Image of a person working at a laptop in a casual environment

While a remote workforce has significant advantages in the current business landscape, the increased distance of digital work environments can have the side-effect of concealing growing tensions between employees and leadership. More and more organizations are becoming aware that healthy company culture isn't just a job perk—it's critical for long-term success. Looking past the buzzwords, culture at its core can be thought of as the ultimate performance metric: the combined quality of communication, structure, and purpose within an entire organization.

Mutually beneficial

As more research has emerged, the ROI of maintaining strong corporate culture has become clear, as well as the risks of inaction. According to data from McKinsey companies that rank in the top quartile for corporate culture have on average earned much higher returns for shareholders: 60 percent higher than the median companies, and 200 percent higher than those in the bottom quartile. Additionally, upper management teams have found that a more purpose-driven culture leads to more focused and motivated team members. This means that organizational leaders are able to dedicate more time to big-picture strategy concerns without the burden of constant micromanagement and oversight.

Additionally, employees are more committed to their work when they can sense that they are working together towards the same goals as their managers and colleagues—in contrast to the demoralizing effects of working at cross-purposes or working to inconsistent standards. The resulting productivity boost and sense of well-being can be a substantial asset to an organization, yet few companies are willing to expend the resources to make it happen. Employees can feel this lack of emphasis: as many as 30% of employees surveyed claim to anticipate a cultural crisis within their organization in the next 2 years.

When employees feel connected to their company, it's a powerful thing—and difficult to win back when lost. Especially now, at a time when employee expectations are rising, today's prosperous enterprises could find themselves facing a brain drain tomorrow if they don't take their responsibilities seriously.

-Raju Vegesna, Chief Evangelist at Zoho

Statements vs. actions

One way to view issues in workplace culture is as conflicts between the stated values of the organization, and their actual execution in day-to-day work. These conflicts are often exacerbated when leadership attempts to reinforce their prescribed culture from the top, rather than listening to and addressing the experiences of their employees. Quick fixes from management—like releasing a revised mission statement, or holding a few all-hands meetings—can generate a morale boost in the short term, but when company leadership again fails to live up to its ambitious goals, these gains are quickly reversed.

This cultural dissonance is unfortunately common. A 2019 report revealed that only 28% of employees feel strongly that their values and actions are in alignment with their organizations. This widespread failure demonstrates a need for more engaged leadership across the board. Business leaders who make deliberate efforts to model the behavior that they're asking for, while also spotlighting high-performing employees from across the organization, stand to make the most efficient use of their influence. 

At Zoho, we've established a practice of recognizing our 'game-changer' employees—those who have made a significant impact through their own initiative. The result has been more engaged, more inspired employees, which is exactly what has made Zoho a success since the beginning.

-Sridhar Vembu, Zoho CEO  

Culture at a distance

The logistical challenges of remote work have made it much more difficult to maintain company culture from afar. Many unprepared organizations adopted an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude to cultural concerns while initially struggling to adjust to remote work. However, as this cultural neglect has persisted, it has only amplified these organizations' difficulties in adjusting to the new normal.

Over 70% of organizations attempted agile transformations in the period following the lockdowns and business disruptions of 2020. The number one challenge to a successful transformation? Implementing cultural changes—which far outstripped both tech and resource allocation as a top area of difficulty.

As the urgency of remote work gives way to a certain amount of distance fatigue, many of these companies are now facing the challenge of addressing their long-overlooked culture issues, but finding that distance and disconnection are creating an exceedingly difficult environment for cultural problem-solving. Faced with pushback on a full return to the office, increasing numbers of workplaces are settling on hybrid work arrangements as a new norm, but this offers challenges too, especially if misaligned home and office days leave the employees who come to the office still struggling to connect with the 20% at home.  Meanwhile, the small minority of organizations that had already established strong group cohesion before rushing into remote arrangements are finding a sweet spot in the return-to-office negotiations, with expectations set collaboratively at the team level.

Stronger together

In the wake of any massive shift in the business landscape, it's easy for something as nebulous as corporate culture to fall by the wayside. And as business norms shift, many organizations take a reactive position by default, following workplace trends but not dedicating resources to maintaining clarity and connection among the workforce. One of the big lessons of recent years is that as the business world continues to acclimate to new shocks and disruptions, proactively establishing and maintaining a healthy corporate culture can make the difference between a company that flourishes in the face of new challenges and one that struggles to catch up.