Jean-Marc Demers

Corporate culture and working from home, an impossible combination?

In this time of labour shortages and remote work, one term in particular seems to be on the lips of all company leaders and managers: corporate culture.

Corporate culture

Often mistakenly viewed as a synonym for employer brand, corporate culture is a much broader topic that really needs to be understood before starting any conversation about recruitment and HR marketing. Corporate culture influences not only the employee experience, but also the entire relationship between an organization and its stakeholders.

But how does a company’s culture develop and, above all, how can you keep it alive with employees working from home? To answer these questions, we spoke with Stéphane Vincent, co-founder of Glasford International Canada, a middle and senior management recruitment firm for Canadian and global companies.


Corporate culture in a nutshell

All members of a society are united by common history, stories, values, knowledge and morals that comprise their culture. The same principle applies to companies, each of which forms a distinct community.

According to Stéphane Vincent, culture represents the balance between an organization’s operational skills (know-how) and its behavioural skills (social interaction). In other words, a company’s culture is the sum of its product offering, its business vision and the daily experience of the members of its ecosystem. It is omnipresent and can be seen in a company’s actions, decisions and interactions.

Corporate culture wears many hats, so to speak: it helps to guide an organization’s strategic decisions, to develop a sense of belonging among its team, as well as to attract, motivate and retain talent.

Organizations often tend to rely on the visual “wow” factor to define their culture. After all, it’s true that pictures of the latest coffee machines and pool tables in the office look good in the “culture” or “team” section of the website. But less tangible things, like how the firm makes decisions, engages its teams and communicates with its employees, reveal just as much about its corporate culture.

Braque Tip

While corporate culture refers to all of an organization’s know-how and interpersonal skills, employer branding is a communication tool that focuses on a single element of the culture: the employee experience.  “Employer branding allows you to present the reality of your organization to your employees and potential employees, your clients, your suppliers and your shareholders,” explains Stéphane Vincent. “That’s your brand and you hope it will make your job of attracting leaders and employees easier. “

In short, it is an organization’s employee experience promise, and it must represent the actual employee experience as closely as possible: “There must be consistency between your employer brand, which is perceived externally, and how the employer brand is experienced internally. […] If you have a significant gap […], you can attract talent, but you won’t retain it,” he concludes.

Understand your corporate culture

If culture is so important to companies, then they should invest accordingly to develop it.

That said, this would, in fact, be the wrong way to go about it, because you don’t create your culture. It already exists, even if its members are not always aware of it: “From my experience, I would say that when you are in an organization, it is not that obvious to see it,” says Stéphane Vincent. “So at some point, senior management has to take a step back and ask themselves […] What is our DNA? What makes us different from other organizations? Are our employees aware of it?”

“It will help you determine the breadth of your culture, and how strong that culture is, how good it is. Do your internal employees understand it? Do they live it? Do your managers stand their ground and make decisions that allow the culture to be as consistent as possible? This is even more important in a merger or acquisition context,” he adds.

Once you understand your culture, it’s much easier to nurture it within the organization and make changes, if necessary.  “The trick is to make sure that everyone in a managerial role – your leaders at all levels – are your ambassadors for the organization’s culture. After all, it’s not just up to your staff to keep the company culture alive,” advises Stéphane Vincent.

Finally, it is important to remember that a company is an ecosystem that evolves according to changes in its environment. These are sometimes internal (stage of the company’s development, talent spread throughout the teams, etc.) and external (socio-economic context, digital transformation, entry of a new generation into the job market, etc.). The ability to adapt to these changes is absolutely essential to ensure sustainability of organizations.

You should not see your corporate culture as a goal, an ideal to be reached and maintained. It will always evolve at the same pace as your activities.

Working from home

Does working from home mark the end of corporate culture?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many have been concerned that working from home will jeopardize their corporate culture.

However, according to Stéphane Vincent, company culture is based more on transparency and authenticity of communication than on the physical proximity of employees: “As a manager, whether you are interacting face-to-face or working from home, you don’t have the choice of constantly communicating. Communicate about how our results are, how we are doing as an organization. ‘Do we have issues, difficulties? Do we have any new clients?’ There are a series of elements that, as long as you communicate them with your respective teams, whether you’re working form home, whether you’re face-to-face, that closeness is going to make it easier to maintain your culture. Without communication, it’s very difficult to keep the culture alive when employees are working remotely.”

This is also true for team cohesion, which depends more on factors such as honesty, shared vision and trust than on physical presence. “The challenge, in my opinion, is that if these elements are not present even when face-to-face, I am quite convinced that this represents an additional challenge for managers in a remote work context,” says Stéphane Vincent.

While a manager communicates effectively with team members, it is true that determining how an employee is doing is much easier in person. Are they actively participating in meetings? Do they seem stressed or depressed? It is therefore recommended to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each employee to maintain a certain level of proximity.

According to Stéphane Vincent, the biggest challenge when employees are working from home is welcoming new team members who have never been in direct contact with the culture of their colleagues. Companies need to rethink their integration practices to break the isolation that new employees – at all levels – may feel and find ways to recreate the informal moments of exchange that naturally occur in the office.

In conclusion, a strong and coherent corporate culture is an essential tool for strategic decision-making and the mobilization of an organization’s stakeholders. It is important to keep in mind that it is never an end in itself and that it cannot be imposed. Corporate culture is the sum of your experiences, your knowledge, your values and your daily actions.

Looking to attract top talent to your team? Be sure to check out our next blog post, which will focus on employer branding and HR marketing.

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