Company Culture in a Remote Environment

July 30, 2020 | David Daly 5 Mins read

COVID-19 has dramatically changed office culture and how we interact with each other- it has started by temporarily closing down offices as everybody capable of working remotely has been encouraged to do so and are now required to deliver services remotely from their homes.

Video conferencing and telephone calls have replaced face to face interactions, the daily commute is temporarily suspended and workplace interactions and casual conversations with colleagues and friends in the office is no longer an option.

While much of the focus has been about survival and delivering essential or critical business services, HR departments at multinationals around the world are now accepting that the remote delivery of services could be a long-term thing, at least for 2020. There are indications that this uncertain period that we are going through is going to change office culture in a permanent manner.

In this article, we will look at how HR departments and company employees can work together to maintain company culture in a remote working environment. We will look at the importance of not abandoning company culture & values during this period of turbulence and assess what tools and initiatives are available to HR professionals to ensure that company culture both survives and helps with the delivery of services.

Culture still matters

If a company has invested time in getting the culture right, then it has a good chance of developing long term loyalty with its employees. HR and communication teams have worked consistently with wider leadership teams to outline, articulate and define what a company culture is. This can consist of several things but is usually about embodying a set of behaviors that match the company’s vision, mission and value set

These behaviors are the activities and moral principles that leadership teams want to see from their managers and employees across offices, countries and regions on the daily basis. It is about people in a global workforce coming together and working towards a common goal. If this goal has been outlined in a clear and concise manner, if it makes sense and is practical to deliver upon, then office employees can buy into it, adhere to it and adapt their behavior in response to it.

A challenge for HR

For it to work in the long term, company culture needs to be monitored and assessed. Leadership teams and managers need to take the initiative and set an example, and those who are not following company culture, need it brought to their attention in a way that alters their behavior. The right kind of company culture can be an asset -it can increase productivity, collaboration and a sense of unity among colleagues. Now is not the time to let a great deal of hard work and effort slip by because a global pandemic is dominating and dictating daily schedules for remote workers.

Some important questions that HR teams are working on delivering answers to include:

  • Can company culture be maintained when people are not sitting together in an office or having regular face to face contact with managers or leadership figures?

  • If current goals are all about survival, remote teams and financial stability, is there any room left to focus on culture?

  • What methods can HR or communications teams use to reinforce the importance of culture and see that it is maintained by colleagues on a companywide basis in a remote environment?

This is the challenge facing HR and leadership teams at multinationals around the world. Some companies place a lot of emphasis on company culture, many even view it as the key driver to their success and future stability. Companies who hold this view will be looking at ways in which they can continue to drive home the message around the importance of culture when it comes to behavior, attitude and commitment.

There is precedent

One place they could start is by taking a look at a few companies who had remote employees and dispersed workforce long before COVID-19 hit the news. There are a number of startup enterprises and digitally native tech companies who have decided not to operate in the office environment and develop a global hiring process based around remote working. Buffer, the social media scheduling tool, has a 100% remote workforce and Invision, the design collaboration platform, is also a fully distributed remote company.

Their goals have been to hire the best talent and appeal to those who are looking for a different working lifestyle, specifically the flexibility of being able to work from home or deliver services and tasks outside of normal working hours. Some of these companies even talk openly about their vision, mission, values and their company culture -some even go so far as to make them public in an attempt to bolster their commitment to them. Buffer talk openly about their values and many of them can be practiced in any organization, for example they say “We listen first and then listen more: seeking first to understand, then to be understood”– this is a simple value that can add deep value if used consistently.

A remote culture

There are some practical ways a HR team can attempt to build and grow a positive company culture with a remote team:

    • Be positive: it can be done, HR must believe first if staff are to follow
    • Understand the value of remote working and make this understanding clear in any communications
    • Be prepared to refine or change any values that don’t seem like a good fit with a remote working environment
    • Be clear and concise: easily understood and digestible messaging works better than complex and ambitious attempts at being inspirational
    • Get a strong buy in and commitment from leadership teams-let them know you will need them to step up and help convey messages through video conferencing, social media or any other communication methods available
    • Make culture a part of your new hires onboarding and induction process, the earlier you get your message out to any new joiners, the better
    • Find an alternative to the office ‘water cooler’- employees need a place for casual or fun based conversation -this will now need to be in a virtual work environment
    • Measure employee engagement- use digital or online surveys on a regular basis and take action on any consistent or trending feedback

Remote might be the future

We don’t yet know the full impact of COVID-19 on the business landscape worldwide, but an educated guess tells us that remote working is going to play a bigger role in the future. It may very well become the norm within 5 to 10 years. Any HR department who takes time now to make an effort to maintain company culture in a remote environment might just find themselves ahead of the curve.

80% increase in telecommunicating employees between 2005 to 2012

Remote working was on the rise before COVID-19 hit with statistics showing an 80% increase in telecommunicating employees between 2005 to 2012. The case for virtual teams is becoming clearer and there are already indications that some major multinational companies are looking to make significant changes to the ways in which they distribute their workforce in the post COVID-19 environment.

Payslip and remote culture

Payslip, like a lot of companies, has become a fully remote team in recent months due to Coronavirus and are likely to remain operating in a remote capacity for another few months at least. As an agile company who develop innovative software, delivering work remotely is something that aligns with our own values and our company’s position in the digital transformation of global payroll operations. We embrace technology, and even build it to help our customers deliver global payroll in a better way.

Global payroll professionals these days are usually part of a wider team that is dispersed across many countries, regions and time zones. They’re used to interacting with people they don’t see face to face every day and they are comfortable embracing technology to deliver critical payroll services.

Our payroll technology facilitates the remote delivery of global payroll, the instant switching of tasks between people based in different countries and continents, and the remote generation and scheduling of global consolidated reporting.

As a company, we are agile enough to be ready for any shift towards remote working. We are ready and waiting to help global payroll professionals overcome any challenges they are facing with remote delivery due to legacy technology, unstandardized data or a lack of automation in task delivery.

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Using Payslip, we can manage all our payrolls across nine in-country vendors on one platform. When the global Covid-19 pandemic arose, it was not an issue from a payroll perspective, and critically getting everyone paid. The Payslip platform enabled continuity for our international payroll service including the fast and seamless implementation of the Payslip Employment Self Service during this time.

Colin Smith

Payroll Manager, LogMeIn

With business and employee growth rates of above 50%, we rely on our vendors to deliver on time, every time. Payslip’s workflow automation, enables Phorest to manage our payroll provider process – data driven, real time and transparent. Payslip saves us time so we can focus on our business growth.

Ana Kelly

International Payroll Manager, Phorest