Written by Heidi Wadsworth | 2nd August 2021

One way to describe workplace culture is “how we do things around here” – and we all know first-hand that the past 18 months have had a profound effect on that.

If your teams have been working away from each other for the last 18 months, your culture may feel very different than it used to.

As we’re now in a new transition period with many businesses moving back to the workplace, or adopting hybrid working, it’s important for employers to focus on how things have changed and what you can do to ensure a positive organisational culture for your staff.

Remote working led to an ‘always on’ culture

Working from home, it’s been easier to check emails in the evenings and at the weekends, or just do that extra piece of work after hours, making it harder to switch off at the end of the day.

This ‘always on’ culture has blurred the lines between work and personal life and in PwC’s latest survey, 41% of HR leaders said they were concerned that working remotely was weakening company culture with the main reason appearing to be employee burnout.

More than three quarters (77%) of employers have also seen more ‘presenteeism’ – people working when unwell – in employees who are working from home in the last year, according to the latest CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report.

People have felt the pressure to be ‘seen’ working by their employer. But whether working when unwell or working longer than their specified hours, this ‘always on’ culture could eventually lead to an increase in staff turnover.

Now, a culture focused on the ‘right to disconnect’ is critical, if you feel your employees’ work life balance has suffered. With hybrid or remote teams working different hours it is important to create a culture in which people don’t feel they have to be working when others are; just because one person chooses to send emails late at night doesn’t mean the rest of the team have to check and respond outside their own working hours – it is important to protect downtime too.

Working relationships have changed

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that many of us didn‘t realise just how essential the office banter was in keeping teams happy and encouraging productivity.

When employees work mostly or exclusively from home, they probably only interact with their colleagues via email and occasional calls. Spending less time socialising, may have had a negative affect on your team’s drive and work ethic, and also on workplace culture.

Social interaction is strongly linked with workplace engagement and satisfaction. A global Gallup survey of over 15 million employees indicated that those with a “best” work friend are more likely to be engaged in their jobs, produce better work and less likely to be actively looking for another role elsewhere.

If you’re introducing a hybrid model, don’t forget that workers can still experience loneliness and frustration on their days away from the office, even if they themselves have opted to work this way. For all team members, wherever they happen to be working, keep up the opportunities to talk individually and get everyone together as a team, often.

Reduced teams as a result of furlough and redundancy

Like many businesses, if you had to furlough staff during the pandemic or make redundancies, your company culture would have inevitably taken a hit.

This could have been in the form of a drop in motivation and morale for teams that remained working, and also for those on furlough.

Without a normal work routine, your furloughed employees may have struggled with a lack of purpose, feelings of isolation and anxiety which can impact their mental health.

Likewise, even if a redundancy process has been well planned and sensitively carried out, your remaining teams could have experienced some anxiety or guilt and worry they may be next. To help your remaining team settle into the new structure, it is vital you continue to communicate openly and transparently with them, and you could dedicate some time for team building activities to help them build strong relationships across the team.

When you bring furloughed employees back into work, remember that it may be a challenge for them to get back into the swing of things. Don’t forget to carve out time for them to socialise with the rest of team – furloughed employees may feel disconnected and so rebuilding connections and a strong culture should be a priority.

A culture of trust and transparency

It’s not all been negative!

The biggest perceived barrier to flexible or homeworking for most businesses is often trust, and a fear that people will not perform as well or be as committed when they are away from the workplace. But for many, this has been the complete opposite.

According to a survey of 1,715 employees across the UK and US, in companies in which communication and honesty have been prioritised during the pandemic, trust in managers has increased by 174%.

Also, organisations that had increased transparency with their employees have seen an 85% increase in staff engagement.

This is great news for company culture, and to ensure it is continued for a hybrid workforce, line managers will need to build and nurture relationships based on trust and transparency, with a focus on leading, guiding and coaching rather than directing.

For example, performance should be measured by output and results, and not necessarily how many hours the employee sits at their desk working.

A culture of flexibility

Over the last year and a half, lots of employers will have changed their stance on workplace flexibility. For example, many employers would have judged people on their presence in the workplace prior to Covid.

It’s also likely that businesses have seen an increase in requests for flexible working arrangements and will see even more over the coming months – and these will be more difficult to turn down as workers believe they have “proven” that it is possible to do their job remotely.

It’s a good idea for workplaces and managers to embed flexibility into the company culture, to avoid burnout, turnover and support employee mental health and wellbeing.

New ways of working mean more autonomy

When we revisited our ‘ways of working survey’ to find out how Covid had changed the way businesses have been working, we noticed a shift in attitude and approach to people management.

A lot of our clients are asking their employees for their input and allowing them to make their own decisions – listening to their views and engaging with them more than ever before. Employers are appreciating that they now need to be accommodating for their staff, offering flexibility, autonomy, career prospects and personal development as well as a good compensation package to attract and retain talent in a difficult labour market.

One example is that a hybrid model, “created an even deeper sense of autonomy within the business” and “absolutely helped the culture of the business”.

Hybrid working grants more autonomy to employees to fit work around the rest of their lives, rather than structuring other parts of a weekday around hours in an office, which then has a positive impact on engagement and wellbeing.

While it’s still a bit uncertain as to what the next year will look like, businesses should now look to how they will rebuild or maintain their workplace culture. And with our Refocus campaign, we are here to support employers in doing this. This includes a focus on the role of a manager, recruitment, retention and how to keep on top of it. See our latest blogs and guidance here.

If you’d like to chat to one of our team about your company culture, or any other HR concern, contact [email protected].