COVID-19 has changed how we work in many ways, most of them practical – from shift to working from home to safe-distancing requirements and even the near-complete shutdown of industries such as tourism. Much of the focus has been on the individual employee experience – how employees can perform their jobs from remote locations, how remote working affects collaboration and how to maintain productivity.
As remote working, social distancing and workplace transformation continue, companies are starting to look at broader organizational issues regarding digitalization, the future of work, culture and business strategy.
Corporate culture – what leaders and employees say and do that is unique to the company – is critical in how employees deliver on the business strategy. Traditionally, in-person shared experiences have been essential for creating, sustaining and changing that culture. Before COVID-19, 71% of company leaders said they had culture on their agendas. 1 Managing culture under normal conditions was already challenging. Leaders are often unaware of how corporate culture develops across the business and how it may affect employees. We know that employees are 8 times 2 more likely to work for a company they trust to provide them a career (79% vs 10%) and 4 times more 3 likely to work for a company whose culture is support of employee career changes (74%-14%)4 .
Concerns about culture have increased under COVID-19. Companies are trying to figure out how to retain their unique cultures – often a selling point of the employee value proposition – since these are harder to see and feel when employees are not working together on-site and in person.
Typically, companies spend significant time and money on communications, branded merchandise and events to build a shared sense of purpose and corporate identity. Linked to a company’s structure, values and strategies, the established culture may align with various archetypes, such as paternalistic (formal hierarchies), entrepreneurial (collaborative and agile), conservative (process-driven) and competitive (adversarial and siloed). Both leaders and employees need to learn to build on the strengths and nuances of the existing culture to bring out the best in the organization.
Situational Factors Impacting Culture
Typically, employees learn about the company culture and their “fit” based on what people say and do in the office. So what is the impact of organizational culture on common employee behaviors and how work gets done when there are fewer collective in-person experiences?
1) Communications and interactions are more scheduled, formal and distanced:
2) Collaboration and consensus-building have fewer informal “aha” moments:
3) Leaders struggle with continuing to build safety within and between teams to allow vulnerability and change to occur:
So What Solutions Exist for Organizations?
1) Pay attention to employees’ emotional, personal and working experience needs – both formally and informally:
2) Plan culture-building communications and events to support company-wide values and mission building by activating and discussing shared experiences among employees.
3) Use collaborative technology tools to continue to find ways to share, modify and implement ideas:
Along with flexibility about how we work, culture must be adaptive in the current dynamic environment. Corporate culture should be our guide for delivering business objectives through the ongoing changes and the future of work. By using digital Remesh focus groups or our Mercer Culture48 assessment, informal and formal communication strategies, and technology to support collaboration, leaders can transmit, build and recognize culture across an organization – even under remote working conditions. Now is the perfect time to determine how your culture is holding up under the dramatic changes in how employees experience work and to develop new ways of working.
1 Virgin Pulse. 2017 State of the Industry Report — a global culture survey of 2,000 companies and 50 countries.
2,3,4 2020 Global Talent Trends Study.