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Remote work and the vital role of leadership and technology in bridging the distance

Remote work and the vital role of leadership and technology in bridging the distance

David Furby, CEO and founder of IT partner Novatech discusses the role IT has to play in ensuring a great business culture in a hybrid or remote-first workplace.

Since the conclusion of the pandemic, many companies have opted to maintain their employees’ remote work setups, favouring this approach over traditional office spaces. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2023, 44% of UK employees were engaged in remote work. This figure encompasses 16% who work remotely full-time and 28% who adopt a hybrid model, splitting their time between home and the office. While remote work has gained traction in recent years, its prevalence has been steadily increasing since the 1980s, even predating the Covid pandemic and its associated lockdowns and movement restrictions.

The role of technology in ensuring the effectiveness of remote or hybrid environments and the cultivation of a robust business culture cannot be over-estimated. A significant frustration for remote and hybrid workers arises when technology is not prioritised, fails to function properly, and impedes employees from performing optimally. When your staff are left unsupported through technology that doesn’t meet their needs, it significantly undermines a company’s business culture. You cannot claim to be effective as a business, when your employees are left struggling with inappropriate technological solutions that mean they cannot do their best work.

The role of technology 

Granting employees the autonomy to choose their living and working arrangements can yield significant advantages, particularly in recruitment. A culture that places trust in its employees earns their full respect, helping to foster the unity that is so vital when people are working from different locations.

Embracing remote work not only saves time, reduces office operational costs, and spares individuals the energy expended in commuting, but it can also foster a more unified and positive work culture. Providing such flexibility may prompt employees to become enthusiastic advocates for your company, spurred on by the recognition and respect for their lives beyond the workplace. Remote work is now firmly entrenched within the UK working population, and with physical office spaces previously serving as the meeting point for an organisation’s people and culture, there is an even greater need for leadership teams to effectively communicate their business culture across multiple locations. If leaders are flexible regarding their location, they must also be resolute in shaping the culture they wish their business to epitomise.

However, without the necessary technology to facilitate this, it becomes impossible to cultivate a strong business culture in a remote working scenario. This begins from the moment an employee joins the business until they depart. While it may seem evident that transitioning to a remote-first model reduces carbon emissions, it is also clear that employees who work remotely or in a hybrid-model will need access to appropriate technology to enable them to communicate effectively with their colleagues throughout the organisation.

If a remote employee lacks a suitable laptop or computer, or an internet connection to enable them to communicate with colleagues and perform their duties to the best of their ability, then your business culture flounders at the outset. 

By providing your employees with technology that is not fit for purpose only fosters a perception that the quality of an employee’s work is inconsequential. Furthermore, without a robust procedure for the return of technology when an employee exits the business, it reinforces the notion that the company is indifferent to its assets.

This underscores the need for leaders to ensure that all processes within the business embody the desired culture. With both remote and hybrid work models heralding a multitude of changes, each impacting team interaction, collaboration, and the maintenance of shared culture, leaders must assume the mantle and lead by example in embracing the company’s culture and thus ensuring their employees have the technology they need to communicate and work effectively. An organisation’s identity is shaped and honed by its leadership.

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Fostering a cohesive culture

It is widely acknowledged that remote work can create a sense of disconnect among team members. Due to the physical distance, employees often work in isolation and may feel detached from the company they work for. However, by consistently communicating cultural expectations and commemorating shared achievements, leadership teams can foster a sense of belonging and unity among remote teams. If the hiring process is executed correctly and appropriate technology is provided, the company’s culture will serve as a guiding framework for decision-making and behaviour. Culture flourishes when embraced willingly. Cohesion naturally emerges through organic interactions. Nevertheless, informal interactions, where individuals can grasp what motivates their colleagues outside of the workplace, are less frequent in remote work setups. The ‘water cooler’ moments of the office are difficult to replicate in a fully remote work setup.

Because of this, in a remote work environment, where face-to-face interactions are limited, leaders must consistently embody the company’s values and cultural norms through their virtual presence, communication style, and decision-making processes. Each of these elements profoundly influences employees individually, shaping their perceptions and attitudes towards the business as a whole. Leaders must acknowledge that each remote interaction they engage in with an employee contributes to shaping the overall perception of the company. In a context where face-to-face connections are fleeting, every communication touchpoint carries weight. By mastering these touchpoints, leaders can effectively serve as role models for their teams, working towards reinforcing the company’s culture, regardless of their employees’ physical locations.

Focus on talent over location

A culture prioritising talent can reap significant benefits by eradicating geographical barriers to recruitment. A remote-first policy empowers leaders to recruit from a wider and more diverse talent pool, potentially enriching the company’s culture and perspective. In such an environment, companies can integrate and embrace employees from diverse backgrounds, ensuring that every voice is not only heard but also valued, irrespective of their geographical location. However, for companies with a hybrid or remote workforce, it is vital to ensure the provision of appropriate technology to enable employees to perform their roles and communicate effectively, regardless of their location within the country or, indeed, globally.

Communication and technology

Communication serves as the lifeblood of remote and hybrid teams. Without clear and easily navigable communication channels, a remote company’s culture may become lost amid a deluge of unread emails.

Technology can assist leaders in defining the most effective means of conveying their cultural message. Here, leaders should establish and advocate for the use of tools and platforms suited to various forms of communication. Whether through email, virtual conferencing, or a virtual messaging platform, employees should understand where and when to use each platform. Additionally, it is crucial for colleagues to understand each other’s preferred communication methods.

Efficient communication channels empower team members to promptly address and resolve issues as they arise. Whether troubleshooting technical glitches or resolving conflicts, having access to the right communication tools ensures that obstacles and challenges are swiftly dealt with.

In this article, we have seen how a strong remote work culture is marked by a deliberate focus on communication, the provision of appropriate technology, and a leadership style that consistently embodies the company’s values. By acknowledging the challenges of remote work, such as the potential for isolation and disconnection, and actively working to counteract these through technology and communication, businesses can create a remote work environment that mirrors the collaborative and cohesive atmosphere of a physical office.

Ultimately, the success of remote and hybrid workplace models hinge on a company’s ability to adapt its culture, ensuring that every team member, regardless of their location, is equipped, empowered, and inspired to excel. In this digital age, a company’s culture is not confined to the walls of an office but extends into the virtual spaces where its employees connect and collaborate. With the right blend of technology, leadership, and a commitment to fostering connection, businesses can build a remote work culture that not only enhances productivity but also cultivates a sense of belonging and community among its workforce.

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