UNDERSTANDING IMPACT OF REMOTE WORK ON ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE


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To complete our three-part series on workforce planning post-COVID, we want to look at the question: To what extent is your organisation is designed for telework (remote work, telecommute)? Regardless of the model you want to implement, we know that trust, communication, and managerial support are the most important pillars to protect employee productivity and wellbeing. But the existing culture of your organisation is actually the foundation upon which these pillars are planted, which means that your culture - the set of processes, power distance, mindset - dictates whether these pillars are likely to be carried out successfully.

So what type of organisational culture do you have? To answer that question, we’ve pulled two dimensions that are correlated with telework penetration.

POWER DISTANCE

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension’s Power Distance is defined “as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally”.

  • Ahigher distance describes management decisions that prefer appointing leaders to be responsible for their respective teams and the teams are expected to respect the advice and orders from their leaders. These orgs tend to have a more vertical hierarchy
  • A lower distance describes management decisions where employees are accountable to their performance, they are answerable to themselves and gets equal treatment from management. These orgs tend to have more flat hierarchal structures

Source: Geerthofstede.com

Based on the tendencies of your organisation, managers will be more or less comfortable trusting their teams to work remotely. Say, for example, your organisation has a traditional vertical structure and higher power distance score, managers and leaders are fully accountable for the performance of their team members, and top-down control is an important and necessary element of the business model. In this scenario, you can imagine:

  • Managers will naturally be less comfortable allowing staff to work remotely potentially out of fear that things will get missed or that they’ll lose control over the workflow and be accountable for poor team performance
  • If managers are in charge of deciding on remote work for their team, they’ll likely say no and potentially face criticism for not being flexible compared to other teams
  • If upper-level management decides to implement remote working as a company-wide policy and managers do not have a say, they could experience stress due to a lack of control over their team’s performance

If your organisation has a traditionally flat hierarchy, where power is distributed, employees tend to feel like the makers of organisational culture. This dynamic tends to empower employees to take accountability and lessen the inherent control required from managers.

COLLECTIVISM VS. INDIVIDUALISM

In another study with 1577 organizations within 18 countries, the results found that on organisations that have strong values on either the individualism or collectivism (Ralston et al. 2011), maybe 'safer' to employ formal telework policies.

For organisations that have strong individualistic values, employees are naturally motivated by achievement, recognition, and autonomy. Telework, in effect, can enhance employees' motivation, commitment, and engagement. If an organisation advocates strongly for collectivist values, where employees value conformity, uniformity and benevolence, organisations are also 'safe' to employ remote work. In this environment, employees are more motivated by a shared common goal of moving the organisation forward; therefore, they're more likely to invest in relationships to avoid disrupting work processes and respect the commitment made to each other. So even though employees might be motivated by completely different mechanisms on two polar opposite dimensions, either could be naturally suited to remote work. What becomes trickier are organisations that do not advocate values on either dimension. In this case, in order to successfully launch a remote work policy, orgs need to think more deeply about implementing stronger risk controls.

TAKEAWAY

  • An effective remote working policy means being honest about your organisational culture in the current state. There is no "best" culture as all organisational cultures are contextual, but some naturally lend better to remote work than others. Knowing the culture you want to build and where you currently are a good first step.
  • If you sit somewhere across the dimensions where remote work can cause conflict, you can still implement the policy but careful consideration is required. It’s helpful to be clear about your organisation’s constraints based on and risks for taking on remote work. There are potential controls you can put in place to foster greater collaboration and with time, greater trust.
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