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Our working practices have changed rapidly and drastically during this pandemic, transforming our business culture overnight. Old habits die hard, however, so if we want to keep the positive changes we’ve made and evolve our culture going forward, we need to be proactive now.

Culture change: Changing workplace behaviors after a pandemic

Organizations have surprised themselves by the speed with which they are responding to the crisis. Research found 75% of leaders had seen a positive impact on their working practices. Ways of working that they had attempted to introduce into their culture for years, such as flexible working, product innovation and agility, have suddenly got traction and they have achieved the unimaginable in weeks rather than months (or years).

These early improvements to workplace culture are having a significant knock-on effect. Three quarters of respondents reported a positive impact on engagement (79%), effectiveness (71%) and customer experience (70%). As lockdown eases and businesses start to find their ‘new normal’, this is an encouraging sign of performance potential across adapting organizations.

For companies in transition to embed healthy new habits formed during the pandemic, it is essential to bring them to the surface. The reasons behind them need to be explored and the implications revealed.

It is easy to slip back into old habits when the crisis passes, however. There is a limited window of opportunity to bounce back and transform before old cultural norms start to reassert their grip. Beware the learnings from the 2008 crisis – it is the organizations that are willing to reflect, learn and proactively adapt that will thrive in the future.

HR professionals have experienced enormous pressure over the past few 24 months, adapting policies, processes and working practices in record time to enable remote working at a scale not seen before. The coming months are likely to be just as tough as redundancy programs begin (or continue) and furloughed employees transition back to a blended home/office workplace.

Smart leaders will take this opportunity to build learning into the future corporate culture. Here, five positive themes emerge for consideration.

Focusing on customers

Organizations that may have lost focus on their purpose and true value to customers have reconnected. By listening harder, engaging them more fully and innovating more quickly, they are building advocacy that will last.

Democratization

Historical power imbalance between hierarchy, gender, age, ethnicity, office location and personalities are significantly reduced when working together online. New voices are being heard, with the potential to make workplaces more inclusive and accessible.

Caring does count

More leaders than ever have been showing they care about employee wellbeing through their actions. They are seeing the benefits through phenomenal commitment, flexibility, and productivity.

Agility at last

Having strived for greater pace, productivity and responsiveness over the past few years, mindsets have shifted enormously regarding the art of the possible. Practices such as short-term, bite-sized goal setting, little and often communication, and regular reviews are helping teams achieve more with less.

Redistribution of time

Through lack of commuting, online development, and more focused and efficient meetings, leaders are saving hours a week that can be redirected into either their wellbeing or alternative work endeavors.

Now the question is: What do HR leaders learn from this crisis to evolve their organization’s culture and maximize future performance?

My critical pandemic observation: the trust dynamic has changed!

Fundamentally, the relationship between the employee and the employer has changed since the onset of the pandemic. We have been forced as a society into a situation where home working became a necessity. We now have a truly multi-generational workforce. The drivers and motivations of millennials and generation Z employees are often in stark contrast to each other – and to their predecessors who remain in the workforce.

In the face of this pandemic, employers have had to accelerate plans and leave behind any pre-conceived perceptions that may have acted as barriers to change in the past. We’re witnessing a seismic shift in how the traditional lines of communication and reporting are delivered.

The purpose of an employee who has been thrust into this new way of working is intrinsically linked to the purpose of the company, which, for many is about survival in a post Covid-19 world.

Trust is the most important component for companies in transition. In the run up to this pandemic, there wasn’t time for employers to rigorously test how working days, reporting structures, workflow and targets would be affected by remote working. The myth that people taken out of a work environment will rebel or slack in their job and performance is being challenged and even ruthlessly dismissed. It’s clear that individuals recognize that the future survival (let alone success) of their companies is reliant on their ability to self-motivate. Simply put, employers must trust their employees to get the job done.

This works both ways, of course. While employees have been trusted to deliver, there is a reciprocal feeling that employees will trust their leaders to support them during this period so that everyone can navigate safely to the other side. Anecdotally, we’ve been told that the focus for senior management is around the mental health of their staff, both those still working and those furloughed. One understands that business results are critical, but that they can only be achieved with employees. can only be achieved with employees who are accustomed to the new situation.

It is their responsibility to focus on this – both for the success of the company in transition as well as for the individual.

Never forget the purpose or downplay it

For the last few years, companies have strived to demonstrate their purpose and authenticity. Both for clients and for employees, the alignment of a company’s values and brand to an individual’s brand deepens the bond and strength of relationship.

The current situation is thrusting the issue of purpose into full focus, however. One can’t help but do that when faced with our own mortality. We’re also witnessing communities working together, an appreciation for the work our public service workers does for us, and the little things we take for granted no longer being accessible.

The purpose of an employee who has been thrust into this new way of working is intrinsically linked to the purpose of the company, which, for many is about survival in a post Covid-19 world. This bond is something that employers needs to recognize as an asset moving forward to ensure that the business and its employers maintain synergy in their purpose. In turn, this will ensure that the trust relationship that has developed is maintained and strengthened.

Appreciate things they have overlooked so far

Over the last few years, we’ve already experienced a push towards remote working, the growth of freelancing, multidimensional careers, and the right for employees to control their own career paths. Perhaps though, the current situation will also cause us to pause and appreciate the things we took for granted in the past.

It seems, with misty eyes now, that we stopped appreciating the fun of the office, the joy of human interaction, the air of possibility through the collective creative minds. Where we used to moan about the meetings, the distractions, the personalities within the office, we now see them in a different light and appreciate what they gave us.

This balance is an opportunity for companies to start working out the true benefits of their office environment. It is also a chance for employees to re-evaluate their prejudices and assumptions about the positives and negatives of office and home working.

The new way of working can remain undefined

The big challenge for senior leaders and department heads within business is to look forward and define what the economic future looks like without any degree of certainty.

This is where the HR function can step up and play a pivotal role in shaping a workplace culture that brings together a multi-generational workforce, each with different drivers and purpose in life, and who want to work in different ways.

I would argue that HR needs to lead senior colleagues in discussions and collectively agree what workplace culture needs to look like to drive the business forward in what will be a challenging economic recovery. Once that has been defined, senior leaders need to recognize that flexible working is now an expectation from employees and so their greatest challenge is to create an environment in which employees enjoy coming to the office to share ideas and have conversations that foster creativity and inspiration.

Finally, and most importantly senior leaders need to understand that communication in this period is critical to the success of the vision outlined above. Whether that’s the monthly meetings, town hall summits, annual conferences or simply the day-to-day conversations led by managers, having everyone on the same page is vital to deliver ‘the new way of working’.

Finally, here’s my personal travel tip for companies in transition:

Old habits are deeply ingrained, especially when they have become part of the cultural norm of an organization. We tend to notice them when we first join an organization, and then we “get used to” them and no longer notice how we are following the same patterns of behavior.

Stop! & Prioritize…

Taking even a small amount of time to reflect as a whole organization or team-by-team. How have we changed our ways of working over the past few months? What has the impact been on our wellbeing, our productivity, and our performance? How have our mindsets and behaviors shifted? What has been the impact for our customers?

One step at time

What will be most important to our future success? Consider the five positive themes. Which ones are the greatest priorities for us? Identify two or three habits that will really make a difference and pick the biggest priority. Once the team or organization has nailed that one, come back and work on another.

Own it

Engage employees so they can own the change. Involve them in steps one and two and give them space to explore the benefits for them and their team. Everyone knows how hard it is to stick to new habits – all those New Year’s resolutions that we’ve long since forgotten are testament to that. Research suggests it takes at least two months’ practice to make them part of day-to-day working. So, encourage honesty – what’s in it for them? How much effort are they willing to put into making it stick? Can they quantify the benefit they will get? If they are not bought in, have that conversation, and understand what it would take for them to commit.

Do it now

There is no magic pill that will make new habits come easy. A team must commit, at least to the first one or two steps, and go for it.

Plan to fail

Assume that good intentions will go off track, other priorities will come along or old habits will creep back in. Encourage teams to put all the support mechanisms in that they can to encourage success – visual reminders, diary notifications. Organization-wide support such as communications, celebrations, ‘cheerleaders’ or coaches will all help keep people accountable and notice the early benefits.

Review and learn

Determine when to review progress for your business in transition. Ideally, after about four weeks. Knowing that this review is scheduled will help people in your organization stick to the new habits during the difficult early days.

We’ve all learned lessons from lockdown that can help improve our future performance, but only if we take these critical steps. The lessons can be learned at an individual, team, or organization level to increase performance, customer focus, wellbeing, or diversity.

Enjoy Transformation!

Is your company in transition and do you need competent support to make the transformation a success? Feel free to send me a message to: info@enjoytransformation.com and let’s see how I can support your company.

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