Remote working realities: What does culture mean now?

remote working realities

Our recent Bytes session was so insightful and full of brilliant comments that we’ve decided to summarise the takeaways in case you couldn’t make it. The speakers discussed what culture means, whether culture is dead, and how a CTO can lead a team and retain an effective culture in a hybrid and remote working world.

Obviously, we can’t replicate the amazing speakers in this blog, so here are the highlights. You can watch the full session on our new Events page on our website.

The panellists

The session was sponsored by HeadChannel, who build enterprise software for clients who are typically CTOs. Our panellists, all seasoned Chief Technology Officers and Engineering Leaders, shared their experiences and shed light on how to navigate and nurture a thriving culture within a remote working team. 

Katherine Spice: CTO, Learnerbly
Julian Browne: Versatile CTO
Liz Pope: Head of Engineering, Unmind
Gonçalo Silva: CTO, Doist
Richard Bundock: MD, HeadChannel

What is organisational culture?

Before we start with the Bytes overview, we’ll briefly discuss what organisational culture is. It refers to the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that shape the overall work environment of an organisation. It encompasses the unwritten rules and norms that guide how employees interact, make decisions, and perform their work. 

Organisational culture plays a significant role in shaping employee behaviour, engagement, and overall performance and can influence the level of collaboration, innovation, and adaptability within a company. 

A healthy and positive organisational culture promotes employee satisfaction, loyalty, and a sense of belonging, which in turn can lead to higher productivity and long-term success. Therefore, companies with a strong and well-defined culture tend to attract and retain top talent who align with their values and contribute to a positive work environment.

The impact of remote working

In the ever-evolving world of remote work and digital connectivity, the concept of organisational culture has experienced a significant transformation. 

Liz Pope said that as a leader, the biggest challenge has been how to impact your culture. For her, it is about not having access to how people are feeling, for example, following an all-staff or company announcement. She added that in the past, you could walk around the office and see what’s happening and get a better feel. Now it’s difficult behind a screen to get the ‘water cooler chat’ and ‘It’s hard to get a feel for the culture on a regular basis and harder if you want to enhance it.’

Katherine Spice said that she ‘lost her ability to hear’ and felt like she’d lost one of her senses when she went remote as leaders are no longer in each other’s space. She added, ‘Naturally, we have a negativity bias, and generally, remote people are more likely to assume criticism than positive intent.’

Gonçalo Silva believes that in the past, we relied on mechanisms to rebuild the trust battery, but suddenly, they weren’t there after Covid. He added that when you take away some of the in-person occasions, it’s hard, and there can be a lack of trust. Leaders, therefore, need to think about how to build bonds and recharge the trust battery.

Julian Brown said that remote working has changed everything, and culture is dead as we know it. He added that ‘Communication is asynchronous, decentralised and digital and has led to communications being quite cliquey.’ For example, on Slack, you can have loads of channels, and cliques can form. 

What can you do to enhance the organisational culture?

Here are some of the suggestions from the speakers and also the attendees:

  • Remote work and distributed teams:
    • Emphasis on the challenges and benefits of remote work, including communication practices and tools.
    • Time together makes a positive difference.
    • Office time is nice but doesn’t affect the bottom line. Therefore, intentional team time together is crucial, at least every 3-5 months.
    • Spend your time constantly trying to reinvent what team-building is.
    • Find ways of being uncomfortable if it’s better for your team.
    • Find time and opportunities for good waste, i.e. saying good morning and simple wins.
    • Don’t assume people read all Slack messages
  • Leadership and management:
    • Insights on leadership styles, including the importance of vulnerability and admitting mistakes.
    • Discussions on the hiring process: consider both culture fit and culture addition.
    • Loyalty and employee tenure in the engineering field.
  • Communication and collaboration:
    • Strategies for communication within remote teams, including the use of public channels, video meetings, and documentation.
    • Challenges and solutions related to private channels and direct messages.
  • Onboarding and company culture:
    • Importance of transparent onboarding processes, including personal onboarding plans and documentation.
    • Discussions on organisational culture, loyalty, and the impact of layoffs.
  • Work-life balance and team building:
    • Exploration of the concept of “good waste” and the value of non-work-related activities.
    • Spend your time constantly trying to reinvent what team-building is.
    • Consider ‘What can I do next week or next month to improve team building?’
    • Find ways of being uncomfortable if it’s better for your team.
    • Engagement in virtual team-building activities, such as online games and escape rooms.
  • Psychological safety and leadership behaviour:
    • Emphasis on the need for leaders to demonstrate vulnerability and admit when they don’t have all the answers.
    • Have an ‘anonymous help advice’ channel. There are various apps/bots/workflows to facilitate this. It can act as a catalyst to get some valuable topics out in the open without fear.
    • Discussions on improving psychological safety within teams.
    • There should be no pressure to turn your camera on.
    • Positively encourage people to give feedback that will be kept private and acted upon – allow ‘whistleblowing’ and be open as a CTO.
    • As you hire more people, focus as much on their values as on their technical knowledge. For example, focus on the person over technical ability (hire someone who may need to learn but is a nice person to work with).
    • According to Julian, psychological safety is THE most important factor for feeling like part of a team and work satisfaction.
  • Resource sharing:
    • Sharing of resources, including articles and book recommendations related to remote work and team dynamics.
  • Networking and community building:
    • Introductions and networking opportunities, with participants sharing their roles, experiences, and current positions.

Recommended resources

From the session, here are some resources suggested: 

White paper:

Team games: or

Reading: Tom DeMarco’s book “Slack”

Watch the session.


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