Is the company culture under threat?

Is there no workplace culture if employees are not physically present? The hybrid work model has raised some serious doubts

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Many of us have not met our colleagues, subordinates and friends at work for a long time now. Yes, we are all interacting virtually, of course, but in-person and face-to-face interactions are limited. There is no denying the fact that virtual platforms have been very useful to keep us connected, and collaborative technologies have helped us in business continuity. While it is true that not all businesses have thrived, most have been able to sustain themselves. However, can the same be said about organisational culture?

For the last 15 to 16 months, people have not seen their offices and have had no in-person interaction with colleagues at all. So, how will the culture survive? The company culture is built from its people relationships that have a foundational base in the organisation. Is the company culture under threat, due to limited, restricted and formal interaction amongst people?

“No face-to- face interactions can impact the culture of the company because there will be no building of relationships between people, which otherwise occurs through informal interactions at the office”

Ganesh Subramanian, CHRO, More Retail

While some companies will follow a 100 per cent remote-working model, others will opt for a hybrid one. In both instances, people will be working remotely at least part of the time. In one of the Gallup polls, it was found that remote workers are 10 per cent less likely to feel that someone cares about them at the company or that their contribution is recognised by their managers.

Can we say that there is no culture if people are not present at the workplace physically?

According to Praveen Purohit, deputy group CHRO, Vedanta Resources, culture is a very big thing. It is formed of our core values, behaviours and the way we work in the company.

“For us at Vedanta, the employees definitely miss physical interactions and informal conversations, but it has not impacted relations amongst employees. Though not physically, we all are attached emotionally. Companies have built their culture over the years and it cannot be destroyed by a pandemic which has just come recently,” says Purohit.

Mahipal Nair, CHRO, Nielsen IQ, cites the example of the Tata Group, which has a large workforce, with global presence, and yet has a uniform culture. “The Group comprises of big companies with presence across locations in India as well as in globally, but their values and behaviours have remained the same without any impact,” says Nair.

“Companies have built their culture over the years and it cannot be destroyed by a pandemic which has just come recently”

Praveen Purohit, deputy group CHRO, Vedanta Resources

Purohit shares that in case of Vedanta, almost 90 per cent of the employees work on the ground and only 10 per cent sit in offices. Still, the culture has never been threatened due to distance. This is because it takes years to build a culture and if the company demonstrates it with true spirit at all levels, it can never be impacted.

Nair does agree though, that in some way, absence of physical interaction has hampered the culture but not the larger purpose of it. “Since we do not see each other face to face, the belongingness factor has gone missing. One cannot show a person how much one cares about them, virtually. Gestures, such as warm handshakes and hugs are not there anymore,” shares Nair.

Ganesh Subramanian, CHRO, More Retail, believes that businesses will not rely on 100 per cent remote work. They will have to operate in a hybrid work model to sustain the culture. “No face-to- face interactions can impact the culture of the company because there will be no building of relationships between people, which otherwise occurs through informal interactions at the office,” opines Subramanian.

“Since we do not see each other face to face, the belongingness factor has gone missing. One cannot show a person how much one cares about them, virtually”

Mahipal Nair, CHRO, Nielsen IQ

While employees who have been with the company for longer tenures are completely aware of the company culture and values, what about the freshers? Freshers have not experienced the company culture at all, as they have not really been in the office environment. “Yes, the new joinees will be impacted a lot. It is up to the managers to demonstrate the correct behaviours and values in front of the new joinees. Also, it makes a huge difference when the senior leaders in the company come forward and talk about the company culture with all the freshers,” asserts Purohit.

In a hybrid work model, since some are working from home and others from the office, the remote workers may feel sidelined and unattended. “People who are working from different locations need equal care and attention. They need to be rewarded and appreciated just as any other employee in the company,” asserts Purohit.

We may not agree that remote working or hybrid working is killing the company culture outright, but some minor impact can be felt deep within, due to limited physical interaction.

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