Do you need a shared physical working environment to have a positive company culture? Many employees seem to think you do, with our latest survey discovering over two-thirds of them feel you must have a physical workspace to have a positive company culture.

Our survey – carried out in February 2022 – revealed 63% of employees stated the physical workspace was an important part of a positive company culture. In fact, this feeling was even more evident with those aged 54 and over, with a massive 85% of them saying that the physical place of work was vital.

Another surprising result from our survey was that 50% of employees felt hybrid and remote working were not beneficial to supporting great workplace relationships. Rather worryingly, nearly 31% of them believed that hybrid or remote working were outright harming them.

Given the rise in popularity of remote and home working, this does beg the question: if people believe the traditional workspace is a vital part of a company’s culture, is continued remote working in danger of killing it?

2022: The death of company culture?

When we talk about a company’s culture, it’s often referring to the ‘feel’ or ‘soul’ of a business. It’s the values an organisation holds dear, the behaviours it considers vital for success, and the shared vision and goals for what it ultimately wants to achieve. Essentially, it’s what makes a company unique.

The physical workspace does play an important role in a company culture, although not just because of tangible ‘things’. A positive culture isn’t created by having a trendy office, free coffee machines or a ping pong table. It’s about how an organisation connects people to its values, drives desired behaviours and recognises all the big (and little) wins across the business.

The physical workspace can help be the catalyst for all that good stuff. But, if a business is now embracing remote working, it can be very difficult to maintain those all-important interactions shared workspaces can provide that support positive cultures.

There are some situations where remote working cannot replace workplace interaction: Offices provide ‘water cooler’ chats that are difficult to replicate in a virtual environment. In an office, you can maybe go for a coffee break and chat with other people, which can spark creativity or ideas. These ad-hoc meetings and coffee breaks don’t work as well remotely as they can feel strange or ineffective for people.

Sharon Quinn, Head of HR, ByrneLooby

HR needs to help creating ‘culture’ moments

Employees may not always want to work in an office and are embracing the ‘new normal’ of working remotely, but the social interactions that come with a conventional workplace are something very difficult to replicate in a virtual or remote environment. That’s perhaps why over two-thirds of staff believe the physical workspace is vital to supporting a positive culture.

As a result, organisations and their HR teams must find the right balance between the remote and the physical experience to sustain a positive culture. This is where creating ‘culture moments’ comes in…

Here are four simple actions HR can take to create culture moments within a business that has staff working remotely:

1. Reconfigure the workspace to facilitate face-to-face moments

According to research by Forbes, 84% of executives say they prefer in-person meetings for their ability to build stronger and more meaningful business relationships. However, it’s not just meetings you should be mindful of – it’s also the everyday interactions of employees.

If you still have a shared place of work, make sure it’s somewhere everyone feels comfortable to engage with each other. Open windows, good light levels, cleanliness and ventilation can all play an important, if subconscious, role in how relaxed and assured everyone feels being back in a shared workspace.

2. Encourage managers to arrange regular face-to-face team meetings, either in or out of the office

Did you know a large proportion of communication can be nonverbal? While MS Teams and Zoom have made it easy to have collaborative team meetings online, they can be a lot less personal. So, instead of confining meetings to a video call or the traditional meeting room, why not encourage your team managers to mix it up a bit?

Meetings don’t have to be at work, either. Chatting over a coffee in a local café, or going for a walk together, can be just as good for that all-important bonding moment. Don’t be afraid to look beyond your office walls or computer screen for a little inspiration.

3. Keep tabs on those that work remotely most of the time, and ensure they don’t feel neglected

HR can help managers by providing some best-practice advice for managing team members who may work remotely full-time. Teams might want to introduce daily virtual check-ins, for example, where people can discuss priorities, update others on their progress and seek advice from colleagues.

Managers need to ensure this isn’t perceived as ‘checking up’ on people to make sure they are glued to their laptops. Rather, an opportunity to maintain team spirit, keep everyone focused on their goals and avoid anyone feeling neglected.

4. Cater to the different demographics of your workforce

Our survey and accompanying report discovered that company culture does not mean the same thing to everyone. With that in mind, investigate the demographics of your workforce before implementing any new strategy so you can introduce methods of engagement that will truly resonate with them.

What’s your views on company culture? Do you think they have become more challenging to maintain with a remote workforce? Or have the challenges of the pandemic strengthened them? Let me know in the comments below.