Over the past twelve months the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives. As businesses look to the future, many corporations are taking the lessons learned during this time and using them to rethink traditional archetypes surrounding the ways in which we work. With stay-at-home orders still in effect across many parts of the globe, more people than ever before are now officially working from home, and it’s a trend that looks set to continue well after the pandemic ends.
In a post COVID-19 era, corporate leaders will need to decide if remote working has been a benefit to their business and how they will adapt their business practices moving forward to the remote work reality. We can already see changes being implemented within big corporations like Google and Facebook who have extended their work-from-home policies well into 2021, with Google already laying out plans for a hybrid work model in the future. Twitter and Square have gone a step further, telling employees they will be able to continue working from home indefinitely.
The Reality of Remote Work
According to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, in Europe nearly 80% of white-collar employees have worked remotely in some capacity since the beginning of the pandemic, a figure that was less than 20% before the crisis. In their Future of Work Survey, BCG collected data from more than 1,500 managers and 7,500 employees to assess the state of remote working. Their findings were largely positive, with nearly 40% of managers reporting that productivity within their remote workforce had actually increased, and many stating they expected to follow some type of hybrid work model even after the pandemic is over.
While a whopping 99% of all remote employees found at least one benefit of working from home, there were also challenges acknowledged by both employees and managers. These included it being harder to control and drive productivity, ensuring team engagement and connection, and perhaps least surprising, 51% of employees believed it was harder to maintain work culture whilst working remotely.
If we look at workforce cultures of the past, a physical presence in the office wasn’t simply about the value of getting work done. An employee’s value was heavily linked to the amount of time they were perceived to be at work. Someone who was willing to work late was demonstrating their commitment to the company. Likewise, being physically in the office gave people the opportunity to chat and build up a rapport with colleagues, creating a kind of social glue that effectively enables cultures within organisations.
In the new remote work environment, corporate virtue signalling and physical interactions have become obsolete. The opportunity to demonstrate value through presence, or to chat in between meetings or during a break has evaporated, leaving many employees to feel isolated and disenfranchised. In order for the new remote workforce to be truly successful, one question could be the key to productivity in the business world for at least the next ten years.
So how exactly do you build company culture within a remote team?
In the McKinsey Quarterly article Reimagining the Postpandemic Workforce, the authors look at the best ways to adapt a hybrid virtual model into a company. Some of the key takeaways of advice for leaders include:
· Needing to define and embrace new behaviours as well as guide, inspire and enable small teams.
· Ensuring you are creating a level playing field between remote and on-site workers.
· Encouraging a culture of openness and informal interactions, especially within your remote teams to help build a cohesive environment.
· Creating “safe” spaces to learn from mistakes and voice requests.
As the business world enters a post-COVID economy, it will be extremely important for leaders to choose a hybrid model that best fits their organisation’s needs. Getting this right could lead to a number of positive outcomes including greater access to talent, increased productivity, lower costs, more individual flexibility and even a decrease in a company’s carbon footprint.
The Rise of the Remote Leader
Moving forward, organisations will need to recognise how best to manage remote teams whilst also taking steps to ensure morale remains high. Executives will need to be proactive in shaping and maintaining team culture.
Jason English, Chief Ecosystem Officer of CG Tech, understands a thing or two about building teams. In fact, the South African entrepreneur has distilled his idea of clear and transparent leadership as a key to creating compelling corporate cultures. In his book The Oros Effect, due out later this year, English describes how a leader’s Oros (their ideas, beliefs and knowledge, named after the popular South African orange concentrate) is key to establishing a positive company culture in which each team member instinctively understands their purpose and is able to work seamlessly alongside their colleagues to achieve a common goal. In the new remote work paradigm, it’s a take on corporate culture that has made some liken Jason English to the Simon Sinek of the Digital Age.
“During these challenging times with the pandemic, it’s your people that will ultimately get your business through. If you haven’t built a strong team, difficult situations quickly become untenable,” says English. “The world is changing fast, and you want to enable forward-thinking people in your corner to recognise trends and pivot when necessary,” says English.
This forward-thinking approach to business fits within CG Tech’s operating model. Founded in 2012 by chairman Niall Carroll, CG Tech is an investment holding company with interests across Oil & Gas, Events and Industrial related services, Technology and e-Sports. Under the leadership of Carroll and English, the company has taken a unique approach to managing their varied portfolio, with the Board of Directors composed of the owner-operators of the portfolio companies, creating a culture of complete openness, shared decision-making and commonality.
Jason English and his partners have adopted an ecosystem thinking approach within the group of companies, which CG Tech has used to recognise synergies between their organisations. A prime example is The Virtulab, a CG Tech subsidiary and creator of the Virtuworx platform. Leveraging avatar-based virtual environments, the solution aims to bring remote employees together teams. What was once an internal CG Tech solution is now proving its value in the market, with a number of companies already harnessing the capabilities of Virtuworx to bring together their teams to build the corporate cultures of the future – remotely.
As we enter the second year of the pandemic, the question of how we might engineer corporate cultures in remote settings will remain a top priority for businesses. With companies like CG Tech and leaders like Jason English paving the way forward, their examples might serve as role models as we navigate this new, and remote, knowledge-based economy.