(Re) Creating Culture in a Hybrid Workplace
— September 22nd, 2021
The pandemic forced companies to take a hard look at how they communicate their culture (both current and desired future state!) in a world gone remote.
Weirdly, companies that struggled with creating great culture may actually have caught a lucky break when employees headed home last year because it leveled the playing field.
Not only were all the ping pong tables, kombucha, and IRL Happy Hours gone, but in fact, our research has shown that companies with strong cultures actually reported an initial hit to their engagement scores.
Organizations with cultures highly dependent on face-to-face touchpoints struggled to adapt. And, as we all now know, patches like virtual happy hours, team lunches delivered to employees homes, and even thoughtful gifts only went so far.
So, now what?
As a workforce prepares itself to return to the office zero to five days a week, it does so, in many cases, exhausted and running on fumes – the next great disruption in the world of work is happening at, let’s face it, an inopportune time.
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Which actually makes this a great time to strengthen connection through culture.
Creating and maintaining a strong organizational culture once again becomes critical for all of its intangible magic – for its ability to create energy, enthusiasm, connection and loyalty where before there was just an empty cubicle or dining room table and a laptop.
But how, when not everyone has a ping pong table in their home?
It’s clear that the rules of culture are, in some ways, changing dramatically, and in other ways, not at all. The good news is that once again, every company is flying the plane while they build it, so there’s room for everyone to get on board!
Talent is the New Oil
No pressure, but the stakes are incredibly high.
With a shrinking labor force, more than 27% of American workers reporting that they are considering changing roles in 2021 and 68% reporting that they don’t feel that their companies have been communicating clearly about return to office, companies ability to engage and retain their workers means that no only (re)creating, but effectively communicating culture to employees will be key to survival.
There’s no one right answer, of course, but there are many critical components, and taking a strategic, deliberate approach will be mandatory.
Putting Values at the Heart of Your How
The companies I mentioned that took an initial hit in engagement during the pandemic are also the same ones who bounced back quickly.
Why? Because their cultures were firmly rooted in their values. They may have been shaken when the world got knocked off-kilter, but they rebounded because of their strong foundations.
Companies focused on ‘Values as Behaviors’ know that consistent, compelling communication about how and why we’re all connected gives employees the compass they need to be productive and engaged, even when they’re not all in the same physical space.
Storytelling about people, and how they relate to what we call ‘Values IRL’ also provides endless opportunities to creatively connect people across a wide range of channels, platforms and experiences with relevant, resonant messaging that influences behavior.
No matter how you bring them to life in your organization, the human brain loves stories, especially when they are about people we can relate to. Seth Godin says ‘People Like Us Do Things Like This,’ so when your goal is to influence culture change, or bolster and support the one that’s working, connecting human workers through stories is a powerful tool.
Talk to the Humans – ALL the Humans
The upside of a global pandemic that impacts nearly every human on the planet is that it underscores the human aspect of, well, everything. This has given organizations, and their leaders, an opportunity to (finally) get out of their own way and start behaving like actual people.
Ironically, our shared trauma, grief, and stress has laid the groundwork for healthier cultures that connect people to each other through emotions that matter like empathy, hope, determination and a renewed focus on the importance of community.
What a perfect opportunity to get DEI right!
The secret to leveraging your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy to create a strong culture is actually hiding in plain sight, right there in the ‘I.’
In fact, part of the solution can be reverse-engineered by focusing on creating truly inclusive workplaces (which then makes it easier to attract and retain diverse talent (assuming you also get the ‘E’ part right in that equation!)
The companies getting this right have moved the DEI conversation to the heart of their strategic conversations. It’s become the ‘How’ at the heart of their strategies, policies, processes and programs. Organizations who use creating inclusive cultures as a north star are unlocking the benefits, and in turn, are becoming more successful at creating workplaces where human beings thrive.
Will it last? I believe it will because it turns out that corporate realness is a compelling proposition for both employees, contributes to improved employee experience, which in turn produces better customer experience.
Don’t miss the ‘Great Re-imagining’
Let’s be honest, organizations have struggled with their cultures for years.
But there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right in front of us…
We all have to re-imagine, re-invent, reset the way we work, the way we run our businesses. And now that there are very clear mandates on getting the people piece right – the time is now.
Wipe the slate clean, start fresh, figure out who you want to be as an organization and how you want to behave.
And then, become that organization!
Victoria is the CEO of Dewpoint Communications, Inc., a firm focused on helping people-powered businesses to communicate better with their employees every day. Clients range from startups to Fortune 50 companies, in a wide range of industries and sectors.