Back to the future

Published On: October 20, 2023

Why a focus on corporate culture is more important than ever as workers return to the office.

The world has changed. As more and more workers return to the office, organisations need to recognise that employees are not the same people they were pre-pandemic.  Although their roles and skills may not have changed much, mindsets, behaviours and expectations have, and in many cases it may feel like having a whole new workforce. This means a focus needs to be given to redefining and revitalising corporate culture to ensure that it knits the organisation together.

In global organisations, teams have always worked across geographic locations and national cultures.  Yet the remote working culture that sprang up during the pandemic changed things for both good and bad.  On the positive side, employees had more autonomy around work and a wider sense of ‘all being in this together’, while the negative impacts included feelings of isolation and diminished opportunities to learn and collaborate, especially among the younger workforce.

There are various arguments for remote and hybrid working but, for many organisations, returning to the office is now non-negotiable. However, these organisations should be aware that the pandemic has changed how people think and behave and as a result, a new corporate culture will inevitably evolve.  Leaders and organisations ignoring this are effectively ignoring a key driver of performance, and, in the case of regulated organisations, potentially a key contributor to a crisis.

So how should organisations address the invisible force of culture in a return-to-work climate so that it can drive positive employee behaviour and nudge them towards high performance and prudent risk management rather than reputation-damaging activities?

  • Firstly, leaders and managers need to clearly re-articulate their purpose and values to inspire and guide teams. According to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK, this is the most important common element of a healthy culture; the ‘gravitational force’ that aligns the interests of employees, customers and shareholders. As part of the company’s vision and purpose there should also be visible and tangible processes for effective employee engagement and support.
  • Organisations needs to invest in and reward leaders and managers whose leadership skills create clarity, build trust, and unlock the potential of teams of people from diverse backgrounds. This may mean a review of existing performance management or compensation systems to ensure that not only output, but also the ‘how’ behind the result – i.e. processes, compliance and employee well-being – is recognised.
  • Unnecessary meetings such as status check-ins that are merely process-driven and more habit need to be eliminated.  By deliberately carving out time when in-person collaboration is truly necessary, and moving more work and routine updates to asynchronous digital channels, employees and leaders can focus energy and engagement where it is really needed.
  • Finally, leaders need to recognise that culture cannot be delegated. Extensive research widely acknowledges that leader behaviour influences working practices and performance throughout an organisation.  So from C-suite down, every leader must understand their culture, recognise how it connects to their strategy, and take responsibility for shaping it, while also analysing how it is reflected in their own behaviours.

Embracing the thinking from Peter Drucker, who famously said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, it’s imperative that organisations do not wait until a crisis emerges before proactively making culture a priority. Corporate culture shapes employee behaviour, which in turn shapes the destiny of every institution.  So as workers return to the office and a new future in the workplace starts to evolve, if this is not the time to focus on re-evaluating corporate culture, then when?

If you think you would benefit from expert advice in understanding and profiling your culture or identifying what kind of change, if any, is needed in the current climate, I can help. Get it touch –