The Critical Role Technology Plays in Company Culture
Despite a tumultuous past two years, remote and hybrid workplaces have proven to be worth the investment. In fact, for some companies they were a salvation. For others, it was an awakening to a new world of possibilities.
And while sourcing and implementing the technology required to function optimally as a remote or hybrid workplace may have been challenging at first, the main hurdle companies faced in the transition is within. For many traditional companies, company culture took a hit with the pandemic and a number of them continue to believe a remote work environment infringes on a healthy culture.
If technology is, in big part, what saved companies during the pandemic, can it do the same for their culture? Let's explore.
What Is Company Culture?
Company culture is defined as the system of beliefs, values, experiences and physical traits that a business cultivates, all of which shape the way employees and customers view and experience the company through its various touch points.
“Culture is made up of symbols, values and behaviors," said William Howard, research director in the HR and advisory services practice at McLean & Company. It is the face of the company; what employees experience, and what customers see. It's both an experience and a perception.
And today, social media has made it much easier for anyone to judge a company, for both good and bad. Taking a public stance on social and political issues, for instance — or even abstaining from speaking out altogether — can strengthen or harm a company by playing a large role in the public's perception. A 2020 survey of 1,000 Americans by telecommunications firm Mitto showed nearly three-quarters of customers support companies that take a stand on their values, as long as they are followed by measurable action.
“Leaders are responsible for creating a culture of respect," said Nancy Hauge, chief people experience officer at Automation Anywhere. "Such a culture empowers employees to unleash their potential in the workplace, and make their employee experience that much better."
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How Tech Can Help Build Culture
Company culture comes down to two things: connection and values. Technology helps solve both parts of the equation by building connection between people and enabling companies to put their values into action.
“Technology has the power to transcend space to create an intimate environment between employees and enhance the overall experience; that is, if you utilize technology in a way that is authentic to your company culture," said Crystal Diaz Conroy, head of employment brand at SaaS company GoTo. "Brand culture is built on the premise of connecting with one another and using those connections to create a supportive and communicative environment — technology allows us to form those connections around the globe."
For organizations where communication, collaboration, trust, transparency and other related values and behaviors are important, technology plays a critical role in supporting culture, especially in a remote or hybrid environment, said McLean's Howard.
"And to ensure that technology effectively supports those values and behaviors, organizations need to look at technology not just from a functional or technical perspective," he said.
Kim Christfort, national leader of Deloitte Greenhouses and Leadership Center for Clients, said because physical proximity matters less than perceived proximity in relationship quality, technology should be considered as a way to make connections, create shared meaning and build value, as opposed to just a tool.
The Need for Transparency and Collaboration
The problem with communication technology such as email, chat and text messaging is that they are all forms of asynchronous communication, meaning that the conversation is one-sided and doesn't flow naturally like face-to-face communications do. Those technologies, at least in the way many companies use them, are like old-school walkie-talkies: push to talk, release to listen. They're not effective methods for anything other than relaying specific information. Spontaneous casual conversations, which are a large contributor to culture, are impossible without two-way conversations.
“The solutions that we’ve chosen to build our business communications around are encouraging authentic engagement and creating two-way conversations between employees and the business,” said Paul Taylor, senior vice president of corporate marketing at Blue Prism. "Before this, communications were largely sent by email, which gave way to fragmented and isolated updates lost in peoples’ inboxes, and discouraged any form of interaction.”
The ability to communicate in real-time is what brings people together and helps turn individuals into a team. It's no surprise then that platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been adding new functionalities and features over the past two years, providing companies with the communications and collaboration capabilities that are essential in a remote or hybrid workplace.
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Offering a video communication technology is critical in a remote or hybrid setting because video is more engaging than audio alone. It helps not only to build camaraderie but also to feel less isolated. By fostering informal chats and sharing of experiences, video platforms can serve as a form of virtual water cooler. Taylor's company uses video streaming technology to foster an inclusive and transparent company culture.
"The technology behind these services helps us to engage in two-way communication with employees in an authentic, human way. They can reach every employee no matter where they’re located — at headquarters, on the road or in remote locations around the globe,” he said. “Having our leaders willing and able to utilize live streaming technologies is crucial for us in developing an open, transparent and resilient brand culture.”
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Tech-enabled Learning Opportunities Boost Culture
Companies that provide and encourage a culture of learning also strengthen overall organizational culture. Research shows the vast majority of employees want their employers to provide continued education and learning opportunities. Jean Pelletier, vice president of digital talent transformation at Schneider Electric, said her company uses technology to strengthen company culture by doing just that, investing in employees.
“Schneider Electric recognized the value technology can have in creating new opportunities for employees within an organization and developed an internal mobility marketplace, called Open Talent Market (OTM)," she said. "That allows employees to both explore other departments within the organization, while simultaneously promoting the freedom to grow, fail, learn, innovate."
OTM reinforces Schneider Electric’s company culture and values by reiterating to employees that they are each valuable and important as individuals.
“With this marketplace, Schneider’s workplace culture has become more dynamic and responsive where employees now find it easier to invest in themselves,” Pelletier said. “Empowering our workers is consistent with our company’s culture and values with each employee being much more than a number that contributes to ROI; they are a whole, unique person that contributes to the overarching company culture.”
That melding of data-driven analytics with a human touch plays a large role in strengthening company culture. The same way companies use technology to better understand their customers, should be the same way they tap into employees' needs and wants to improve internal culture.
“With lightning-speed analytics, companies can more nimbly develop and execute strategies that build value and really strengthen employee support behind a brand’s culture,” said Sharad Varshney, CEO of data governance consultancy OvalEdge. “When data-driven strategies lead digital transformations, companies will have greater success in disrupting markets, establishing a sustained competitive advantage and achieving employee buy-in to a company’s culture.”
Technology plays a large and growing role in shaping a company's culture, which in turn affects both employees and customers. By providing comprehensive and effective communication and collaboration platforms, investing in employees and living their values, businesses will continue to build a culture that employees are proud of and that attracts customers. Without the appropriate technology however, remote and hybrid companies cannot efficiently support their internal culture.
“Technology’s role in supporting brand culture is critical," said Blue Prism’s Taylor. "In today’s business environment, where digital platforms and applications are intrinsically connected to the fabric of the company, it’s simply not possible to have a successful brand culture without technology."