The global health crisis triggered a revolution in work and business culture. The Industrial Revolution shifted production from the household to the factory. The Information Age had made offices the centre of production. The global health crisis returned households to the centre of production systems. Remote work became for a time, the norm. Even as the world returns to some form of normalcy, remote work or some kind of hybrid work model in which workers spend at least some of their productive time at home, will play an important part of the economy. The trouble for business leaders is that, when teams are nothing more than a collection of email addresses, or interactions are largely through video conferencing apps and other platforms, building a business culture can be difficult. So how do you create a business culture remotely?
A business culture can survive or even thrive remotely, if the teams had established relations prior to going remote. The difficulty arises with new hires or even new teams. When people have never met in person, creating a sense of belonging can be very difficult to achieve. Without the environmental cues and systems that nudge people toward a business culture, learning a business’ culture seems next to impossible.
From small businesses to multinational corporations, the problem of building business culture remotely has strained the managerial abilities of executives around the world. CEOs such as J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon have expressed their frustration with remote work and said they believe that people will soon return to the office. Dimon has said workers who want to work remotely, “lack hustle”, while Solomon has called remote work an “aberration”. CEOs have shown a remarkable aversion to remote work, largely because of the difficulties of creating a business culture remotely. Yet, research from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that at least 20% of workers will work remotely in the future.
The solution to this conundrum seems to be multi-faceted. Creating common off-work tasks is one way in which CEOs, at least of small businesses or business units, have attempted to create a feeling of belonging. For instance, the founders of Siete Family Foods bought their staff dumbbells, a TRX system, and tattoos from Mystic Owl Tattoo, and the CEO, Mr. Garza held Zoom workouts for all the employees.
Counter-intuitively, a feeling of belonging may be created by allowing team members to disconnect from the team. At Sieste, where health and connection are important to the ethos of the company, Garza found that the team responded positively to regular surveys of the needs of the staff. By adapting policies to the needs of the staff, he found that workers felt heard and connected. Some of the policy changes involved having no-Zoom Fridays, no-meeting Fridays, and a few paid Fridays off. This was welcomed by the team because they often suffered from burnout and the intensity of having to be constantly connected bothered them. This runs against the instinct of many CEOs who feel that they need to step up the amount of time they spend connected with their employees. Sometimes, workers just wanted to wear their glasses for small faces and tune out to recharge. Sieste’s experience suggests that a top-down approach to change is wrong. Answers come from listening to workers rather than dictating solutions.