Have you noticed that something’s shifted a notch or two in your business? Has your sense of “who you are” been changing imperceptibly? And are you pointing your finger at work from home (WFH) and hybrid working practices? That makes sense, because we had the technology to work from our sofas before ever Covid javelined in. Yet we didn’t. Why? Because offices exist for a reason: They contribute to your company culture!
Moreover, your company culture defines your business. So it’s a serious change. WFH (and the hybrid version) has had a major impact on
- the way your staff interact with each other,
- the values they hold, and
- the decisions they make.
These things have not only changed office and company culture but the change happened almost overnight. Long before there was enough time to gather evidence that WFH was a good idea. But it’s here to stay, at least for now. And between its “birthing pool” and its possible final “resting place,” we have to work with the changes and negotiate a way to maintain a somewhat altered company culture.
So in this article, we’ll look at five ways the pandemic has changed company culture, and consider some possible mitigations. But first…
Why Do You Need a Strong Company Culture?
A strong culture contributes to the identity and values of your company. Your values may not be expressly written out or verbalized – though many are, these days. Nevertheless, a strong culture helps instill even unspoken values into staff actions and behavior and creates a better workplace.
Newer employees fit into your culture, enjoy their work, and are more productive. They develop good relationships with established co-workers, and are motivated to play their part in upholding your ethos.
All your staff then become good ambassadors for your brand image, influencing how customers perceive you.
A strong company culture is not therefore something you want to jeopardize! So let’s turn to those five major shifts in company culture.
1 Work Communication
You’ve probably found that positive business communication is much harder to maintain remotely or with hybrid work arrangements.
It’s actually quite hard to accommodate both in-office and at-home workers equally. A quick consultation with a colleague across the room is far easier than even the smartest message across the internet. One is verbal, the other is written. To get the second one verbal, you have to arrange a call!
On the other hand, to be fair, arranging a Zoom or Teams meeting involving both managers and various employees (even executives) is far easier. And junior staff get a chance to be heard by those further up. Yet you still notice the group culture has changed. Why?
- In a video meeting, screen concentration palls.
- Body language is visible only from the neck up.
- Taking turns to speak is more awkward, even with video on.
- Only one person can reasonably speak at once because of transmission signals.
- You don’t really find out how your staff are, mentally and physically.
- Casual encounters and spontaneous remarks have been mostly eliminated.
So what can you consider introducing, granted this cultural change in communication is here to stay?
Encourage sharing and learning among all your employees.
If you can arrange smaller learning and sharing groups involving a mix of both in-house, remote, and hybrid staff, you retain both the interest and motivation of remote employees and the career aspirations of other workers. Importantly, you also maintain some sense of having a company culture where communication matters. The more casual set-up helps staff speak to each other more truthfully.
Check up on staff mental health.
Just as you might visually and surreptitiously note which employees in-house are struggling mentally, check up on those working from home, and invite them to share their WFH issues in the same way.
Because WFH 9-5 office hours are no more, it’s easy for employees to have more tasks lined up than is reasonable and to feel isolated (we’re social beings!). It’s then too easy for them to simply clock off, put the washing on, answer the door to a visitor, or (the latest ruse) leave a mouse wiggling on the desk to give the impression they’re working! Because it’s all got too much to manage.
Checking in with them preserves and promotes the managerial care that a good company culture has.
2 Time Management
It’s never been possible to fully control your employee’s actual working time – and even harder when they WFH. Apps track time, yes, and software exists to check which apps are used when and for how long. But there’s no real way to check what has been achieved of quality in that time.
This has come to the fore with WFH. Gone is the culture of managers walking round and at least noting who looks hard at work. For this reason, many have queried if it’s simply better to have a culture of “have you done the job efficiently and effectively?” After all, for your business goals that’s more important than how long it took and exactly when it was done.
This is a significant change in company culture. It places more value on your productivity and efficiency than how many hours you’re putting in per day or week, and where.
This has led to a challenge and a development:
Challenge: WFH or hybrid-working employees now need maximum self-discipline and clear boundaries to retain the same levels of productivity your company culture expects. Have you been concerned at lack of project progress? Customer service flagging?
Development: Employers are realizing that time in the office is often wasted! Some are now offering a four-day week (at employee request) so long as the same amount of work is completed – 100% work in 80% of the time. Might it work for your business?
So what considerations will help you with this change of company culture?
Provide coaching for your WFH employees and/or when possible, experiment with a four-day week.
1 Staff need guidance, advice, or mentoring about how to work well from home. This encourages them to still feel part of your company culture of reliability, togetherness, and purpose. You don’t want them to start feeling like dispensable freelancers – freelancers move on!
2 You could also check in about their workloads – are they reasonable? You want them to be motivated to contribute to your overall business aims. In addition, this helps them maintain the work/life boundaries that can be slightly easier to maintain when commuting. As will the following point.
3 If the four-day-week idea proves its long-term validity, this can be a step towards seeking a more flexible and better work-life balance for both in-house and home-working employees – bringing together your staff in a common and valuable cultural experiment they’ll be keen to see succeed!
3 The Role of the Office
Because working in the office is no longer the default option for both employees and employers, people’s priorities have changed. So what is the new role of the actual office in your changing company culture? How can you ensure a culture you’ve valued remains intact even when altered?
The answer to that depends on many factors, and your organization will now have to choose a win-win situation for business success and your staff. Your brand depends on it!
A few questions will help you consider the role your office will play in company culture in future.
- Is it critical to productivity that staff are in the same place all the time? Or could they all be in-house on a few set days?
- How do you measure time spent productively in your business? Sales figures? Time spent on the phone? Face-to-face meetings that hammer things out? Is an office presence necessary for these anymore?
- Do your company’s processes depend on physical interactions? Showing a customer a water cooler, for example, or allowing a client to sit in a specific armchair? Could virtual reality (VR) work instead?
- How about the need to onboard newer, younger staff when managers are often at home? Will they feel there are no mentors and no senior staff to emulate as they progress up the ladder? After all, those in the middle of their career don’t need to be there to learn or get promoted – they did that before Covid struck! Does this leave a despondent, hopeless culture for your new staff?
4 Company Habits
Most of a company’s casual “habits” were taken away by the pandemic.
We’re talking socializing in lunch hours, away days for bonding or upskilling, cakes on birthdays, water cooler talk, travelling with colleagues, etc.
Since perception of work as “being there and doing” has changed, so too has it changed for these traditional habits. Yet they cement the culture.
What considerations can now help you maintain your company culture?
The first question is: Were these habits crucial to your company culture? And, secondly, are replacements that work just as well coming on line as staff return to the office partially, fully, or not at all?
For example, learning opportunities traditionally happened in an office via outside trainers. Camaraderie ensued in the joint participation.
On the other hand, webinars and courses have developed to the extent that upskilling often takes place digitally more successfully than in-house. And accessing training at times that suit employees is a bonus for accessibility. But it doesn’t offer the “bonding” habit so well.
So what can you introduce that unites your WFH and hybrid staff with office staff in the way that birthday cake days once did??
You’re going to need ingenuity. And our best suggestion is you ask your staff how they wish to introduce newer options that fulfil the same purpose. Giving them a choice and hearing their ideas not only fosters a united culture but also leads inevitably to the following aspect that has changed recently.
5 A Flatter Company System
Many businesses have found that top-down leadership has changed post pandemic as teams relate differently. During the pandemic’s WFH necessity, managers and executives found they were
- slightly less necessary in the communication chain and
- able to trust staff to make decisions they would usually have made themselves.
The jury is out on whether this is a long-term trend. But we’re now seeing benefits of this changed company culture that include:
- A more collaborative work environment that encourages sharing and learning.
- Ongoing flexibility to guard against the risk of another emergency.
- More openness among bosses, because their roles are shared between top managers and workers.
- Redundancy among middle managers as staff no longer needed them.
- Increased levels of employee responsibility after taking on enforced autonomy.
- Easier decision-making and improved communication between employees.
How can this not be good? And…
How can you manage this changing situation?
The best advice is roll with it! It can only benefit your ROI in the long term. And if you need, later, to reinstate some factors that will benefit your culture and therefore your brand, you’ll now have incontestable reasons for doing so – the evidence that some of the cultural changes don’t work well for you.
How to Embrace Your New Company Culture
A significant change in organizational culture is difficult to navigate and can be overwhelming. However, with reflection and deliberation (which McKinsey calls “reimagining the office”), you can observe dispassionately and extract much that is positive from the changes and make it your new normal.
Then, to emphasize your new company culture among your staff – remote or in-house – you should:
- Be transparent on what’s going on and any challenges your company faces. This allows your staff to build a renewed sense of joint responsibility and loyalty.
- Empower your hybrid or remote workers with the best collaboration and communication tools that allow them to reach leaders and colleagues quickly and easily.
- Recognize and reward valuable contributions from your employees, in-house, hybrid, or WFH. Keep this equality as one of your company values and call out excellent performance, and ensure promotion is accessible to all.
How’s Your Company Culture Doing Post Pandemic?
Personal values and attitudes to life and work have changed. You have to take note if you want to attract and retain top talent. So, instead of lamenting changes to your company and office culture, you have to adjust and adapt – it’s possible!
At Waterways, we’ve faced challenges like you have. If you’d like to draw on our years of experience and call for a chat around business changes and company culture, contact us today. We’d love to hear from you.