The Pandemic Cultural Dividend

The pandemic has impacted how we live and work; but perhaps one of the areas which has experienced the most significant (and lasting) change is that of workplace culture. The global lockdown and travel bans have changed our views on how we work and interact with others. People, and businesses, have realised that they do not have to be in an office five days a week but instead can do many aspects of their role remotely. We have seen some of our Clients go from being global travellers to Zoom Masters (with very little effect on their business). And as businesses are beginning to look forward and prepare for the recovery, we are seeing more and more Clients begin to consider what culture changes they want to retain and build upon, and those they wish to ditch.

Organisational Culture can be defined as “The collective of behaviours exhibited by the people within an organisation”. Traditionally speaking, workplace culture does not change very much or very fast. Rather it adjusts slowly, over a long period of time. However, like many things which evolve slowly, sometimes a drastic shock to the system causes a more dramatic, seismic shift. The pandemic has been such a catalyst.  Driven by necessity, the past twelve months, has seen all our Clients change the way they work – all at a speed most transformation leaders can only dream of. They have embraced digital tools and, in many cases, made great leaps forward on the path toward full digital transformation

The use of digital tools has given a lot of employees the misleading impression that a physical presence in the office is no longer necessary. Whilst most professional jobs can be done remotely via technology, many business leaders recognise the importance of being face-to-face as it creates rapport and trust that can rarely be built over a videocall. When you are with someone in person you can build a relationship and read their body-language. It also shows the individual that you made the effort to come just to see them. Equally, many businesses are recognising that certain spontaneous moments of collaboration that occur naturally in the office environment are harder or impossible to replicate working remotely.

People also find meaning in their daily routines of getting ready for work, commuting etc. So whilst it is a mistake to show your face at the office and equally a mistake for management to think it knows what is happening just because they can see you, being present can demonstrate commitment.

The change from working in an office to a hybrid model of working from home and an office, has seen leaders having to adapt their approach and replace the implicit messages they would have communicated in the office to messages which are explicit and communicated remotely. There is a greater need for more frequent check-ins to see how they can support their people to be successful when working remotely. The need to build trust by giving their people the space to take ownership of their jobs allowing them to complete their work how they think is best. Overly close management within an office has long been shown to be counterproductive and remotely it may not even be possible – now is the time for empowerment.

Whilst remote working may seem cheap, it can come with some hidden costs to your culture. For many, lockdown has meant social isolation and felt at times like solitary confinement, the impact of which most have endured in silence. Because of this, employee wellbeing and mental health, which was at times just a slogan before the pandemic, is now a necessity and something all leaders are having to take seriously.

We also know that people who work alone and on their own tend to become less productive over time, despite working longer hours than they did in the office. This is because they lose their frame of reference as the boundaries between working and not-working begins to erode. When working from home, people don’t receive the normal signals about when to switch off, like they would when they leave the office at the end of the day. However, leaders can address this through the way they communicate and how they conduct themselves in this regard too. Modelling good behaviour and clearly communicating expectations can offer remote workers cues to ‘switch off’, helping them remain engaged and productive.

As the pandemic is beginning to ease and the recovery starts, we are supporting clients in assessing how their culture has evolved during the crisis using Leadership Assessment. The leader is in many ways the lynchpin of the office culture, and the projects we have undertaken over the past six months have shown that both leaders and employees have reacted in different ways.  Some are positive and have a ‘can do’ attitude, whilst others have felt helplessness and paralysed. The purpose of this type of assessment is not to judge, but rather to prevent a default lapse back into old ways and supporting clients in building upon the new-found trust, empowerment, and collaboration for the benefit of the business and people.  Using a combination of success profiling, leadership assessment, and people development, we can help Clients identify and build upon the positive elements of their culture highlighted during lockdown, identify rising stars, and help raise the calibre of their people via tailored development programmes. This approach allows clients to ensure both their business and people are fit for the new future, and in a position to take advantage of post-pandemic opportunities. It can also provide strong succession plans creating a culture of opportunity helping retain and attract talent.

If you would like to confidentially discuss how Norman Broadbent Group could help you overcome your business or people challenges, please contact Nick Behan on +44 (0) 0207 484 0106 or via nick.behan@normanbroadbent.com