Company culture has become a deafening buzzword, or rather “buzz term”, in the last couple of months. Not because it is a brand new and revolutionizing concept, but because it has been completely challenged in the middle of the “remote work vs back-to-office” debate.
Can culture survive the distance? Well, to answer that question, company leaders should start by being clear on what exactly is company culture and is theirs helping them foster or fester their organization.
Is it confined to the walls of the office or in the coffee mugs displaying the company logo? Was it in office rituals, such as pizza Fridays? Or does it purely rely on mission statements and core values? Well, you can for sure find culture infused in all of those things, but it goes way beyond that.
A company’s culture is better expressed in its employees’ day-to-day interactions, behaviors, and patterns. Overall, culture is to a company what mindset is to each person. It’s what drives everyday decision-making in an organization through shared beliefs, attitudes, and goals. Both conscious and unconscious. However, it’s not necessarily tied to in-person interaction, is it?
Maybe instead of worrying about distance harming or erasing company culture, leaders should question if their current culture fits the new workplace expectations and challenges regardless of where their employees are.
If you have been keeping up with the latest trends in the workplace, then you certainly know about The Great Resignation, and how people are leaving their jobs because they no longer fit in with or match their career and lifestyle goals.
The new work culture is less about sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours and more about balance, flexibility, and growth. However, companies would be mistaken to believe that this means their workforce has now become lazy or that they no longer value their jobs. If that’s the case, then that probably speaks more about the company’s culture being stuck in the past not able to recognize that times have changed.
“What worked in the past may no longer work in the future, and what worked for one company may not work for another.” –(The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture, Harvard Business Review, 2018)
If companies don’t adapt to this new reality and become more sensitive at a human/cultural level, they run the risk of not only losing people but also burning them out. Moving past the pandemic without making changes in the culture leads to lesser performance and results in the long run. This is even worse for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) since that kind of cultural festering can spread faster and lead to a company-wide breakdown.
Before making any changes, it’s important for companies to evaluate what their company culture is currently like. Again, go beyond mission statements and culture, because there might be a huge difference between what you think about the culture and what it’s really like.
Ask questions like: how do your teams prioritize tasks and activities? Are results and deadlines promoted over learning and growth? What role does autonomy play in projects? Is success being seen as a collective effort?
This is not an easy task, but try to dig deep, gather as much information as possible, and categorize the results in the prevalent attitudes, beliefs, and scenarios. In the end, narrow down your findings and see if you can describe your company culture in 3 to 5 adjectives.
You can also consult the Integrated Culture Framework designed by Harvard Scholars in which they explain 8 types of company cultures they have identified:
Now that you know what your company culture is really like, look into industry trends and challenges. What are your competitors doing right to avoid turnover rates and grow their workforce? Are they putting more effort into onboarding strategies or adding new benefits to their offer? How do these changes resonate with their teams? Are they prioritizing flexibility and autonomy? How are they bringing their employees together? What are they communicating?
You can also look into employee reviews (yours and others) to understand what is working and what isn’t. Once again, use 3 to 5 adjectives or the Integrated Culture Framework to describe successful companies and compare them to yours. How much do these differ? This can be a good exercise to reveal whether your company is falling behind or not.
It’s time to make the appropriate changes in your communication, processes, prioritization, benefits, etc. Remember it’s not about being a copycat and forcing your organization to become just like others. That’s why it is so important to listen to your employees from the first step.
These changes should also be planned from a long-term perspective. Change, especially at a cultural level, doesn’t happen overnight. Most importantly, don’t forget to keep your teams in the loop. Be clear about what changes they’ll be experiencing, and also the reason behind them. Don’t lose sight of who you are as a company or who you’re doing this for and commit to developing not just an environment your employees want to work in, but a culture they want to grow with.
Lastly, keep in mind that culture is not separate from the rest of your strategic decisions but rather the filter through which those decisions are made to create a coherent work environment, whether remote, hybrid, or fully back on-site.
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