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Transformation

Reinventing work starts with redefining company culture

The Future Forum's Brian Elliott explains how companies should take advantage of remote work to hire a more distributed, more diverse team

Author: Brian Elliot, VP of Future ForumSeptember 23rd, 2020

The pandemic has thrust us into a new era of work. Leaders no longer need to operate within the parameters of an office-centric culture. Attracting and retaining the most talented workers and the diverse workforce required to succeed depends on redefining company culture to power a new way of working.

A new analysis from the Future Forum’s Remote Employee Experience Index shows that the majority of knowledge workers never want to go back to the old way of working. The data, based on a survey fielded by GlobalWebIndex, examined the attitudes and experiences of 9,000 knowledge workers. The survey found that only 12% of workers say they want to return to working exclusively from an office, while 72% want a combination of office and remote work.

While it is clear that remote and “hybrid” work will have a prominent place in working life moving forward, the specifics are still coming into focus. The current incarnation of remote work was born in reaction to a crisis, and it amounts to little more than a “lift and shift” of established office-centric practices applied to a remote-work context. It represents an early phase of experimentation that can lead to a more comprehensive solution. Leaders who take this challenge seriously know that they have to make more significant changes.

For example, the Future Forum research shows that, in its current form, the benefits of remote work are unevenly distributed. It’s been a boon to more experienced, plugged-in workers who have shown that it is possible to operate at the highest levels free from centralized 9-to-5 office norms. But it has been a disadvantage for workers at lower income levels, from less-represented backgrounds, and with less tenure.

Some groups have been hit particularly hard. For example, women with children are more likely to feel that remote work has negatively impacted their productivity and work-life-balance. And in the U.S., Black employees are 29% less likely to agree that “my manager is supportive when I need help” than their white counterparts.

Companies that thrive in the new era of work will fix these imbalances. They will embrace the opportunity to hire the best talent from more distributed, more diverse backgrounds, and they’ll understand that retaining that talent requires changing historical habits and routines. They will recognize that offices created both good and bad elements of culture, and therefore will embrace digital tools to reinvent a more inclusive and collaborative culture, foster close relationships, and operate with greater agility.

Here are three key elements that organizations must get right.

People: Reward leaders who unlock potential, not managers stuck in measurement

Winning in competitive environments requires leaders who inspire teams and enable cross-discipline collaboration. The pandemic increased the pace of change, requiring even more agility and resiliency of teams. But the aspects of remote work that workers find the most challenging are closely tied to team cohesion: maintaining relationships with colleagues, and feelings of loneliness and isolation.

With a dispersed and diverse workforce, the culture that knits an organization together matters more than ever. Leaders need to boldly articulate the purpose and values that inspire and guide teams. They need to invest in and reward managers who have the leadership skills that create clarity, build trust, and unlock the potential in teams of people from diverse backgrounds.

Process: Enable flexibility by breaking the tyranny of 9-to-5 meetings

The pandemic has blurred the lines between home and working life. For those with children embarking on a new school year of remote learning, the challenge is particularly acute. The ability to devote 9-to-5 to work is no longer tenable.

The good news is that the solution to this problem is plain to see. Our survey found that almost half (43%) of knowledge workers say they spend too much time in unnecessary meetings. Team leaders need to think about which meetings matter and eliminate those that are merely process driven. The meetings that fill most workers’ day—status check-ins, stand-ups meetings that just always happen—are more a force of habit than a good use of time. Leaders must be deliberate about carving out time when live collaboration is truly necessary, and move more work and routine updates to asynchronous digital channels.

Place: Replace the physical office with a digital headquarters

The heart of a company once beat in conference rooms, hallway conversations and highly produced all-hands meetings. Now is the time to ensure that the lifeblood flows through digital channels so that distributed teams enjoy the same sense of connection as those who are co-located.

Digital collaboration tools allow companies to maximize the return on their investment in people and tools, communicate transparently, and create a place for shared context that can drive organizational agility. These tools allow core information to permeate an organization so that new employees get up to speed quickly and tribal knowledge doesn’t walk out the door when employees leave.

It will take hard work, time and experimentation for even the most agile and innovative companies to get it right. The upside is extraordinary: diverse teams of talented individuals working together toward a common purpose, moving fast to capture opportunity, while being resilient in the face of challenge. It’s up to leaders to make the shift now or be left behind.


This data is based on a survey of 9,032 knowledge workers between June 30, 2020 and Aug. 11, 2020, who identify as “skilled office workers” in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Japan and Australia. It was fielded via GlobalWebIndex, a third-party online panel provider, and commissioned by Slack. Results were weighted based on sector and population.

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