As the pandemic turns “endemic” business makes its way into recovery while the workforce returns to the office from a ‘Work from Home’ structure. What does it mean for companies in terms of re-defining, re-shaping, and re-building company culture? The Tower Group weighs the stakes.
In the last two, unique, pandemic-replete years, many businesses closed their doors, and for those that survived, most did not escape without scars. Now, the world and the workforce are back to business as companies and economies are committed to recovery; getting back on track, and “building back better.”
With both employers and employees returning to the office and carrying the emotional burden of Covid-19, what does the workplace look like now? How has Covid-19 changed company culture; and, most critically, how, as a leader, does one work to reshape and rebuild it?
Perhaps, the biggest culprit: ‘Work from Home‘
It’s undeniable that Covid-19 literally changed the way the world works: particularly through the normalisation of Work From Home (WFH) or hybrid culture. Companies are now grappling with the ‘what’s’ and ‘how’s’ of working partly from home and partly in the office. Some say it works, some say it doesn’t. Who’s right?
It sounded pretty glam in the beginning, but the truth is, ‘Work from Home‘ has had a detrimental effect on maintaining company culture, for most businesses, while on the opposite side of the pond, the return to the office is getting a bad rap by employees for being ‘unfair’ and ‘stressful’.
Resurfacing from a ‘Work from Home‘ environment – where there are no rules – has been a difficult transition for most employees and employers. In Envoy’s ‘Return to The Workplace’ 2021 Survey, employees expressed their sudden rise in stress levels with what once was considered ‘a good day at the office’.
Employee Stress Indicators now include:
- Costs of commuting to work (More than 35%)
- Office distractions and disruptions (More than 25%)
- Limited flexi-time (More than 35%)
- Feelings of fakeness (feeling less like myself) (More than 15%)
With this in mind, businesses now run the risk of low output, low morale, and at worst, an increase in resignations. Returning to those seat-warming hours has been no easy feat; employees are struggling with re-integration and have almost forgotten what it feels like to drive to work, belong to a team, collab in an office space or build comradery after the ‘Work from Home‘ lifestyle they have adapted to.
The burning question: just how will company leaders and their people survive ‘The Great Return’?
“Start with the culture,” says Kerry Morris, CEO of a leading recruitment agency, The Tower Group. “Your company culture is what you know; it’s what you’ve always known, it’s the cornerstone of any business.”
“We lost a lot of people in ‘the great return’ and many others who left for hybrid work,” says Morris.
“As a business, we had to make a call and ask ourselves: who are we as a business? What is our culture? Are we going to go hybrid or are we going to push forward and remain true to our traditional roots?”
“We realised that we are a 42-year-old company and that our people — specifically, our salespeople — need more of each other in the room in order to thrive. We made the choice to keep our traditional culture, but with small ‘Flexi’ changes. So far it’s working for us,” says Morris.
The truth is, what works for one may not work for another.
“There is no one-size-fits-all,” says Morris, “you must put opinion aside and find what works for the business – and then build from there.”
Companies like The Tower Group have made a bigger call on the ‘Culture Conversation’, by re-inducting their people (all their people!) from the bottom up.
“While it takes a lot of time and budget to re-induct every single staff member, it has lasting emotional effects (the good kind) and long-term effects on the business end goal,” says Morris.
For leaders now leading ‘The Great Return’, where do companies begin with their culture rebuild?
The Tower Group shares its 4 R’s of rebuilding Company Culture post Covid-19 ‘Work from Home‘ structure
1. Rewind the ‘Work from Home’ structure
There is no one-size-fits-all here. As a company, you need to identify the why of your business: who was ‘the business’ pre-Covid-19 and who is the business, post-Covid-19? Once you’ve done that, own your decision and get to work on rebuilding your culture in a way that is true to your core company ethos. Reflecting on what was and where the company has been, starts the right conversation with your people. Through employers and employees sharing their own Covid-19 realities of the past two years, we set the tone for empathy, transparency, and a win-win culture goal.
2. Return (on Investment)
Whatever is put into place culture-wise needs to see a return on investment for both people and the business. The ‘Great Return’ feeds both areas of the investment thread. All decisions made need to lift the business up; not drive the business down. If the ‘old way’ doesn’t entirely fit anymore and neither does the ‘new normal’, a company needs to find a middle ground where you’re able to introduce a little more flexibility while maintaining traditionalism, in order to still deliver on ROI. Small, incremental changes will get the best out of people, for example, clocking off at 3 pm instead of 5 pm on a Friday. Small on paper, but big on return.
Small changes need review too. This means that calibrating, collaborating, and recalibrating are important in figuring out what works and what does not. Agreeing to a new way and setting clear timelines for frequent reviews amongst your people (i.e: in three months’ time we will review the ‘Friday knock-off’ decision before we make it policy) allows you to open up space for collaboration, buy-in, and respect. It’s also an opportunity to re-jig policies such as office dress code, and etiquette, and to clearly demarcate boundaries. This way, everyone made this decision – and everyone will ultimately decide if it should form part of the company culture.
Restarting your culture climb, from the ground up, will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Re-inducting your entire workforce is a sure-fire way to remind your people why they signed up for your company culture in the first place, pre-Covid-19. It will ensure that everyone is aligned, engaged, accountable, committed, and feels a sense of ownership. Ownership is culture.
Instead of fearing the ‘Great Return’, companies should embrace it. This is the ripest time for businesses to come back and recover what was lost during Covid-19. With a clearly defined, re-shaped culture, leaders can share what their company is about and can invite their employees to walk the journey (again!).