Bridge Insights

Has the Remote Employee Killed Company Culture?

Nov 18, 2021

The debate over company culture has become a flashpoint in the current candidate-driven market. While many job seekers are seeking remote and flexible work opportunities, job seekers’ needs are changing. Add to the fact more and more Zennials are entering the workforce, the factors that motivate job seekers to apply for a job have shifted. What was once mostly driven by salary and benefits, job seekers now prioritize finding a good cultural fit as a top contender.

While seeking a cultural fit may be a top priority, many businesses struggle to reconcile providing a top culture with flexible work options. After all, is a company’s culture not at its strongest when its employees can socialize, share ideas, and collaborate in the office?

And this is the dilemma. Company culture has not waned in its importance to job seekers, yet employers struggle to provide a strong culture outside of brick-and-mortar establishments to the point that some businesses are claiming company culture is dead and others still are building return to work programs around the premise that collaboration and culture need to be preserved at all costs –even if it means ruffling a few feathers along the way.
Fortunately, the premise that company culture and flexible work options are mutually exclusive does not hold much water. Company culture is and never was in direct opposition to remote work. It’s not dying. It’s changing. And for employers to build a strong culture, engage new talent and retain their current employees, the mindset of what contributes to a strong company culture must change, too.

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The Evoloution of the Job Seeker Mindset

Following the 2010 market crash, the Korn Ferry Institute conducted a 2011 study that surveyed talent acquisition professionals to determine what job seekers valued the most when looking for a new career opportunity. The study revealed that a company’s benefits package ranked as the number one reason why job seekers chose an opportunity over the other. Considering the nation’s financial state, it makes sense why people were more interested in stability and a consistent paycheck versus a company’s reputation, social and economic factors influenced what job seekers were seeking from their employers and today is no different.

In 2016, the same survey revealed a shift in job seekers’ mindsets when exploring new opportunities. The results revealed that 23% of job seekers considered a company’s culture when applying for a job. This was a significant shift considering, just five years prior, the prior survey ranked employers’ benefits packages as number one on job seekers’ lists when choosing a job over another. Company culture was increasingly the number one reason why candidates picked one job over the other. More and more professionals wanted to feel good about where they worked sought opportunities at organizations that shared their personal values over benefits.

A 2019 Glassdoor Mission and Culture Survey conducted a multi-country survey asking 5,000 adults across four countries about the importance of culture in the workplace. The results revealed that 77% will consider a company’s culture before applying and 73% said they would not apply to a company unless its values aligned to their own. The results showed a correlation between recruitment and retention, with 56% saying company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction and 65% of employees saying their company’s culture is the main reason they stay in their jobs. The same survey concluded that, as a result, employers who are actively managing their company’s culture are likely to have lower turnover and higher employee satisfaction.

Building a Strong Culture Amidst the Pandemic

The data confirms something most employers already know anecdotally: company culture is important. The challenge is that pre-pandemic company cultures often presented as things like potluck Fridays, foosball tables in the breakroom, and physical spaces that gave employees the ability to socialize and build comradery. Once the pandemic hit, these tactics used a sense of belonging were rendered useless. But here’s the silver lining: all those items were just that. Items. Having a strong company culture isn’t about what you have, but rather what you do.

Looking beyond the kombucha cooler and free fruit in the break room lies something critical in understanding the psyche of the job seeker. You’d be hard-pressed to find a professional who explicitly wants Friday happy hours or an on-site gym; these things are simply how job seeker needs take shape at any given business. They’re simply modes of delivering the true needs of jobs seekers, which are things like flexibility, trust/autonomy, respect, appreciation, transparency, collaboration, having their feedback heard and applied, etc. These are the pillars on which good company culture is built.

Be Flexible

For businesses that are opting to keep their team remote, providing flexible work options is already a great step in the right direction, because that one action touches on several of the pillars that the foundation of great company culture are built upon:

  • Trust/autonomy: Trusting your team to perform their job without the need for micromanagement
  • Flexibility: Giving your team the option to choose how they work best
  • Listening and applying feedback: You’ve listened to their feedback regarding how they want to continue to work post-pandemic and made that happen.
  • Transparency: You’ve been transparent with what future work formats will look like for your business
  • Respect: See all of the above.
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Stay in Touch

Whether or not you keep candidates engaged, provide feedback to their resume or interview, and keeping them in the loop as you make your final decision can make or break your hiring process. One of the easiest ways to lose a potential candidate is to “ghost” them or leave them in the dark about what’s going on.

Something as simple as an email, quick call giving a status update, or simply a text to let your candidates know they still matter in the process is enough to tell them that your team is organized and cares about its employees. Letting others know you appreciate their time and patience can boost candidate retention and even attract applicants through referrals and word of mouth.

The Future of Company Culture

While it may seem like company culture is a thing of the past and has been replaced with remote options and flexible work opportunities, that is not the reality of today’s tumultuous job market. More accurately, the ways good company culture manifests are shifting. Emphasis on things like work-life balance and flexibility have replaced more traditionally “fun” outlets meant to boost morale as a top priority to professionals, but the underlying reason why job seekers want both is the same.

If you are electing to keep your team remote in some capacity, technology will play a big role in making this possible. Similarly, technology will play a large role in your business’s ability to pivot the in-office perks of working for your team and making them accessible to your remote employees. If your business had an in-office gym, perhaps, instead, think of subsidizing fitness memberships, so that employees can work out at the gym of their choice (bonus points for the inherent flexibility built-in with this).

What about Collaboration?

Collaboration is fundamental to driving business success, and it certainly can be achieved virtually. Some businesses have adopted things like virtual happy hours, Friday game days, or even making a virtual break room on instant messenger programs where employees can socialize, share memes, and talk about the weather.

While it may not be immediately obvious, with a little creativity and ingenuity your business can find facets to build and maintain a strong company culture for its remote employees and build something even stronger than an exclusively brick-and-mortar company culture. In today’s ever-evolving market, the one thing employers need to keep in mind is that it is a candidate’s market and today’s job seekers care more about being part of a company that welcomes change and embraces flexibility.

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The Heart of Company Culture and the Heart of Your Business

In the past decade, job seekers went from prioritizing basic needs, like compensation and benefits to seeking a more meaningful workplace and flexibility. Increasingly, technology has been the pioneer in forging a path towards successful business operations and virtual advancements that make collaboration possible. This trend shows no sign of slowing down, and technology will continue to pave the way and challenge traditional company culture models. While much of the corporate world, post-pandemic is still up in the air, one thing is certain: remote positions are in high demand, and flexibility and company culture are at the top of today’s top performers’ lists.