Introducing telework into a culture that does not support flexible work arrangements can set up a business for failure. It is important to deeply consider culture before, during, and after changes to the company that involve employees working from home. If the attitude is that telework is not going to succeed - it will not. A company’s culture is composed of the beliefs, assumptions, norms, and core values that the members hold (1). Norms and assumptions run deep, and they are all around (staying at your desk late to symbolize commitment to the boss, how long to take a coffee break, the clothes you wear to the office, how you talk to your team vs. your leader, what is frowned upon, and so on). Clearly these everyday practices and assumptions will be disturbed by integrating a major new component into work.
Something that will help is having a culture that is supportive of flexible work. You might take the effort to buy the best collaboration software, train on remote competencies, redesign the office for people coming in and out between home days, but if your culture will not support flexible work, it won’t succeed. How do you know if your culture is supportive? Conduct a rigorous assessment to determine what attitudes exist, why they exist, and what all of the believed barriers are. Dig deep - who feels the most strongly against telework? What do their jobs have in common? How about those who support it? What are the norms and values? Understanding the current culture will be a useful tool in planning and sustaining positive change into the future as a result of a telecommuting arrangement.
The culture of your organization can also explain what can be gained from flex work. This insight can be used to further strengthen the culture (for more on this, see Will remote work change my culture?) and to ensure flexible work practices are implemented in a way that will complement the culture, not clash with it. For instance, those working in a culture defined by diversity can now extend the hiring pool to more geographic areas allowing for more qualified, diverse candidates. Those working in a culture that values global growth might embrace telework for the ability to work across time zones. Those working in a culture that values speed and productivity might enjoy the uninterrupted chunks of independent work time. The list goes on.
What are common characteristics of companies that have historically embraced telework? (2)
• Primary Characteristics: o Place less emphasis on control, coordination, rules, formality, stability and predictability o Greater focus on productivity and achievement
• Secondary Characteristics: o Early adopters of technology o Make employees feel part of the organization o Creative and innovate
What are common characteristics of companies that adjust well to telework?
• Individuals feel connected, central to, and involved in the organizational community (3) • Members feel interpersonal trust from others in the company and perceive openness from the company (4,3) • Outcomes are valued, measured primarily using deliverables or outcomes (such as number of calls successfully actioned) rather than behavior-based (assessing performance on observable actions) (5) • Managers are willing to modify their supervisory styles to match a telework / flexible environment (6) • Leaders are good at information sharing (5) • Job expectations are clear and concise; goals and objectives and deadlines are clear (7) • Training for teleworkers is offered (8) • Performance evaluation criteria are objective, clear, easily measured and quantified (3) • Inclusive of different work styles (resident workers vs telecommuters)
What to do if your company is not supportive of a flexible work environment?
This will require culture change initiatives, strategic planning, and solutions for all perceived barriers / reasons why it is not embraced as a possible model. It will not be effective to just make the change and hope for the best. A careful plan will need to be considered involving all levels of the company, multiple targets of change, rigorous assessment and follow-up, and adequate resources.
At Propulo Consulting, we partner with you to improve the world of work. Our team has the expertise to help your business implement a sensible Flex Work strategy without pain. We work with you to ensure your company culture and processes develop accordingly during or after a Flex Work transition so you can continue to deliver results for your organization and customers. Please visit our website for the latest insights and research into flexible work.
References: (1) Schein, E. H. (1985). Defining organizational culture. Classics of organization theory, 3(1), 490-502. (2) Standen, P. (2000). Organizational culture and telework. Managing telework. Perspectives from Human Resource Management and Work Psychology, 31-42. (3) Raghuram, S., Garud, R., Wiesenfeld, B., & Gupta, V. (2001). Factors contributing to virtual work adjustment. Journal of Management, 27(3), 383-405. (4) Pyöriä, P. (2011). Managing telework: Risks, fears and rules. Management Research Review, 34(4), 386-99. (5) Lautsch, B. A., Kossek, E. E., & Eaton, S. C. (2009). Supervisory approaches and paradoxes in managing telecommuting implementation. Human Relations, 62(6), 795-827. (6) Shin, B., El Sawy, O. A., Sheng, O. R. L., & Higa, K. (2000). Telework: Existing research and future directions. Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 10(2), 85-101. (7) Ilozor, D.B., Ilozor, B.D., & Carr, J. (2001). Management communication strategies determine job satisfaction in telecommuting. Journal of Management Development, 20, 495-507. (8) Greer, T. W., & Payne, S. C. (2014). Overcoming telework challenges: Outcomes of successful telework strategies. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 17(2), 87- 111.