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Culture is not a Cubical

Written by Andrew Stewart – Senior Recruiter

It seems the longer the pandemic has impacted our lives, the more the debate grows about the future of work from a Remote/Hybrid/In-Office perspective. More and more, employees are expressing a desire to remain remote or be offered a hybrid model instead of returning to the office full time.  

When talking with corporate clients, we are regularly asked what people are saying in the marketplace regarding this topic. Most of the candidates we talk to express a desire to remain remote and don’t see a need to return to the previous in-office model, at least not full time.

One of two things happens when we provide this feedback; the client either acknowledges that they’ve heard the same thing and they wish they could offer that, or they offer a flat dismissal of the feedback and provide a reaffirmation that being in the office is a part of their culture. It is rare for a company, especially ones in more traditional sectors like Oil & Gas, to say that they’re going to remain remote going forward.

(Just to clarify, recognizing that not all jobs can be done remotely, or partially remote, so when we’re talking about remote work, it’s typically focused on office jobs that do not require a physical presence to be successful.)

According to a 2021 study by Mehdi and Morissette of StatsCan, in January of 2021, around 32% of working Canadians (between 15 – 69 years of age) worked the bulk of their hours from home, compared to only around 4% in 2016. That’s around 5.1M employees across the country that no longer have to deal with a daily commute, parking costs, and the lost time associated with travelling to and from an office.

This is in line with the United States which, prior to the pandemic, saw about 17% of employees working from home 5 days or more per week, which increased to 44% during the first year of the pandemic, according to Statista.

Companies that have always operated with a fully in-office approach have been forced to go remote and, in most cases, did so quite successfully. The productivity tools available, coupled with the ongoing push to move infrastructures off-prem in favour of the cloud, allowed companies to pivot from in-office to remote, quickly, and painlessly. This is where things get interesting… 

The cost savings associated with working remotely are huge. So huge that it’s surprising that more companies aren’t embracing the shift full time. A Global Workplace Analytics report on the costs and benefits of remote work, put the savings for some companies in the millions to billions annually.

  • IBM reduced real estate costs by $50 million
  • Sun Microsystems’ real estate costs dropped by $68 million a year
  • Google saved $268 million in expenses (promotions, travel & entertainment) in Q1 of 2021
    • Annualized that’s over $1 billion saved. Billion. With a ‘B’

Yet even with that, Google still has plans to bring people back to the office going so far as to implement a partial return to work policy in 2021, only to extend the work from home policy through 2022 as the pandemic continued.

So why bring people back?

One word that gets thrown around more than others in terms of the need for a physical workplace is “Culture”. While a company’s workplace framework is definitely a part of the culture, it would be difficult to say that it is as big a piece as some companies maintain.

Saying your culture depends on having people in the office says more about control than it does about collaboration. The ability to communicate with co-workers has never been easier than it is today. Technology solutions like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom are all efficient and inexpensive ways for employees to keep in touch. Add to that the flexibility productivity tools offer employees to do their work when it suits them best and employee engagement and delivery increases.  

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?

If you can forgive the blatant theft and rewording of a timeless cliché, perhaps it’s not absence that makes the heart grow fonder but distance. The Global Workplace Analytics report lists multiple advantages for companies that implement an agile work program. Some of the most impactful are:

  • Employee satisfaction improves – two-thirds of people surveyed said they would prefer to work from home, with 36% of those surveyed saying they’d choose remote work over a pay raise
  • Absences and attrition are reduced – absences can cost employers over $1,800 USD/employee/year, while losing employees outright can cost companies $10,000 – $30,000
  • Productivity improves – workplace distractions are said to cost companies a combined $600 billion per year, while some companies show remote workers as being 35-40% more productive.
  • Collaboration INCREASES! – the implementation of remote technologies allow employees to work together without the need for logistics considerations vastly improving collaboration options.

Remote work policies also offer advantages not limited to a particular company, like reductions in traffic and traffic accidents, easing stress on aging infrastructure, and an overall improvement in the environment. 

What should culture be?

A company’s culture should be strong enough to spread beyond the walls of a physical office. The way a company is led, the policies it enacts to guide and support employees, and the employees themselves are key pieces of a company’s culture. Building a workplace environment that fosters the values of the company, such as innovation, accountability, focus, and determination is all possible without the need to be anchored by a cubicle.

Focus on building a workplace culture that fosters progressive methods of working together, and rewards employees who show initiative and excel at delivery. Hire people for their skills, offer them challenging work to engage and push them, and then build a framework that offers them the ability to deliver great results in whatever way suits them. It’s important to note that this framework is not a “one size fits all” proposition. There are people that need that one-on-one interaction as a means of supporting their own positive mental state and the culture should accommodate that just as easily as remote work options. The key is creating an office culture that supports employees in whatever way makes the most sense for them to be successful.

As the world emerges from the pandemic-induced fog of the past 2 years, those companies that offer flexibility and opportunities to their employees will be the ones that thrive. Employees will have more opportunities than ever before, and they will become less tolerant of outdated mindsets around work. People talk, and companies that are more focused on things like dress codes, cubicles, and policies that promote micro-management and distrust will generate a reputation as a place to avoid. People will seek out opportunities that are not limited by physical location and offer a culture more focused on opportunity than oversight.  

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