For the most part, cultures evolve with the speed of Teutonic plates. They’re sticky, hard to change. But, every-so-once-in-a-while there are earthquake-like sudden shifts: mergers or spin-offs – or a pandemic. As people return to the office, or not, figure out when they should work in interdependent teams in person, and when they should work more independently, what you want your post-pandemic culture to be, and how to get there.
Navigating the post-pandemic workplace
In Navigating the post-pandemic workplace, Andrew Ross Sorkin highlighted a bunch of valuable ideas. In it:
Robert Pozen and Alexandra Samuel looked at function, location, organization, culture and schedule, and suggested:
- Functionally, teams brainstorming and collaborating need to be present, while those doing “deep, focused work” can be at home.
- Locationally, it makes no sense to push geographically remote people into working in the office.
- Organizationally flatter groups with more autonomous workers can do better remotely.
- Culturally individualistic companies are fine virtually, while those that stress “us” over “me” need to be together.
- Schedule-wise, those working on different schedules might as well be remote.
Nicholas Bloom pointed out that remote employees have a 50% lower rate of promotion than their colleagues in the office. Couple this with 50% more women with children at home wanting to work from home than similar men, and just letting everyone choose turns out to be discriminatory.
Finally, Ashley Whillans et al looked at how different team interactions work on video conferences:
- Bounce interactions: new idea generation/brainstorming – better in person.
- Process interactions: defining and structuring work, such as check-in meetings – frequency counts – can be asynchronous.
- Social interactions – better in person.
- Huddle interactions: “informal exchanges, like those that take place in a hallway between meetings or over coffee. These largely went away in the virtual environment, and managers became the primary conduit of all information.” One of the biggest problems with remote work for all.
- Development interactions – better in person.
Teams are made up of people with complementary strengths, working interdependently to realize a shared purpose.
Take a surgical “team” for example.
- Five surgeons working in the same office, sharing support staff are a group, not a team. They have similar strengths and generally focus on their own patients.
- Any one of those five surgeons, plus a surgeon’s assistant, anesthesiologist, nurse, surgical technician, and others in an actual operating room must interdependently leverage each other’s complementary strengths to deliver the best possible patient outcome – as a team.
Start your assessment with tasks, not people. Figure out which work can be done independently or remotely (like pre and post-surgical consults,) and which work is better done on-site, in-person, together (like actual surgery.) Then figure out the best way and best place for those people to do that work.
In general, people that do 100% of their work with interdependent teams should be in the office 100% of their time.
People that do 100% of their work independently never have to come into the office.
Everyone else should be in the office when they are working with their teams, and wherever they can be most effective the rest of the time.
Culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage. But your old culture is not only not sustainable, it’s gone for good. (Double meaning intended.)
In sustainable, championship cultures, behaviors (the way we do things here) are inextricably linked to relationships, informed by attitudes, built on a rock-solid base of values, and completely appropriate for the environment in which the organization chooses to operate.
So far, this article has focused on individuals’ and teams’ environments and particularly on the in-person/in-office vs. remote trade-offs. There are important choices to be made there. Additionally, as you deliberately evolve your culture:
- Reconfirm your values and make sure they are translated into guiding principles all can follow. Pay particular attention to the unintended consequences of choices – like putting women with small children at a disadvantage by letting all choose whether or not to work from home.
- Take a hard look at the overarching strategy, strategic priorities, enablers and capability priorities that make up your attitude.
- Reconnect with people post-pandemic and be choiceful about how you influence people in your post-pandemic relationships.
- Bring it all to a head by prompting and rewarding the behaviors with the right impact.