To change anything, we need to have the courage to acknowledge our current reality. The Future of Work is here, and remote work has become the new normal. In a piece by CNBC, many employees expect to be able to work from home after the COVID crisis passes.
Our behaviors at work and how we relate to our colleagues are closely linked to our company’s culture. With the majority of employees becoming accustomed to new ‘work from home’ policies, many employees are experiencing new behaviors and changing patterns of interactions. This is severely testing companies’ ability to collaborate, communicate, and perform in these uncertain times. Additionally, for many of these companies the concept of focusing on designing and scaling a thriving culture has been seen as something nice, but not necessary. These firms are in store for a rude wake-up call post-COVID if they haven’t received it already. What they will wake-up to is a chronically low employee engagement, which influences everything from the retention of top talent to low productivity levels and increased sick leave. This ineffective and blasé approach towards cultural and behavioral design can also be seen in the research data, where 85 percent of employees worldwide are not engaged in their work.
Your company’s culture will, to a large extent, determine what happens post-COVID. This is because your culture impacts everything including how engaged your employees are, how committed they are of doing a great job, how valuable their creative contributions are, and how productive they are at work.
Your company’s cultural starting point and the path you choose to take during the COVID crisis will determine whether you race ahead, stumble or fall when you and your competitors are back in business. This includes your ability to attract and keep high performers as well as being able to innovate throughout your business when moving fast is absolutely necessary.
Given these different foundations, what opportunities are there for companies with different priorities and understandings of culture?
The People and Purpose-centric Culture
For companies with a thriving culture and highly engaged workforce filled with top talent, this will be a terrific opportunity to strengthen your already strong culture. It will enable you to attract previously unattainable talent and to deepen your relationship with current and future customers. Your primary challenges will most likely be outward-facing and connected to market forces, customer trends and behavior, requiring you to invent new products and services to stay on top of your game. Enabled by your highly productive, engaged, and creative workforce you will be able to leapfrog your competition and quickly expand into new segments and markets. However, it will be essential to continue investing in your thriving and high performing culture and not take your superstars for granted.
The Aspiring Culture
For companies with a mixed workforce of high and low performers, this will be a prime opportunity for re-designing your culture towards a more effective people and purpose-centric approach. With some of your employees contributing enthusiastically and others less so, this is an ideal time to embrace cultural and behavioral design in order to align your entire team around a new and more ambitious vision. For your previously low performers, this will be a welcome opportunity to reengage. For your already high performing employees, they will be able to receive more autonomy and appreciation while working on higher impact initiatives in line with the company’s goals. Since there is no “going back to normal” post-COVID, it will be essential to capture the many lessons learned from running a fully remote workforce, as this will influence the future of your firm. As with the first group, this could enable you to leapfrog less advanced firms if you have the courage to act now and re-design your culture. However, you need to act fast as you don’t have the same built-in head-start as the first group.
The Mediocre Culture
For companies with a mediocre or even toxic culture suffering from extensive low engagement throughout your entire workforce, this is a critical time to reimagine your culture. Many companies in your group were already suffering before the world went remote, but this crisis has worsened all the cracks in your culture, which jeopardize your future survival. Settling for mediocrity could become a liability as your employees are likely to have an even lower commitment, productivity levels, and creative contributions at a time when engagement is more essential than ever. Turning around this dire situation requires a realization that your culture is what drives behavior, and if low engaged employees are your cultural leaders, the toxicity within your company will only spread further. This will make it impossible to attract, let alone keep the high performers necessary to put your company back on track. If your cultural and behavioral challenges aren’t addressed now, there will be two battles to fight post-COVID – one internal with your workforce and the other external with the market.
Culture as a Silver Bullet
If we as leaders commit to designing and scaling people and purpose-centric cultures, high performers aligned with both our purpose and strengthened culture will be attracted to our companies and pursuits. They can become our company’s next leaders, showing up every day fully committed, focused, and excited to make a difference. However, if we choose to ignore the importance of cultural and behavioral design, this will have negative implications for our companies long after COVID. As we now know, thriving cultures can be designed, but it takes the decision (and the courage) to fully invest in it and to do so well.
Regardless of the strength of your culture before COVID, you now have a chance to reimagine your workplace and to make the most of the many opportunities that will become available. With culture as an ever-increasing competitive advantage, the questions you need to consider now are: What is the true state of your culture? What can you do today to ensure you are well-positioned to attract and keep the best talent? And finally, how will you utilize the power of cultural and behavioral design to stay ahead of your competition in the days, weeks, and months ahead?
Therese Gedda is a Future of Work expert, an award-winning entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of Reimaginez. She brings more than 19 years of entrepreneurial experience to her executive coaching and cultural consulting practice, where she has built proprietary frameworks proven to deliver transformative change in both fast-growth companies and large corporations. She’s also an internationally sought-after keynote speaker on topics such as Company Culture, the Future of Work, and the High Achiever Mindset.