Remote Work is Killing Culture

There is now more remote work than ever. 

Entire industries are shifting to be remote.

But there is a hidden cost: culture.

Culture is the name for how it feels to work at a particular place.

It may include things like speed and execution but it also includes things like camaraderie and humour.

Daniel Coyle details why culture matters in The Culture Code: 

“Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful overarching idea: We are safe and connected.

He goes further, and details some of the common behaviours amongst the best cultures:

“When I visited these groups, I noticed a distinct pattern of interaction. The pattern was located not in the big things but in little moments of social connection…:

  • Close physical proximity, often in circles
  • Profuse amounts of eye contact
  • Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs)
  • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • High levels of mixing; everyone talks to everyone
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions
  • Intensive, active listening
  • Humor, laughter
  • Small, attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)”

See a problem here? 

Almost half the items require physical presence.

Many others are much more difficult working remote.

Remote work reduces mixing.

There are fewer social interactions, which is where you find laughter and humour.

Building the feeling that “we are safe and connected” relies on hundreds of friendly cues and reminders.

Joking around at lunch, asking about a coworker’s weekend at the coffee machine on Monday, asking after family, going out for a shared meal, hanging out for Friday drinks—these are all sources of reminders that the person is safe and connected.

And they’re all missing with remote work.

Matt Mochary, author of The Great CEO Within, has a rule of thumb: a company has a great culture if employees are hanging out together outside work.

If they’re remote, that isn’t happening either.

Remote work may be here to stay. 

It may even be better than in-person work, all things considered.

But it isn’t without costs; culture will be one of the first.