediums for communication are in place, so the separation doesn’t hinder people. What this consists of is getting your tech tools in place. It’s worth looking into corporate messaging platforms, like Slack, where you can easily communicate with your co-workers and employees. You can also make niche groups on Skype or Slack where people with specific interests can interact, creating a sense of community.
Once you have those tools in place, make sure you emphasize the importance of employees reaching out—ask for consistent feedback and create as many spaces and opportunities for conversation as possible. On that note, face-to-face time (even over video) is extremely important. Go out of your way to have one-on-one conversations with employees, and make sure people are getting enough interaction and feedback to boost their confidence and inform their work. Make sure to publicly acknowledge good work and compliment employees when they do a good job.
In addition to creating a strong foundation that supports communication and teamwork, you need to make sure employees have the opportunity to let loose and unwind like they would through quick breaks or fun events at work. Though it takes a little extra effort and creativity, employers should try to put together as many enjoyable events or gatherings for their workforce as possible. All work and no play will lead to burn out, which will lead to mistakes and worse results.
A good idea for outside-of-work digital socializing is arranging webinars — either related to work or team-building — and subsequent discussions with staff to enhance learning. Another fun, more relaxed idea is a virtual happy hour, where employees can socialize with their co-workers and let off some steam for an hour or so. You could also organize online game nights, ice breakers, trivia nights, or even dabble in more off-the-beaten-path ideas like virtual reality team building.
The most important thing is to encourage collaboration and bonding at work. Reach out to employees to see how they’re doing and what they’re missing from their new offices — at home.
About the Author
Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.