‘It is possible for leaders to create strong social capital without physical proximity and doing so is absolutely vital’
When it comes to workplace culture, employees at organizations where leaders have done nothing to preserve or improve the culture in light of people working from home are significantly (200 per cent) more likely to report their culture has suffered, according to a report.
On the flip side, leaders who are implementing simple culture interventions are avoiding the hidden costs of remote work and seeing a culture and commitment boost, according to VitalSmarts’ survey of 212 senior leaders and 2,037 front-line employees conducted in August.
“The job of a leader is not to create results. Leadership is about creating a social system that creates results,” says Joseph Grenny, lead researcher on the study. “Similar to market capitalization or financial capital, social capital is a fundamental measure of leadership effectiveness… Ignoring your reserve of social capital is as dangerous as ignoring your reserve of cash.
Eight in 10 remote workers in the U.S. admit to slacking off at work amid the distractions of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey released in July.
If leaders invest in increasing social capital, they can largely offset the cultural downsides of working from home.
Employees are 60 per cent more likely to respond quickly to requests from each other, finds VitalSmarts. They are also nearly three times more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt rather than taking offense; nearly three times more likely to sacrifice their own needs to serve a larger team goal; and more than twice as likely to take initiative to solve problems rather than waiting to be told.
“For decades, studies of corporate culture have concluded that the further two people were apart physically, the lower their estimation of one another was likely to be,” says Grenny. “Our findings suggest otherwise — distance isn’t destiny. At the end of the day, the necessary condition to a productive social system is leadership, not location. The forced WFH experiment of 2020 suggests it is possible for leaders to create strong social capital without physical proximity and doing so is absolutely vital.”
One expert suggests that, wherever possible, all the positive aspects of the physical workplace should be replicated in a hybrid workplace.
What can employers do? Simple interventions like the following have the most meaningful impact, says VitalSmarts:
- Offer virtual training at least as consistently as was offered prior to COVID.
- Implement new tools and technology to facilitate connection.
- Offer counseling or psychological services.
- Provide fun, off-the-wall, virtual events.
- Ask for input on needs in company-wide and one-to-one meetings.
- Change work hours or implement a flex-time policy.
- Schedule non-work-related meetings for team members to simply connect.