Getting workers back to the office requires building a new culture, not revisiting the old one

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There’s little argument that hybrid working is here to stay, at least for now. As leaders and organisations make plans to re-mobilise the workforce and bring people back to the office on a more regular basis, culture is a necessary conversation and your secret weapon for enticing people back.

But contrary to popular belief, COVID-19 didn’t kill your culture, at least not according to managers. In a McCrindle study we commissioned of 1000 Australian managers, we asked them to tell us how they believe COVID-19 and working from home have influenced the culture in their organisation and team. Nearly two-thirds told us that the pandemic had a massive or moderate positive impact on culture.

Why?

In remote working, expectations were made explicit. With so much disruption to the norms, teams were forced to talk about how we do things nowSacred traditions were challenged and beliefs about the way work needed to happen were questioned, resulting in a more open discussion about norms and a shift to more flexible working arrangements.

As more people started working remotely and the visibility of team members decreased, leaders were required to shift the indicators of performance from employee visibility and output to higher autonomy, trust and outcomes-based measures.

As teams connected online, geographically dispersed teams could connect more frequently and check-in without the additional expenses of meeting in person.

As restrictions tightened, teams were forced to think more creatively about informal ways in which to connect and collaborate with their colleagues.

The pandemic compelled leaders to have conversations about culture and redefine how things get done, and the results were positive. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some people don’t want to go back to the way things were.

The ‘great return’ shouldn’t be a regression to the way things were but a ‘great re-imagining’ of the way things could be.

This doesn’t mean stamping out your existing culture. It is about finding and amplifying the best parts of it and inviting your employees into a culture conversation.

Discuss what new expectations have emerged through the pandemic and how these expectations show up in explicit behaviours.

Consider new measures of performance and what success looks like in the team.

Explore how the team can more effectively communicate and collaborate in a hybrid working environment.

Invite people to get excited about the culture they can create together.

You can’t entice people back to the office with the same culture they were happy to get away from. A ping-pong table in the break room might make lunchtime more enjoyable, but the culture is your team’s unseen competitive advantage and vital for getting people back to the office more regularly.

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