The Company Culture & Employee Engagement Survey – are companies prepared for hybrid working?

May 18, 2021

Paris Stevens

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"29% of US employees believe that team spirit and working relationships have suffered due to working from home"

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When lockdowns first hit in spring 2020, businesses everywhere had to scramble to adapt to new working patterns and practices – and companies are still finding interesting new ways to navigate through the ‘new normal’.

A year on from the introduction of widespread home working, one of the biggest challenges facing companies is employee engagement. If businesses can achieve true employee engagement and foster a positive company culture, employees will be happier, more productive and more likely to stick around. Hiring new people also gets easier.

Yet with more home working – or permanent hybrid working – set to stay, companies now have to look beyond social gatherings and an enjoyable office environment to nurture a positive culture.

At Wildgoose, we specialize in employee engagement, so we’ve been looking at how companies have adapted to home working. We asked employees from 133 companies about the effects of home working on company culture, and what they’d like to see happen as hybrid working becomes the norm.

Here are some of the issues we explored:

  • How many employees intend to WFH moving forward
  • Whether companies maintained a positive culture throughout lockdown
  • Which elements of company culture were lost
  • How a toxic workplace culture can impact employees
  • What current and potential employees look for in a company’s culture

Do employees intend to continue working remotely (fully or hybrid)?

Although nearly three in five respondents want to continue working remotely when lockdown restrictions are eased, the survey indicates a sharp generational split

A distinct majority of those aged 44 and over intend to return to the office on a full-time basis. While almost 78% of Gen Z employees plan to WFH at least some of the time, potentially through a hybrid approach that includes both home and office working.

This tells us that companies must continue to be adaptable and not try to apply a one-size-fits-all solution. Listening to employees’ individual preferences will be crucial.

  • 57% – Nearly three in five employees intend to continue working remotely after lockdown restrictions are eased (either fully remote, working from home, or a hybrid working arrangement split between home and office)
  • 42% – Two in five intend to go back to work in an office

Have companies successfully adapted their culture to remote or hybrid working? 

With hybrid working set to become the norm, it’s vital that businesses learn to create a positive company culture remotely. Then they can benefit from contented, more productive employees who become advocates for the company.

However, our survey found that a large proportion of respondents felt their company’s culture has become worse. Some went further, stating that the company culture has become “toxic”

“Toxic” cultures

  • Nearly two in five (18%) employees in the US believe that their company culture has gotten worse over the last year
  • 11% believe their company culture has become “toxic”, and have either left the company or are planning to leave
  • Only 8% of these respondents believe the culture will improve after lockdown

Improved cultures

  • Just 7% of employees feel that their company’s culture has improved since working from home began

Over a quarter (28%) state that the company culture hasn’t changed for the better or worse since lockdown.

Does this change depending on the size of the company?

Traditionally, SMEs have been able to forge positive company cultures with greater ease than bigger businesses. However, this can be reliant upon social interaction within a closer-knit team. Many SMEs have struggled to recreate that positive culture during lockdown, leaving employees disappointed.

When we asked SME employees about their company culture:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) say that the company culture has gotten worse over the last year
  • 15% stated it has become “toxic”
  • Of that 15%, 10% are planning to leave the company
  • 5% have already left their jobs

At companies with over 1,000 employees, the number of people intending to leave due to a “toxic” workplace culture fell to 5%. This suggests that enterprise-level companies have adapted more effectively and/or their employees are more used to remote working.

What elements of company culture have been lost?

It’s clear that home working has fundamentally changed company culture in many organizations, but what exactly has changed?

We asked our survey respondents which aspects, in particular, have been affected by changes in company culture. Here’s what they said:

For many people, the sense of being on a team has been missing over the last year. This can result in lower levels of job satisfaction, people working in silos and inefficient work due to breakdowns in communication.

In some cases, solutions to these problems can be simple: regular check-ins, informal virtual meet-ups and leaders emphasizing the importance of teams can all have an impact.

With 20% of respondents citing a lack of clear goals and learning, setting objectives and ensuring employees feel progress is being made is also vital. This is particularly true at a time when interaction with the outside world is minimized and people can lose sight of wider developments within a company.

Company size matters

It’s vital that organizations analyze what’s already in place and where their strengths and weaknesses lie in terms of building and maintaining a positive company culture. 

Team spirit, bonding and relationships with colleagues

  • ‘Loss of team spirit, bonding, or relationships with colleagues’ was an issue felt across companies of all sizes
  • Enterprise-size companies were impacted most: 40% (two in every five employees)
  • At SMEs, this figure dropped to 25% (a quarter of employees)
  • Enterprise companies (1,000+ employees) also experienced the greatest loss of teamwork, according to employees (33%). For large companies, this was 27%, while 25% of employees at SMEs felt this way

This shows us that enterprise companies need to work harder to keep employees feeling together and working as a collective team.

Management and leadership

  • SME employees were most likely to have issues with management and leadership
  • 20% of employees stated that there was a ‘loss of clear and direct leadership from senior management’
  • 18% of SME employees felt there was a ‘loss of trust from management that work output standards will be met’ 
  • 22% stated that there was a ‘lack of clear goals and learning, both in personal development and company-wide’. However, this issue was found to be greatest in large companies (100-999 employees), where 24% of respondents felt this way

Company culture in large companies has been impacted less. One in every three (33%) employees stated that there had been ‘no change – I don’t think my employer’s company culture has worsened’. Just a quarter of SME employees could say the same.

With companies of different sizes having access to different resources, the ability to adapt will always vary.

  • Small companies can retain a sense of team more effectively – they have fewer colleagues to connect and can have company-wide virtual meetings
  • Enterprise companies might already have arrangements in place for managing remote working, and leadership teams used to managing employees away from the office

What do people want from a hybrid working future?

We asked people which three aspects of a positive company culture they value most, both when interviewing for a role and judging whether their current organization is right for them.

The results show that while a hybrid or flexible working policy is important, for many, it still comes below traditional priorities such as a healthy work/life balance, a competitive salary and opportunities for development. It may be that the past year has led many people to see flexible working as more of a necessity than a perk.

Naturally, those who want to continue to work from home have different priorities to those who intend to work from an office. For example, 17% of WFH employees say a positive first impression of potential managers and colleagues is a priority for them. This rises to 40% for those who see their future in the office, surrounded by colleagues.

How has working from home shifted priorities?

The less time people spend in an office, the less important company culture will be to them, but how many people value it highly when deciding whether to join or stay at an organization? 

In our survey, close to a third of the employees said they would actively seek a great company culture when looking for a new role or opting to stay in a position.

Which demographic groups value company culture most?

According to the survey, more experienced employees – 27% of managers and 36% of mid-level managers – place greater value on a positive company culture.

The results also revealed that the further you go up the pay scale, the more influential company culture becomes:

The risk for companies employing hybrid working then, is that they could lose more experienced personnel, at a time when leadership is acutely required.

Generation Z employees, however, are less concerned with a positive company culture. They’re attracted to a healthy work/life balance and competitive salaries, as well as flexible or hybrid working. Indeed, those Gen Z employees who value hybrid working practices are likely to place much less emphasis on having a comfortable and modern office space.

Gen Z graduate talent prioritize the following from a company’s culture:

  • 77% – Work/life balance
  • 55% – Competitive/improve salary
  • 50% – A flexible or hybrid working policy
  • 27% – A modern office with great staff facilities (such as natural light, showers or a games room)
  • 22% – Opportunity for growth and progression
  • 11% – A company that has a positive impact on society
  • 11% – Friendly environment – positive first impression of potential management and colleagues
  • 11% – Continued 'perks' of working from home (such as lunchtime naps, flexible time with the family, or time spent with pets)

Next steps: How can US companies adapt their cultures to the ‘hybrid working’ norm?

Nobody could have foreseen the impact of the pandemic on the working world and companies are still catching up and adapting as best they can to new realities. Organizations must implement changes now, putting new structures and new practices in place to foster successful company cultures, which can take years to build. They must also bear in mind individual preferences and continue to offer flexibility.

In the short term, it’s crucial that businesses make their employees feel valued and find ways to bring them together. At Wildgoose, we’ve developed our remote team building products to help keep employees connected: 

Activities like these offer employees a way to have fun together, and the opportunity to interact with a team wider than the one they usually work with. In a world where many people start new positions without meeting their new colleagues for weeks, employees can get to know the people behind the job roles.

As hybrid working becomes the new norm, we must all become accustomed to new ways of connecting with colleagues. For businesses, it’s vital that they take control of the way their company culture is headed and put employees’ changing needs at its forefront.

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