One size doesn’t fit all in a company of microcultures

As we start to see the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel there are huge questions about how we will work in the future. Many CEOs share an idea that working from home is not the new normal and believe it has undermined work culture and productivity. But, working from home is here to stay and companies need is a flexible and agile culture that can meet the needs of their workforce.

One sie doesn't fit all

David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, rejected the idea of working from home:

“I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”

He’s not alone in this line of thought. Executives at JP Morgan have also expressed concerns over the drop in productivity and lack of mentoring. They want staff back in the office as soon as possible. Meanwhile at KPMG, the UK CEO was forced to resign because of criticizing employees “moaning about the pandemic.”

Millions of deaths and reported cases are certainly something to moan about — not to mention the billions of lives disrupted by COVID.

Perhaps it’s the return to the old way of doing things that is the aberration. The majority of businesses seem to understand that remote working is the immediate future. The idea of hybrid workplaces — workplaces where employees only need to be in the office for a few days a week rather than every day — is on the rise. Employees simply don’t want to have to go back to things as they were before. And while US firms seem resistant to hybrid formats, many international companies are open to the idea, if only to reduce their real estate expenses.

But Solomon is right in some ways. The global pandemic is an aberration. There is nothing normal about a pandemic — certainly not in a way that you can readily predict on a calendar. And the loss of productivity is a real issue in today’s marketplace. Our own data on employee happiness suggests that COVID pushed weekly happiness scores down 4 points on our Happiness KPI scale (out of 100) in 2020 compared to 2019. In our estimates, this is at least a loss of £1,000 productivity per employee (and for Goldman Sachs employees, it is probably much higher).

But where these CEOs are wrong is in the working from home ‘aberration’. Social distancing is an aberration we are likely to get rid of as soon as possible — mask-wearing too in western countries. But working from home? Unlikely.

The pandemic accelerated the remote working trend that has been steadily picking up momentum over the last few years. Even after the ‘joy’ of seeing co-workers back in the office has passed, people will likely want the flexibility to work remotely. It’s not going away.

What Solomon and other CEOS are looking for isn’t an archaic ‘one size fits all’ policy but consistency across the entire organization — from the newest intern to the senior leaders. What they need is a policy that supports all employees — one that is empowering, agile and listening.

The microculture conundrum

While CEOs may speak about their company culture as an organizational-wide philosophy, the reality is that a company is made up of a myriad of microcultures. This is readily apparent in the average work experience: there are teams with different personalities and work styles that reflect their team members and leaders.

Indeed, when you have a broad range of personalities and experiences (especially in large organizations), it’s unfair to expect that everyone will readily conform and thrive. Ideally, you want happy employees because of the wide range of benefits happiness brings. This means focusing on the things that will make them happy.

Emerging from a COVID-19 world will be full of challenges. There is uncertainty and anxiety about returning back to normal. We’ve all been changed by COVID somehow. It has reset our social norms. It’s forced us to look at ourselves and the things we value, and identify the things we miss.

COVID has also drawn our focus on the things that are important to us. In many cases, that means that people may not want to work as much. While work is a really important part of life, it isn’t everything.

When people’s values are changing because of COVID, how can employers realistically expect that their people will conform to the old way of doing things? In today’s world, employees will leave for companies that share their values around flexibility and wellbeing.

Creating a consistent culture of listening

If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has taught businesses, it’s the importance of being agile. Transitioning to a post-COVID world will require agile processes. This doesn’t mean adopting an ‘anything goes’ way of doing things. Changing a culture requires careful, disciplined action — consistency. It requires weekly team meetings, checking in on team members and adjusting to various lifestyles.

Here’s how you can establish consistency in your workplace culture:

Respect differences and provide flexible solutions

The first thing to recognize is that not everyone’s life is the same — especially during and after COVID. Mandating five days a week in the office may no longer be an option. Some employees now have added family responsibilities. Some may not want to return to an overworking work life. COVID has caused a massive value shift and being aware of these changes will go a long way to building trust with your people.

There’s no ‘right’ answer to the balance between working from home and the office. However, being open to flexible, hybrid solutions is the key to finding what works for your organization.

Check in regularly and listen

It takes time and consistent effort to build a trusting relationship, but it can be done through listening. Because company culture is made up of the vast range of people and personalities in a company, it’s important to check in and listen to those people.

In fact, our people platform is designed to help you listen to your people. At Friday Pulse, we encourage weekly check-in meetings with your team to celebrate successes, identify frustrations and discuss areas for improvement. Beyond these weekly meetings, checking in regularly means having formal and informal one-to-ones with team members to see how they’re really doing – listening to their concerns and what they want to do, and empowering them to work to their strengths. Taking the time to listen also has a preventative power — it staves off the resentment that can set in when people don’t feel they’re being heard.