23 March 2020

The importance of cultural fit in remote working


This blog is featured by Remotely, an initiative we launched to help companies rock remote working during the corona crisis.


Remote working brings many challenges but also many opportunities. At its best, flexibility and working from home can raise productivity, increase the happiness of employees and save time and money in commuting costs. Many even rate work-life balance as the most important criteria when choosing an employer, saying it’s a bigger deciding factor than salary. It makes sense then that a lot of companies are increasing their attractiveness by exploring flexible working conditions. Even if your organisation is not doing so voluntarily, the world may throw you a curve ball where teams simply have to stay out of offices for safety reasons. 

In this blog I explain the importance of cultural fit in remote working.



Collaboration vs. scalability


Working outside of an office can be great, yes, but there is a reason why most companies still prefer their employees to conduct business in centralised locations. Setting it up efficiently is a huge effort and requires commitment. One of the recurring challenges we see in this area is getting siloed, especially when your team is growing rapidly. When your team doesn’t interact physically, it’s easy for teams to start pursuing their own goals instead of considering the company as a whole. This leads to different teams having different cultures. An argument I hear often is: ‘What does it matter if people work in different ways and value different things if they reach their goals? Wouldn’t it be easier to let teams create their own processes that come naturally to them?’ It’s a nice thought but there are two big risks in this line of thinking.

The first one is the need for collaboration. Even if one team, let’s say the marketing team, knows exactly how they want to work together and whose job it is to do what, that knowledge doesn’t translate outside the team. The marketing team needs to work together with the sales team, and if both have different expectations from one another, the situation quickly leads to bickering, office politics, and projects being delayed. The second major problem is scalability. If different teams promote different cultures, it’s very difficult to grow sustainably because you have no clue what makes a successful employee in a given team. This leads to lowered team performance, higher turnover and bad hires.


It all starts with people

Okay, no one wants to end up in the above situation, but what can you do? Having a cohesive company culture is even more important in remote teams than regular ones but it’s also harder to define since you don’t see your colleagues every day. The solution starts with your people: make sure you bring in the right employees for your culture. If you want your culture to be transparent, autonomous and promote lifelong learning, you need to find people who share those values consciously and, even more importantly, in their unconscious behaviour. What does this mean? Well, people say they value certain things but then do something completely different. Often they don’t even see the mismatch in their actions and words. I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase ‘Do what I tell you to do and not what I do’. You want to focus on finding people who act your values, even when you are not there to monitor them. 


And it all comes down to solid insights

How can you go about this? First, you need to assess your current situation. What do you already have going on in teams in terms of culture, what kind of traits are valued and do the teams’ skill sets complement one another or do they clash. Once you have a clear, unbiased overview of what is going on, you can compare your new candidates to what you have in the teams to either add traits that are missing or enforce current ones. Not hiring anyone at the moment but still looking to make a shift in the culture of your remote workers? See if it’s possible to change team structures and roles in the company based on your findings to form more optimal team compositions. 

I realize that putting more focus in company culture is easier said than done, even when we know it’s the best thing to do. It’s difficult to find a way to measure unconscious behaviour and get results that you can quantify. Maybe you need some help defining what you should be looking for in the first place? Our team can help you get started. Equalture has enabled over 250 companies to find their optimal cultural traits. Reach out to us for a free consulting call and let’s have a look together!