Tuesday Morning Focal Point

How to Return to the Workplace – Culture over Strategy

So many conversations are underway, throughout all kinds of workplaces, regarding returning to the workplace for those workers who have been working remotely.  When considering how to return to the workplace, there are many considerations that go way beyond health and safety. One of the realities is that an extensive amount of change has been taken place in workplace teams since the start of the pandemic.  Many workers have moved on or moved to new sectors or employers.

Certainly, some employers and teams have remained primarily intact.  However, even where personnel have not changed, the way people work has; and how these staff want to return to the workplace is significant.  This has meant changes in processes. There have been changes in accountabilities. The ways in which individuals’ interface on joint responsibilities where cross-department or cross-role collaboration is necessary has changed.  I purport that in almost every team, with few exceptions, a post pandemic return to even an approximation of normal, is like starting over.  When the pandemic hit, workplaces had to rapidly pivot.  Some did this very well and learned things that will forever improve productivity, outcomes and the bottom line.  However, some pivots led to painful realities, losses, strained relationships, and costly stress.

Return to the workplace well – be planful and thoughtful

My best advice to our clients currently, is to be thoughtful and planful regarding any kind of return to the workplace.  You don’t have to be abrupt and rapid like the pandemic pivot.  Take your time. 

You could greatly benefit from taking the perspective that you are actually creating a brand-new team and new team culture.  No matter how much you can approximate the previous normal. No matter how stable your workplace remained throughout the pandemic – it’s a brand-new culture.  And you need to actively and intentionally build and create a culture.  Culture will exist and it will create itself organically.  Or you can get out in front of it and intentionally create the culture you want going forward.  The biggest mistake you can make is to just assume it’s all going to be like it was.

Return to the workplace well – be intentional about culture creation

The ongoing strategy versus culture debate will never go away.  During the early stages of the pandemic, I believed strategy was more important than ever.  While strategy remains important, I believe culture is now most important. If you didn’t have at least an okay strategy in the last 18 months you didn’t make it.  However, as we ease out of the pandemic, your culture now matters most.  We know that a massive amount of workers want to make a change.  This is in part because the reality of the pandemic caused them to entirely rethink what work is about in their life.  It’s getting harder than ever to recruit and retain good talent in any sector.  If you want to recruit and retain, you must be intentional and create a culture that people want to be part of. 

There are all kinds of important action items associated with culture building, but here are a few:

  • Involve your staff in discussions regarding the new workplace post pandemic – let them co-create the new reality with you
  • Where possible, offer individualized planning and flexibility to suit individual workers needs
  • Invest in your workers mental health and wellness
  • Bring in a professional facilitator or coach to facilitate a Culture Building session. Refresh the four most important culture pieces; attitudes, behaviours, enablers and blockers
  • Step up your recognition and reward initiatives – rewarding high performance
  • And while this is all related to culture, don’t ignore strategy – do be sure to keep your strategy fresh as the competitive landscape will be changing more rapidly than ever

Cameron’s Call to Action

  1. Undertake a survey or review with staff where you ask them to evaluate the current culture.
  2. Take their feedback seriously and engage in meaningful dialogue. Learn from them to find out what matters most going forward.
  3. In collaboration with your team(s) clearly define the attitudes and behaviors that all individuals will need to commit to and be held accountable to, to create the desired culture.
  4. Manage performance and behavior – both in terms of rewarding as well as through correcting coaching when needed.
  5. Watch your culture develop. Enjoy a new level of staff retention. Become a workplace of choice for others in the labour market.

Cameron is an Executive Coach and Consultant specializing in business growth and creating psychologically healthy workplaces.