Creating Common Culture in a World of Virtual Work: Start with a Refreshed Employee Value Proposition

Every company has a distinct culture whether deliberately created or not—because when people come together, culture happens. But what’s the impact on culture in a highly distributed workforce when people are no longer spending time together in person? Edelman’s recent Trust Barometer Special Report found that those working remotely will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future; only 31 percent of global employees working from home are likely to re-enter the workplace in the next three months, while 75 percent have the option to work remotely indefinitely.

If culture is activated by shared experiences that create a sense of belonging, how do you shape and maintain a culture in the new virtual work reality? Culture is a valuable business asset because it supports behaviors and values that help achieve a company’s long-term strategy. That makes this moment an important cultural inflection point for most organizations. When shared experiences are virtual at best and non-existent at worst, a company could risk becoming a collection of individual actions and beliefs instead of a culture of common purpose.

In addition, many employees find a lack of shared experiences can make work feel transactional. They are missing the unifying sense that comes from working together in person.

Taking action

Companies have been working hard to maintain what was special about their workplace culture. However, efforts to replicate routines and behaviors from the office are not faring well because virtual work differs so dramatically from in-person work. As Stanford professor Jamil Zaki suggests in his Washington Post column about personal growth in the face of the pandemic, “When an earthquake topples a building, architects are unlikely to rebuild exactly what was there as before…reconstruction offers a chance to build back better.” Similarly, company leaders need to forego a replication strategy when it comes to the remote employee experience. Instead, they need to re-architect the terms of what it means to join, work and stay at their company in a new virtual or hybrid work environment.

Many companies are already taking steps to re-architect their culture by reevaluating the most fundamental aspect of the employee experience—their employee value proposition (EVP). This crisp articulation of what employees can expect at work in exchange for their productivity and performance extends far beyond culture to include total rewards, brand image, and more, but it is a wise place to start for companies looking to revisit and re-articulate what is so core to their employee experience. Recalibrating an EVP for the current context can strengthen your culture in a remote world.

Your EVP evolution starts with auditing what you’re currently offering across the full employee experience against the backdrop of the new realities of work.

What motivated employees to join and stay at a company just a year ago has shifted dramatically—not only because of Covid-19 but other societal tensions as well. So an EVP re-set is imperative. Companies cannot work in a context that is no longer relevant. Increasingly, we know that an employer’s response to racial injustice and ESG issues—such as climate change—shape employee perspectives and choice. For example, in Edelman’s September 2020 global survey, 71 percent of respondents now rate “my employer” as the most trusted institution to respond to systemic racism. There is a new expectation that companies and leaders don’t just speak out on issues, but actually lead societal change. Aligning your EVP to speak to the values and concerns of employees is no longer a “nice to have,” but a business imperative.

The companies that will fare best and position themselves for future growth are those who take the time to re-evaluate and re-articulate their EVP to both recruits and current employees. Employers must change their organizational cultures to match the shifting world around us.

Felicia Joy, Alissa Schepisi and Elena Grotto are Senior Vice Presidents at Edelman.