After dramatic events of the last few years, remote and hybrid work is commonplace. And all the signs are that it is a trend that will continue. According to a recent study, ‘How managers are investing in remote and hybrid team success,’ 93% of organizations across the USA, UK, Canada and Australia say they intend to keep a hybrid or remote model beyond the pandemic.
But this transition doesn’t come without its challenges. According to our recent Omnipresent/Remote Social research, we find many businesses continue to struggle to support working relationships, morale and productivity when their teams are spread across cities, countries and even continents. But interestingly, it also revealed challenges differ around the world – notably between the US and the UK.
How location impacts organizational challenges: UK vs USA
Both US and UK leaders say that employee isolation and low levels of engagement are problematic. Fifty-three per cent of US leaders agree, as do 50% of UK leaders.
But looking at remote and hybrid team dynamics in the UK and USA, the challenges faced around remote culture seem very distinct.
In the US, 78% of organizations struggle with workplace communication and collaboration, and often lack the opportunities and tools to support this.
The top challenge in the UK, however, is building motivation and engagement for employees (59%). In contrast, just 55% of UK businesses struggle with communication and collaboration, and only 39% of US organizations face challenges with motivation.
Are some countries more invested in remote culture than others?
Rather than accepting these challenges as necessary side-effects of remote or hybrid work models, many leaders are investing in new ways to help mitigate them instead. But how much organizations invest in remote culture strategies also differs by country.
The research shows the majority of UK organizations (59%) spend US $50 or less per employee per month on developing remote and hybrid culture.
Meanwhile, the majority of US organizations (57%) spend US $51 or more; with one in five (21%) spending over US $100 per employee per month. Top investments include setting up regular team socials, providing support for physical, emotional, and mental health, setting team challenges to build camaraderie, investing in digital tools, and increasing communication cadence between managers and staff.
The research suggests US organizations are far more likely to recognize the advantages of investing in remote culture, with 77% of US business leaders reporting increased productivity and profitability as a key benefit, yet just half (51%) of UK leaders agree.
Likewise, 65% of US and only 40% of UK leaders cite improved internal communication as an advantage of strengthening remote culture, while improved work-life balance is stated as a benefit by 61% and 49% of US and UK managers, respectively.
What next? Tailoring remote strategies around the globe
Despite the different aims, investments and capabilities of organizations to improve culture, there are certain processes that can be applied and tailored to suit the needs of remote and hybrid teams. Workplace culture is complex and nuanced, but we consider the following elements to be key:
- Learning and development
- Benefits and wellbeing support
- Team building; as well as the right tools for communication
- Collaboration and processing tasks.
Providing opportunities for communication and collaboration
Opinions on communication between fully remote and hybrid teams vary. Globally, we found 60% of managers with fully remote teams say communication is a concern for them, compared to 52% with hybrid teams.
There continues to be a general belief that the physical office facilitates good communication and collaboration, even though they were often just as problematic for on-site teams long before the pandemic.
To me this illustrates that the problem isn’t where employees are based or the times they work, it’s in how they are empowered to use new tools, policies and processes to perform their work.
Globally, 60% of employers say that employees lack communication and collaboration opportunities or tools, but tools alone don’t solve the problem. A strategic approach should be taken when implementing collaborative tools and processes. Only less than half of respondents who invested more in this area than they did before the pandemic reported it having a positive impact on communication.
There are some basics where every organization can start:
- Create company-specific communication policies that support the business, teams and employees.
- Ensure there are clear instructions on how and when to use chosen communication tools and channels, appropriate language and tone of voice (including a focus on inclusivity and written communications).
- Detail clear feedback processes, including how, when, and why these will take place.
It’s common for remote employees to feel less a part of the team than those working on-site. Not surprisingly, it can have a major effect on engagement and morale.
But it’s important to know that trying to replicate a physical office online will not have the same results.
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Hybrid and remote working need brand new rules of engagement:
Listening is essential: Understanding and assessing employee needs is a good place to start. Problematically, many organisations across the world aren’t taking this into account. Less than half (49%) claim they are planning to provide objective assessments of where their employees work best. It is important to understand where and how individuals work most productively, and how they best engage or collaborate with others. Without this understanding, team leaders will likely fail to get the most from their team and retention may suffer as a result.
Provide the right benefits and opportunities for training: Doing so ensures employees feel valued and helps meet their growth and wellbeing needs. This is shown to boost employee morale and retention.
Create localized employee benefits too: This is particularly important if teams work in different countries, which so many now do. This can be simple with the right support, but it’s fundamental to understand statutory minimum benefits requirements wherever employees are located.
Remember; going beyond the minimum is important to provide a competitive offering that shows extra consideration for staff, while also supporting recruitment and retention.
Building connections across teams
Feelings of isolation continue to be a major challenge for remote and hybrid teams but it doesn’t have to lead to a breakdown in camaraderie and connection. In fact, 29% of leaders feel that Covid-19 had a positive impact on employees’ ability to connect with others on a personal level.
To help achieve this, teams need to build new, specific strategies to build connections – not just for remote and hybrid workers, but as an inclusive extension of all team members.
For example, managers can encourage regular meet-up opportunities that encourage participation and non-work related conversation or activities.
On a positive note, 80% of US organizations and 52% of UK organizations claim they already are or intend to do this.
Creating opportunities for these moments is important. Everyday work interactions aren’t necessarily enough to develop employee relationships that build a collaborative company culture. Managers must be active in providing team-building activities, holding regular catch-ups and giving employees the time to connect with others on a personal level, too.
Intentionality is key to strengthening that company culture. Be deliberate in how and what is communicated with staff, while providing the tools and opportunities they need to feel part of the company’s ecosystem to successfully work towards a common goal.
Inevitably, companies and managers will always need to adapt to the changing needs of employees in the workplace. The willingness they have to invest in resolving workplace challenges will inevitably impact the outcome of their remote and hybrid culture strategy for the better.