July 31, 2020 KahnMedia

Why Workplace Culture is More Important Now Than Ever

The most critical step to building a successful and stable business is creating a healthy and positive company culture. Without a positive work culture and employer-employee relationship, your company can quickly begin to rot from the inside out resulting in poor morale and high employee turnover.

Workplace culture is the combination of a company’s values, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes. Perhaps above all, it is marked by the covenant between employee and employer. At Kahn Media we believe it’s critical to practice what we preach, which is why every employee is given a printed copy of the shared promise and commitment between the company and employee that defines our company culture.

With transparency like this, not only can employers make it clear what their expectations are of their staff, but employees can hold management accountable to those crucial commitments that promote a healthy work-life balance. 

Positive workplace culture attracts talented employees, promotes collaboration, improves performance, and increases productivity. On the flipside, a negative workplace culture can do the opposite, becoming a disaster both inside and out of the office. Right now, a positive workplace culture is more important than ever as millions of workers shift to a work-from-home model for the first time. With all the unforeseen circumstances in front of employers today, how do you build and maintain a positive work culture? 

It’s good to think of workplace culture like a garden. If you have excellent soil, a beautiful lawn and plants that all work together harmoniously, the garden will not only thrive, but the strong root system and competitive nature of the plants in the garden will keep weeds and other issues from taking over. But if you have weak spots or if you take your focus off the garden for a while, rot and weeds will find their way in and eventually can destroy the whole yard. 

So how do you build a beautiful garden? According to a Harvard Business Review study on what makes for a great company culture, there are several key principles practiced by companies in which their employees independently report high job satisfaction. Overall, the takeaway of the study was the value placed on employees not just as workers, but as humans. Too often companies take a near sighted approach and prioritize profits over everything else. While being profitable is important to the success of the business, humans are really at the heart of the workplace. 

Put People First and Show Employees They Are Valued: 
This is possibly one of the most important aspects of a positive workplace culture. If you want your employees to invest in your company, you have to invest in them. Clearly lay out your expectations for your employees but be sure to show your employees how you are committed to them. With an increasingly younger workforce, we have seen a generational shift in desires. Workers of the past may have prioritized job satisfaction and employer praise, but modern day workers hold life satisfaction in a higher regard than anything else. To be successful as an employer in the 21st century, you must adapt to that model. Today’s workers look for companies that will not only enrich their career but enrich their entire lives. 

Allow for Exploration and Passion Projects: 
There are parts of any job that are simply work and there are also parts that are fulfilling and enjoyable. Although you need your employees to complete a certain task, also allow them to explore different parts of the business or pursue a project that they are interested in (and that may ultimately benefit your company). When you help an employee invest themselves in their work, you’re generally increasing not only their happiness and loyalty, but their overall productivity as well.

Create a Community: 
Having employees that feel a part of something bigger than themselves is invaluable at any company. When people feel as though the success of a company is their personal success, the possibilities for growth and improvement are endless. One of the best ways to build community is transparency. Be open with your employees about how the company is doing, where improvement is needed, and where things are going well. Be sure to recognize the achievements of individuals, as well as the collective achievements of teams.

Ownership of Work: 
Giving people ownership over their work is a great way to increase productivity and positive outcomes. When you allow employees to control aspects of their work – to reorganize or modify their assignments – they feel ownership over them. This allows for the challenges of a task to become opportunities for improvement and, as a result, employees are more easily able to learn, grow and innovate.  On the flip side, empowering employees to own their work also means that management must accept that people will occasionally fail.  Learning from experience is a valuable tool, and when you give employees room to fail, you’re also giving them room to succeed. Room to fail does not mean reckless abandon, it means having a safety net in place that allows people to learn from their mistakes and become solution oriented.

Allow People to Be Themselves: 
Creating a space where employees can be their “authentic selves” not only fosters a work environment in which people feel comfortable expressing themselves physically, but verbally as well. For some companies this manifests as a more relaxed dress code and promoting honesty as a core value, for others it means finding ways to incorporate people’s natural talents into “the regimen of organizational life.”

Coping with the Challenges of a Temporary, Indefinite, or Permanent Remote Workforce

Spurred by recent global events, work from home has become the new normal for many. People’s homes are now their offices with daily commutes achieved over Wi-Fi and face to face interaction now mediated by the lens of a webcam. Work from home has become a popular option for companies in recent decades that wish to reduce the overhead costs of an office, but in order to keep employees safe, many companies – if not already mandated to do so by the state or county in which they do business – have transitioned to a work-from-home model at rapid pace.

In a recent video by the Wall Street Journal, it cited a Global Workplace Analytics study estimating that, due to changes spurred by the current global pandemic, 25-35% of the US workforce will be working from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021.  A similar study by Gartner also found that 82% of companies will now be allowing remote working “some of the time.” 

For some companies, this transition has been rather easy, with Twitter, Facebook, Shopify and others even proclaiming that work from home will be their new normal. For other companies, the transition has been a battle, revealing underlying problems within their workplace culture that were previously overlooked. 

IBM, for example, was one of the first major companies to transition to a work-from-home model. In 2009, 40% of its 386,000 employees across 173 countries were working from home, but in 2017 a drop in revenue inspired IBM to call thousands of these work-from-homers back into the office. The tech giant claimed a need for more collaboration and productivity, indirectly blaming work from home for the slump.

Not all jobs and companies can accommodate this transition to a remote, or semi-remote workforce, either.  The National Bureau of Economic Research found that only 37% of US workers can plausibly do their jobs from home – and it is because of this that experts say that what most workers will see is a changing work environment that includes touchless tech, more access to outdoor space, and better ventilation as ways to protect employee health.

Right now, however, calling people back into the office isn’t always an option. In a recent study by business publishing company getAbstract, nearly half of respondents reported that they never worked from home prior to the pandemic. When asked about whether they would like to go back to their pre-pandemic work arrangement, 43% of respondents said they would like to work remotely more of the time moving forward. Another study by Buffer that interviewed 3,500 remote workers (who were working from home before the pandemic) saw that 98% wanted to continue working from home and that 97% would recommend working from home to others.

With the recent global shift to a work from home model, a positive work culture is not only more important than ever but it’s also in more danger than ever. The lack of face-to-face connection, in-person communication and general comradery that comes with office life is no longer what it used to be. So how do we adapt? 

When a workplace culture values its employees and gives them the tools to succeed, they are more intrinsically motivated to do well and invest themselves in their work. When it comes to work from home, a positive workplace culture is an indispensable tool, but it should also be supplemented by some other best practices to help facilitate a positive work-from-home culture.

  • Have a Robust Management Team: When workers are dispersed, having a management team that helps bring them together in non-geographical ways is important. Make sure you have managers that are not only checking in on employees and the progress of assignments, but also working to unite employees and empower them.
  • Make Time to Connect Over Video: Team and one-on-one meetings are important, and when those can’t be done in person, doing them over video is the next best thing. Although phone meetings are an option, video encourages people to present themselves in a professional manner and devote attention to the conversation at hand. Having a video meeting over a cup of coffee with the express goal of checking-in with an employee is also important; show people that their wellbeing matters to you, and figure out how you can better help them work from home.
  • Help Employees Maintain a Healthy Schedule: With work from home, it’s best to maintain the hours of a regular workday whenever possible. Have a morning check-in video call shortly after the workday starts, either between teams or across the whole office. This helps employees get their day started and encourages smart and strategic work for the rest of the day. In the same breath, make sure employees are doing their best to separate “time at work” from “time at home.”
  • Communicate: This is maybe the most important tool in a work-from-home environment. With popular technologies like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and more, communicating with your employees and co-workers is fairly simple, but it helps keep everyone on task, on the same page, and accountable.

In the end, there is no rule book to creating a positive company culture – it comes down to what you are willing to invest, not only in your company’s future but that of your employees. That’s why culture is so critical – not just paying people well and offering good benefits, but balancing the right management structure, listening to employee needs and concerns, giving them a conduit for expressing themselves, and being totally transparent when it comes to your ask from them as employees and what they can expect from the company in return.