Remote work is a challenge for an organisation’s culture: have you adapted?

2020 10 19 · 3 min read

The pandemic has worked as a catalyst. In the space of half a year, the market has undergone changes of a magnitude that would otherwise have taken five or even ten years. Everyone has been forced to adapt including jobseekers, employers and experienced businessmen.

Naturally, IT companies are used to high speed changes and to working at an intensive pace. However, the current challenges have revealed that human connections and relationships are just as important for an organisation as technological solutions. In order to maintain strong relationships, an organisational culture and smooth teamwork, HR professionals have been thinking hard and implementing new practices and measures that can compensate for the things that we are missing when we cannot be together in a single room, office or company kitchen with our colleagues.

I believe that the areas that have been affected the most are the activities of HR professionals, corporate and personal values, methods of managing tools and documents, and the role of the personnel manager. The means of communication have changed, because now more than ever we are communicating with people through an agent, i.e. technologies. However, the principles and objectives of an HR professional remain the same, with a focus on employee well-being, strong motivation and the interrelationships within a team.

What will take the place of chatting over a coffee?

Previously, many of us associated the phrase “working from home” with advantages and convenience (we thought only of the amount of time we would save on commuting, wearing comfortable clothing and saving money by eating at home). But now, we have learned that remote work is related not only to logistical but also psychological changes. An employee’s emotional well-being and his/her social environment, which are often directly correlated with the amount of live contact with colleagues, are crucial elements to ensure smooth, effective work performance and a rewarding experience for the employee. Therefore, maintaining these elements is essential, but they may be hard to achieve when employees are not able to speak with one another directly. The loss of the opportunity for employees to talk together through different communication channels (both digital and via live in-person chats) is one of the key changes that has taken place in the HR sphere this year. We must now ask, what can be done to ensure this change binds an organisation closer together instead of dividing it?

HR professionals are already being presented with the new reality at the recruitment stage. A year ago, most people would not choose to conduct job interviews remotely. The opportunity to meet the potential employees in person was an important part of the recruitment process because we select people, not images on a screen. Nonetheless, HR professionals have had to adapt quickly and effectively to the new situation and adjust the recruitment processes so that they meet the expectations of both the candidates and the company, in a way that allows recruiters to evaluate a candidate’s readiness to work under these new conditions.

Key changes are also being seen in the onboarding stage, when a new employee is introduced to the company and a team. Until recently, this was a relatively simple, fast and effective process. Nowadays though, the lack of in-person contact has created challenges to ensuring that the new person feels that they are part of the company. A typical way for a newcomer to introduce him/herself and get to know their team members was by attending internal corporate events and taking part in after-work activities. Today, as the transformation to remote work is continuing to unfold, these traditional approaches are no longer viable and HR professionals have to find new alternatives. One of the most complex issues is finding a way for the new employee to not just join the cloud of digital projects and tasks, but also become a part of the digital community. Therefore, one of the main tasks for an HR manager is to proactively create occasions and that would allow teams to connect and that encourage a community spirit.

Paying attention to communication will help us avoid parallel realities

When working and communicating remotely, employees often decide for themselves which communication channels they prefer to use. This is a great example of adaptation to the new working conditions. Even though apps and chat rooms designed for co-workers existed before, they now provide a very important means for informal chatting. The role of the HR professional in this regard is to use these tools correctly, to enhance the team spirit. In some cases, chat channels created by the employees can become more popular than the official corporate ones. If most formal and informal communication has moved to informal channels, it may be worthwhile to review the principles of the company’s corporate communication.

Many companies still apply strict codes and rules of conduct when it comes to digital communication. However, this can reduce the trust in official corporate communication channels – employees may then avoid making offers, asking questions, joking or sharing ideas. Instead, all of this information will accumulate in the informal channels that HR professionals and executives cannot see. Before long, two parallel organisations will emerge – a formal one and an informal one, which greatly harms the company’s overall creativity, togetherness and shared principles. As a result, CEOs and HR professionals have to play a proactive part in creating the digital community, where they should allow themselves to be informal, funny and casual, even in the official channels. Do not be afraid of making a joke. This will encourage the employees to relax and will create a sense of community.

A means to check employee motivation and values

Before 2020, a company’s sense of community was often reinforced in the common office spaces, that were frequently decorated with slogans to promote the organisation’s common goals. Employees were also motivated to work by measures such as free breakfast, sleeping rooms, gyms, fridges full of ice cream, etc. In the case of remote work, such an approach is no longer applicable, so the resulting motivation gap has become another challenge for HR executives.

We can still motivate people to work creatively, be productive and to perform well through financial incentives. The possibility of earning a bonus for delivering high-quality work on time, for providing good results and for special achievements is still an effective incentive. However, the motivation to work hard must also involve corporate values and the employee’s relationship with these values. Nowadays, all the values that companies wrote on their walls in a large font are truly being tested in the newly-developed digital reality – and these values will either become even more relevant, or they will fall to pieces.

The key is for CEOs to follow their companies’ values themselves and to lead their teams by example. For instance, if a company values creativity, a good way to encourage the employees and constantly remind them about the importance of creativity is to ask them to come up with a new and creative ways of conducting each weekly meeting, and then share their ideas with others. The important thing is to enable the employees to feel like they are in charge of the process, as this will encourage a proactive approach and a willingness to look for solutions as a team. In this way, the success of every employee can become an achievement for the entire company.

Changing role of the HR manager: from a functional executive to a value-based leader

An empty office space does not mean less work for the HR manager. On the contrary, he/she is the one who must accept new responsibilities and try out the new roles, by becoming a value-based leader, a motivator and the main source of inspiration for others. Moreover, the head of HR must be the leader in digitising the HR management process. We have to find the right tools according to out employee expectations, prepare these tools for our work processes, train the team and consistently implement digital innovations in our day-to-day operations. Currently, 80% of the employees at Baltic Amadeus are working remotely from various locations in Lithuania including Joniškis, Rokiškis, Šiauliai, Klaipėda, Kaunas, Varėna, Elektrėnai, Kaišiadorys, Panevėžys, Širvintos and others.

Most our colleagues have now been working remotely for half a year, and this entire period has been filled with challenges and lessons for HR personnel. However, the key principle for every HR leader to remember and to put into practice every day is to encourage their employees to be proactive and to listen to what they are saying through the available communication channels – both in-person and digitally. A strong corporate culture depends on every employee being able to work successfully under these new circumstances, and it is the HR experts who must enable, encourage and help them to do that.