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Remote Work Challenges Company Culture

CEOs and CHROs agree that when managing a remote workforce, maintaining company culture is the top challenge.

​It’s been two years since the pandemic began, and I am still bombarded with questions about managing a remote workforce—even though 42 percent of workers never had the option to work remotely during the public health crisis, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Omnibus Survey from September 2021.

In fact, at a recent conference of corporate real estate professionals where I was a speaker, the CEOs all had the same question: How do we build a consistent culture across traditional and remote workplaces?Screen Shot 2022-03-02 at 105605 AM.png 

While I dislike answering this question, a colleague helped me reframe my thinking on the issue. Drew Jones, CEO of OpenWork Inc., a business consultancy specializing in the co-working industry, posed a different question: “What is the biggest issue you think organizations are experiencing?” he asked me.

“Talent challenges,” I responded almost immediately. 

Over the next 10 minutes, he helped me see that the best leaders don’t focus on the types of workplaces they make, but rather on the types of workplace cultures they build regardless of location. 

In 2021, SHRM and Chief Executive magazine fielded a joint survey examining the workplace difficulties that were likely to persist into 2022. Using the same framework Drew laid out, I thought about what the survey showed in terms of how CEOs and CHROs are thinking about the biggest talent management challenges ahead. Yes, uncertainties about coronavirus variants are salient, but CEOs and CHROs alike are united about the top challenge in a remote-work environment: maintaining company culture. In fact, many CEOs highlighted their distaste for creating two separate cultures based on work location—one for in-person employees and one for remote workers. 

I have been studying the world of work for more than two decades, and I can say one thing with certainty: This is the first time in my career I have seen such alignment between CEOs and CHROs. But what does that mean?

First, these leaders understand that the talent pool is limited while jobs remain abundant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor participation is rising at rates much lower than expected, so open jobs are likely to remain prevalent. This presents a challenge for organizations seeking to add or introduce new talent.

Second, talent is the new currency for all organizations. CEOs and CHROs are aligned on the need for effective talent management because talent loss during the pandemic dented the success of many organizations. This is more evident today than ever before because CEOs and CHROs are interested in reducing turnover and maintaining company culture.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a common enemy aligns organizations. The pandemic frayed workplace cultures; the secrets to success are effective leadership and solid talent management with culture as the outcome in mind. Take this as good news—for the first time ever, all the soldiers are aligned against the common enemy.

Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer for SHRM.


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