The Hidden Cost of Remote Working

A team at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Tauranga is currently conducting a study into remote working and company culture, writes Anne Bradley.

Remote working is the new buzz-term of the modern organisation. Initially a trend driven by technological development which has enabled employees to work away from their organisation’s usual location for all or part of the working week, the pandemic has now forced even the most resistant bosses to implement remote working as a real option for most employees globally, and evidence suggests that many continue to work from home amidst ever-changing alert levels.

Whist remote working is not practical in some industries, statistical data confirms rising numbers of employment arrangements that include a substantial proportion of the working week spent outside traditional places of work, including working from home.

A recent study noted the rise of flexible work programmes in Australasia, including almost half of the New Zealand public service.

Studies have identified a range of benefits resulting from this new approach to working, crediting the increased flexibility, autonomy and trust with improving employee engagement, encouraging creativity, increasing productivity, boosting employee wellbeing and supporting workplace diversity, as well as cutting costs – creating the agile, competitive and sustainable organisations that can thrive in this dynamic and uncertain business environment.

However, Fiona Mackenzie of Culture Co, a business consultancy based in the Bay of Plenty, has discovered that many of the organisations she works with across New Zealand are experiencing unintended negative consequences of remote working which are having dramatic and far-reaching impacts on company culture, a concern echoed by business executives worldwide.

Relationships are the heart of workplace culture, and maintaining them digitally is extremely challenging.

She says: “Human problems require a human response: it’s difficult to be an effective leader when the people you’re leading aren’t there.”

Her clients are feeling the effects of the reduction in face-to-face interaction, particularly the kind of spontaneous informal ‘water-cooler’ conversations that represent a major point of connection amongst employees across departmental divisions.

Mackenzie notes that trust “…is what grows in the spaces between formal meetings”.

While working from home may foster individual creativity, the collaborative processes, such as team brain-storming, that bring together those ideas into a collective form and provide the basis for truly innovative company culture are incredibly difficult to achieve through digital channels.

For those employees who do not have the space or facilities at home to enable them to work effectively, coming into an empty office every day is a depressing reality, and for new members of staff, the absence of face-to-face interaction presents a daunting challenge: How do you form trusting relationships with people you’ve only met on a screen?

The answer, according to Mackenzie, requires a total overhaul of business strategy: Expecting to simply do what you’ve always done is a recipe for disaster and will eventually result in a fractured, unsettled and incohesive company culture that could have a long-term negative effect on company performance.

A team at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Tauranga is currently conducting a study into remote working and company culture. Does your organisation offer flexible/remote working options? How is this impacting you, and your company culture?

The team would love to hear from you. Please follow the link to complete a five minute survey:

Anne Bradley is a Senior Academic Staff Member at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology Faculty of Business, Design & Service Industries. Email [email protected]

Fiona Mackenzie is the director of Culture Co. email [email protected] website:


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