As companies continue to grapple with the best way forward in navigating a Hybrid Workforce, one of the beliefs driving many companies to require that all employees return to the office is “company culture,” that is the shared beliefs, values, norms and practices that uniquely distinguish one company from another. It’s assumed by many executives that an organization’s culture can only be learned over time by a culmination of in-person interactions conducted exclusively onsite in central office locations.
For example, Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, who has called remote work an “aberration” and not conducive to productivity, sent employees an email which in part stated: “We know from experience that our culture of collaboration, innovation and apprenticeship thrives when our people come together, and we look forward to having more of our colleagues back in the office so that they can experience that once again on a regular basis.”
Likewise, JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, recently sent employees an email that stated: “Working from home doesn’t work for people who want to hustle, doesn’t work for culture, and doesn’t work for idea generation.” And James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, went so far as to say: “If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office.” The only problem with the logic of these CEOs is that it may not be true: Experiencing an organization’s culture is not limited to the domain of onsite employees.
In a recent study I conducted with Dr. Rick Garlick dubbed “The WorkProud Study,” we measured the amount of individual and company pride found with today’s employees, the key drivers of those types of pride, and their effect on desired outcomes for the organization such as engagement, advocacy, retention, etc. Our online survey was conducted with 1,017 full-time employees in June 2021.
One of the variables we examined in this study was the impact of remote work on employees’ sense of pride. We found that the pride employees experienced in their work was almost identical between remote and onsite workers at 43% and 42%, respectively, which suggests that an employee’s work is “portable,” and the pride they have in doing that work is not influenced by where it is done.
Perhaps more surprising was the fact that the pride employees experience in their company—which is primarily shaped by the company’s culture—also varies very little between remote and onsite employees at 33% and 32%, respectively. We found this surprising because of the common perception among many CEOs and executives that employees need to be onsite to experience the organization’s culture.
While a case can be made that employee orientation, informal “water cooler” interactions, face-to-face interactions, all-hands meetings and the like certainly help employees to understand “the way we do things around here,” a counter argument could be made that employees who prefer to continue to work remotely (currently 65% of employees who were doing so during the pandemic) hold a higher regard and thus have greater pride in their employer if they are trusted to continue to work remotely. This is also supported by evidence that remote workers are happier: 22% more so than those who never work remotely.
So while a survey of 400 financial services executives in North America, conducted by global management consulting firm Accenture, found that about 80% of the leadership prefers workers to spend four to five days in the office when the pandemic is over, there very well may be some unintended consequences if implementing this preference leads to an exodus by these companies’ employees. This may well be the case given that 58% of employees say they will look for a new job if they are forced to return to the office.
Written by Dr. Bob Nelson, Ph.D.
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