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HRD Thought Leaders on remote work culture in 2020

  • 6 Min Read

Gathering perspectives on one of the most pressing issues faced by leaders this year.

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In this special end-of-year series, our panel of renowned HR experts and influencers dissect some of the most pressing issues brought to light by recent events. In this edition, remote work culture in 2020 goes under the microscope.

2020 has been a revolutionary year for HR. From strategic overhauls to technological transformation, additional visibility plus new demands for support, leaders in every sector have experienced significant change, with progress only set to continue in the time ahead.

That said, not every leader has had an identical experience; regional differences, organizational culture and employee needs are all variable factors, meaning that each leader essentially has a tailored set of challenges and opportunities to respond to.

To that end, learning from peers, picking up actionable tips and discovering first-hand experiences are vital to refining strategies for 2021.

Jill Christensen

Employee engagement expert and best-selling author – @JillSpeaker

Leaders must create a two-way communication culture and ensure the lines of communication are open between them and employees. By engaging employees in conversations and dialogues, you will help diminish the feeling that many remote workers have of feeling disconnected. A great place to start?

A back to work safely survey. Don’t assume you know what employees want. Get their feedback, so your new protocols are embraced by employees, and people feel like they have a voice.

Debra Corey

Author, speaker and employee engagement expert – @DebraCoreyRebel

According to a recent study by Reward Gateway, the biggest challenge to HR this year has been the need to keep up workplace culture remotely, with 71% citing this. One of the most effective ways companies are overcoming this challenge is by adapting how they live their values in this new remote world, both in how they’ve used them to support their people and the community.

They’ve shown that their culture and values are alive and well even when workforces are not together, creatively showcasing what it’s like to be a part of their company. Whether it’s virtual gatherings, activities, competitions or support networks, culture and values are coming off the walls and onto screens stronger and louder than ever before.

Going forward, I believe that companies will continue to focus on this, evolving and adapting how they bring their culture and values ‘out to play’.

Chuck Heaton

People & culture expert and senior HR consultant

2020 has been a pressure test of organizational culture and engagement with their employees. Leaders who have a high level of trust, communication and credibility with their teams, as well as high adaptation of virtual tools, have thrived in this remote work culture.

Other leaders who struggle in those areas while focusing on the office headcount have been challenged with engaging with their teams remotely.

Stories about relentless check-in meetings, task lists and back to back video meetings have had a significant negative impact on culture, engagement and mental health. Trust, resilience and empowerment will still be critical to team success in 2021.

Jon Ingham

Author and consultant – @JonIngham

My bet is that many of us will still be remote in 12 months. My hope is that more of us will understand that remote culture is different and that’s OK. We still need to focus on maintaining the best aspects of culture and some traditional actions to build it, such as ensuring everyone understands what brings them together; building norms and expectations for behaviors; and ensuring compliance against a strict dress code (sorry, not that!).

But we also need to embrace remote working and build a culture that will allow us to succeed in this environment. As examples, we need to embrace flexibility and allow people to work when, not just where, makes sense for them. And we need to help people adopt asynchronous communication tools to support this greater flexibility and to cut down on Zoom time.

Heidi Lynn Kurter

Leadership expert, workplace culture consultant and Forbes senior contributor – @HeidiLynneCo

Remote work culture and engagement has proven to be a great challenge for companies across all industries. Despite companies having superior cultures while in-office, they struggled to maintain that same cultural feel while working remotely. As a result, companies were tasked with having to rebuild their cultures from scratch in an effort to keep their workplace thriving and employees engaged.

Most companies prioritized trying to survive the pandemic in 2020 that in 2021, they’ll truly feel the impact of their remote culture. Even with millions out of work, employees are taking the risk to start their own ventures or are finding opportunities with other companies that offer better remote workplace cultures.

For this reason, companies will need to hone in on their own culture and partner with tools and resources to introduce initiatives that will bring their culture to life. Culture is more than Zoom calls, Starbucks gift cards and free things. It’s keeping employees connected, happy and collaborating even though they’re working independently from their own home.

Terence Mauri

Global disruption thinker, author and speaker – @TerenceMauri

If HR and business leaders consider ‘what’s the one thing you could do differently today to help your organization return to a new normal,’ where would you start? With disruption an everyday reality, building an energized remote culture to be more agile, risk-tolerant, and experimental will be one of the biggest challenges of 2021. Companies that unlock a winning remote culture at speed and scale will transform at a pace that leaves their competitors behind.

Enterprise software leader Atlassian has baked a remote culture into the DNA of its business, alongside growth and profitability. At its core are five values that shape its remote culture, influence who they are, and even who they hire and promote. Their values describe at the most fundamental level what they stand for and act as a beacon to guide their actions and navigate change during turbulent times. Atlassian’s values include open company; play as a team; build with heart and balance; be the change you seek and don’t #@!? with the customer.

The key takeaway: Organisations that make the decision to scale a thriving remote culture are more energizing to work for and more resilient in the face of adversity.  Now it’s the people delivering the experience who are driving the advantage — and the differentiator for them, too, is culture.

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