CHALLENGES BEFORE THE HUMAN RESOURCE DEPARTMENT
Even those who may have difficulty in defining organisational culture in precise terms with its varied hues and indeterminate characteristics, will have no hesitation in admitting to the fact that great organisations have been built over the years whether in India or elsewhere not just based on their performances, measured in purely commercial terms. The performances of great organisations have been based on certain factors that are unique to those organisations. The X-factor that leads to superior performances are collectively known as corporate culture that are unique to each organisation. The balance sheets of these organisations cannot reveal anything about its culture nor will its employee handbooks. References to organisational culture are rooted in the company’s shared values, beliefs, norms, customs, and practices that shape the way individuals within the organisation think, behave, and interact with one another. It forms the collective identity of the organisation and guides the behavior and decision-making processes of its members. No wonder that the organisational culture is often considered as the “personality” of an organisation and it influences its mission, vision, strategies, and how it responds to internal and external challenges. It plays a crucial role in shaping the work environment, employee engagement, and the overall success and effectiveness of the organisation. In these days of increasingly frequent corporate mergers and acquisitions, this aspect has assumed considerable significance. Having said this, it is important to look at how cultures in organisations evolve and how its leaders anchor their decisions on their own perceived understanding of their companies’ cultures. Developing a desirable culture is a transformative process and it simply cannot be fostered on organisations through periodical diktats from the corner rooms. This being the case, the decision makers in every organisation have to facilitate, nay nourish, this process of developing a culture that should be more adaptive in nature than a revolutionary one. There is no guarantee that a culture that has worked in an organisation can be easily transplanted to another, however great that might have been in the earlier organisation. The process of developing a culture depends on employees working together in an organisation where they instinctively understand the company’s value systems without being told and they instinctively behave in a way that are expected of them. For the evolution of an enduring culture that is both unique and successful, it is sine qua non that the employees work together over a reasonably long period of time. This aspect has to be kept in mind while discussing the subject of remote working of employees in the context of their becoming instrumental in shaping the right kind of corporate culture for their own organisations.
In recent years, remote working has experienced a significant surge in popularity, driven primarily by technological advancements and the global responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. This shift in work arrangements has raised important questions about its impact on employee engagement that in turn facilitate the evolution of an enduring corporate culture. Employee engagement is often defined as the emotional commitment and dedication that the employees have towards their own work and the organisation which plays a crucial role in organisational success. This essay explores the impact of remote work on employee engagement that eventually promotes the development of organisational culture. It is necessary to analyse both the potential benefits and challenges it presents, while also offering strategies for organisations to foster engagement in a remote work environment. Remote work has brought about a transformative shift on how we work, and its impact on employee engagement is also quite nuanced. While it offers benefits such as flexibility and reduced commuting stress, it also poses challenges related to isolation and communication. To maximise employee engagement in remote work environments, organisations are called upon to focus on creating a supportive, communicative, and inclusive cultures. Providing the necessary tools and resources, along with recognising and valuing the contributions of remote employees are key strategies for fostering engagement. As remote work continues to evolve, understanding and addressing its impact on employee engagement will remain a critical aspect for Human Resource management in the modern workplace. Remote workplaces offer several advantages, including flexibility, reduced commuting stress, and a better work-life balance. However, with this newfound flexibility comes the opportunity for moonlighting for an employee. Moonlighting is a euphemism for taking up additional employment or entrepreneurial endeavors even while maintaining one’s regular job. What is becoming more alarming at remote workplaces is that even in the work environment the employees feel the necessity of introducing each other as each one of the employees ends up working in his or her own silos defying the need for developing the much-needed team spirit, the hallmark of great organisations.
The impact of remote working on organisational culture is a multifaceted process that brings with it myriads of opportunities and challenges. Remote work influences organisational culture in many ways, more particularly in the following areas many of which may not be relevant or necessary in a normal workplace:
Communication and Collaboration: Remote work often encourages the use of digital communication and collaboration tools. This can lead to more structured and efficient communication and collaboration, contributing to a culture of transparency and inclusivity. However, the shift to digital communication can also lead to a loss of informal and spontaneous interactions that help build relationships and a strong sense of teamwork. This results in organisations being forced to actively work on fostering a culture of virtual collaborations.
Flexibility and Autonomy: Remote work supports a culture of flexibility. Employees can manage their work schedules and locations, which can enhance job satisfaction and promote trust and autonomy. Flexibility can also lead to a lack of clear boundaries between work and personal life. Organisations need to foster a culture that respects employees’ personal time and encourages taking breaks from work related routines.
Inclusivity and Diversity: Remote work can be inclusive by accommodating an employee’s diverse needs, such as those with disabilities or those living in different geographical locations. This promotes a culture of valuing diversity and inclusion. The absence of physical presence in a group as in office may create feelings of isolation and exclusion. It is necessary for organisations to actively work on fostering a sense of belonging among remote employees.
Results-Oriented Culture: Remote work encourages a culture that values outcomes over hours worked. This can lead to a results-oriented culture where employees are evaluated based on their achievements alone. Without proper supervision, remote work can result in a culture of “presenteeism,” where employees feel the need to be constantly available to prove their productivity.
Leadership and Management Culture: Remote work often requires a more trust-based and autonomous leadership culture. Managers may need to shift from traditional supervision to a more supportive and coaching style of leadership. Managers who are not accustomed to leading remote teams may struggle to adapt to this leadership style, potentially leading to deterioration in performance management and the much-needed cohesion in teams.
Adaptability Culture: Remote work promotes an adaptable culture that can respond more quickly to changing circumstances, as demonstrated during the Covids-19 pandemic. Employees may feel overwhelmed by constant changes, especially if remote work is introduced suddenly without preparation.
Work-Life Balance and Wellbeing: Remote work can support a culture that values work-life balance and employee wellbeing. This leads to happier and more motivated employees. One must remember that constant connectivity can blur the boundaries between work and personal life, fostering a culture of “always on” and burnout.
No doubt the impact of remote work on organisational culture is complex and multifaceted. Remote work can enhance organisational culture by promoting flexibility, inclusivity, and a results-oriented approach. However, it also presents challenges related to communication, isolation, and managing boundaries. Successful organisations actively manage and shape their remote work culture to align with their values, support employee well-being, and maintain productivity and cohesion in a virtual work environment. Challenges posed by remote working in developing an enduring corporate culture are as numerous as they are difficult. The difficulty arises from the fact that people working autonomously in remote locations find the new workplaces simply stifling. From the point of view developing a unified culture for the organisation, it is necessary to integrate these disparate islands into the mainstream. There lies the challenge for the leaderships of the organisations.
Remote work, no doubt, has brought about a transformative shift in how we work, and its impact on employee engagement is nuanced. While it offers benefits such as flexibility and reduced commuting stress, it also poses challenges related to isolation and communication. To maximise employee engagement in remote work environments, organisations must focus on creating a supportive, communicative, and inclusive culture. Providing necessary tools and resources along with recognising and valuing contributions of remote employees, are key strategies for fostering engagement. As remote work continues to evolve, understanding and addressing its impact on employee engagement will remain a critical aspect of Human Resource management in the modern workplace. That is because employee engagement subtly and surely transforms itself into a cohesive culture around a group of employees in a particular location of an organisation over a period of time. This cannot evolve as an enduring culture without the employees working together in an environment through knowing each other and working together in the melting pot called office. Remote working has significant implications for organisational culture and values. While it can bring about positive shifts, such as flexibility, inclusivity and a focus on well-being, it also introduces potential challenges, such as issues of trust, communication, and work-life balance. The future of remote work’s impact on organisational culture will depend on how organisations adapt, embrace new technologies and adopt policies that promote a balanced and values-aligned remote work environment. Organisations that successfully navigate these challenges will cultivate a remote work culture that reflects their core values and fosters a sense of belonging and shared purpose among employees, regardless of their physical location. Most of the issues that employees face is either reinforced or challenged in the workplace and that too when employees work in teams. It is in the workplace that the nuances associated with corporate culture gets exhibited and practiced or even challenged. All said and done, corporate culture is not about individual excellence and that too working in isolation from remote locations.
Organisational Culture in one sense is the North Star for an organisation. Larger the organisation, more so, it is. An organisation in one sense is not simply the sum of its parts. In business, the North Star represents a company’s unwavering definition of its purpose, its products, its approach to customers and potential acquirers. That is corporate culture for you. Disparate groups working in vastly dispersed environments are not going to promote this. Though you cannot build a suitable culture at will, you can definitely create an environment that promotes an ever-lasting culture. Remote working can at best be a rearguard strategy in emergencies. Such actions without a lasting glue cannot help creating a futuristic organisation. The pandemic frayed the workplace cultures forgetting the secrets to success are effective leadership and solid talent management with the organisation’s culture as the binding glue. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. That was the situation when Covid had struck. There is no need to normalise the extraordinary steps taken during those dark hours anymore. Now that the epidemic has vanished, it is time to get back into the tent. This is easier said than done. The returning employee from remote work is an altogether different animal. Please remember that his previous dispositions must have changed both towards life and careers.
Employees play an enormous role in influencing and shaping the organisational culture. They have a profound influence on organisational culture through their behaviors, attitudes, values, and interactions. Their collective actions shape the culture and determine the organisation’s identity and the way it operates. Organisational leaders and HR professionals often work to harness and guide this influence to create a culture that aligns with the organisation’s values and goals. Organisational culture in turn shapes the employee experience and influences various aspects of their professional lives. A positive and aligned culture can lead to motivated, engaged, and satisfied employees, while a culture in conflict with employee values and expectations may result in dissatisfaction and disengagement. This is why organisations often strive to cultivate and maintain a culture that is in harmony with their values and objectives. One has to keep in mind that the issues that affect a desirable organisational culture affect only the remote work consequent to the recent pandemic. It can happen even during normal times when employees are assigned to different locations for long periods of time on specific assignments or those sent out on offshore assignments as part of their normal duties. The impact of the culture of the parent organisation should be of paramount concern for the employees. Employees sent on assignments, especially international assignments, can significantly impact the parent company’s corporate culture. It’s important to note that the impact of employees sent on assignments on the corporate culture can be positive, but it requires a supportive and adaptable corporate culture that values the experiences and contributions of returning assignees. The organisation should also have mechanisms in place to leverage these influences for the overall benefit of the company. We assume that the leadership up in the hierarchy along with the policies and decisions they make, determine the behaviors and priorities we employees must follow. While there is some truth to these assumptions, it is equally true that a great company culture is built and reinforced by its employees — meaning you, your peers, and your teammates.
Venkat R Venkitachalam