This year has seen many companies return to a flexible working model, where individual workers and teams split their time between a physical working environment and a virtual one. This new working landscape has presented a challenge for culture, as companies question the role played by the physical office space in maintaining it.
Historically, cultural “rituals” that were once enacted in the office, can no longer take place or if they can, they face disruption through a new hybrid working model, where employees are not in attendance full time. From this new framework, a need to redefine culture has emerged, with many companies forced to rebuild their cultural practices and values to retain talent and integrate new employees.
Making culture a priority
While the benefits of remote working are becoming increasingly evident, the issue of isolation and waning company culture is becoming a serious concern for business leaders.
As they measure other factors like collaboration and productivity, leaders are asking if culture can exist at all in an online environment.
The answer is yes. Not only can culture exist and be maintained in the new working landscape, it should be prioritised so that staff feel connected despite not being in close proximity.
While table tennis and yoga retreats were once excellent tools through which to promote team bonding and culture , lockdowns showed us that they will no longer be the main ways employees stay connected to the company and each other. Rather, it is the values and principles that shape the culture which will sustain it in the long run. Most companies realise that they need to re-define certain values and principles as they explore new working styles. Aspects of culture that rely heavily upon an office-centric model will no longer be relevant, particularly in the case of onboarding new staff.
In most cases, companies with well demonstrated and clearly communicated values and principles will be able to promote their culture just as effectively online as they do within the office. It is these values and principles that need to be given priority this year, followed by the methods through which we express them.
A Not For Profit organisation and longstanding client of BRM was recently interviewed as part of our Workplace Strategy benchmarking. During the interview the client identified a strengthening of company culture as a result of moving online. Management dedicated itself to finding new and creative ways to engage the team and keep everyone “together” throughout lockdown periods. This was not only done to combat isolation but to re-enforce the mission and purpose of the organisation and its attitude towards creating a rewarding working environment for its employees.
Physical space still plays a role in culture
Most companies haven’t done away with their offices altogether. But many are looking to re-imagine their physical space so they can re-enforce and uphold culture in different ways. While the office space was once the only platform to practice and feel company culture, more remote work can result in incompatible understandings of the culture. So how do you evenly distribute culture across employees in the office and those working from home?
Firstly, we look at the design of the workspace and how it supports the cultural priorities of the organisation, particularly those priorities that cannot be supported as much virtually. We look at how much space is required and in what way it can be optimised so it is aligned to company values.
Let’s take the example of a BRM client who provides family support services. This client needs the physical space for its employees to debrief face to face following confronting situations. It also uses the office to further professional development and provide a space for connection that is vital for the nature of its work. At the same time, connection is also promoted online for its remote workers through various online activities that help break down barriers and make staff from all levels more accessible. This is a great example of an organisation putting culture first, ensuring both its online and offline working models align with its values, rather than the other way around.
Other factors that should be considered when re-thinking physical office space and culture are location and flexibility of space – both can be optimised to align with the organisation’s values and principles.
Ensuring your workforce remains connected and bound by your company culture in this changing working landscape will be a significant challenge as we move into new and untested territory. The best place to start is to define your company culture against the backdrop of your new working style. Then you need to figure out how to best activate that culture, finding effective methods to uphold it that are supported both online and in a physical office space.
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