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How businesses are adapting to the post-pandemic cultural shift

With the world irreversibly changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Culture Institute Founder and Executive Director Karl Treacher explains how businesses around the world are best adapting their company culture to reflect the shift.

cultural shift

Consider your organisation’s culture as its personality, with its own sets of values and expectations that influence its key business practices and guide how employees engage with their work and environment. When employee needs and values are consistent with their company’s culture, it results in better relationships with co-workers, higher productivity and increased retention of staff.

But while it sounds simple enough, developing and maintaining a successful company culture isn’t something that just happens by itself – it needs to be fostered, remain consistent and be regularly monitored and adjusted. And, as has been shown amid the significant global upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years, it now also needs to be readily adaptable to change.

Karl Treacher is the adjunct Associate Professor at Griffith Business School and Founder and Executive Director of The Culture Institute. He says companies and organisations that have successfully adapted to these changes have embraced a more authentic, human approach to ensure not only growth but engaged and supported employees.

“Employees don’t want or need to be ‘parented’ in the workplace – they want to be respected and supported and feel part of a trusting team.” – Karl Treacher

“The companies that are faring best have a genuine desire to learn about people and cultural leadership,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “Culture dictates the quality of talent that want to work for and stay at an organisation, it directs attitude and energy, it drives employee engagement and enables strategy,” he explains.

Treacher says the pandemic has been a literal existential reckoning for the majority of working people. “The ‘pandemic epiphany’ has led to people questioning their existence and the time they spend at work,” he explains. “Over the past two years or so, we’ve all spent more time at home than we ever did before and for the vast majority of employees, the pandemic has shifted the work–life balance well and truly in favour of a more balanced, authentic life.”

He says the impact of this has been manyfold. “The need for physiological safety at work has never been greater because people are now less inclined to conform to a culture or way of being that isn’t authentic and reflective of their values.”

This shift has seen a tremendous change in employee expectations overall, necessitating employers and company leaders to re-evaluate and adapt existing company cultures to reflect a new, uncharted reality. “Workplace communities are now more diverse and inclusive, which means leaders need to ensure an open-minded, flexible attitude and more considered ways of working,” Treacher says.

New Remote Reality

cultural shift
Requiring employees to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic was an unavoidable necessity and in some parts of the world a requirement during the height of the pandemic. Now, with tight restrictions and lockdowns almost behind us, the personal benefits and increased flexibility that working remotely provides employees is resulting in increased demand for its permanent adoption around the globe.

Today, 16 per cent of the world’s companies have a 100 per cent remote workforce and 74 per cent of workers indicate that the option to work remotely makes them more inclined to stay in the employment of a company. Employees have been reported to feel more productive working from home and prefer to skip the daily commute to enjoy more of a work–life balance at home.

“One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen is organisations ‘mandating’.” – Karl Treacher

Many other companies have adopted a flexible hybrid policy, allowing employees to choose to spend a portion of their week working from home and the other from the office – at least part of the time. “On average, the better organisations are bringing people together for two-to-three days a week in a pandemic-enabled environment to engage with one another and delve into strategy and challenges,” Treacher explains.

Denying employees flexibility on both sides of the scale can prove detrimental to companies who have ignored this culture shift, Treacher says, leaving employees disgruntled and company culture in a precarious position. “One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen is organisations ‘mandating’. This can be a mandate to work from the office five days a week or to not work from the office at all.”

Culture Change

Karl Treacher offers three tips on how to change your company culture for the better:
1. Accept Change is Necessary
Embrace the reality that what worked in the past won’t work in the future. The lack of investment in understanding and shaping culture has led to a universal void in cultural acumen.
2. Bring Culture to the Surface
Revise the organisational values and refresh them based on the needs of people in the pandemic digital age and then build overt symbols and systems that demonstrate the values.
3. Set an Example
CEOs and leaders need to state and, more importantly, demonstrate what on-culture looks and feels like. The way they talk, the forum, the tone and the mode all need to reflect what matters and what it means to be part of the company.

The responsibility of establishing, maintaining and changing company culture should never be left solely in the hands of a company’s human resources department. “I believe company culture is the most misunderstood and undervalued element of leadership and needs to be a CEO priority and responsibility,” Treacher says.

“Company culture is so dependent on individuals and, currently, there is a substantial deficit in cultural leadership in pandemic times. Most leaders have had two years to quickly understand dramatically different new ways of working and embrace new responsibilities. The companies that are faring best have a genuine desire to learn about people and cultural leadership.”

He says CEOs and executive teams need to invest in cultural leadership development, which is the only way a culture can be consistently nurtured and developed. “It only takes one culturally inept leader to poison an organisation’s culture – and future,” he warns.

Keeping it Real

cultural shift

Those companies throughout the world that have grown culturally through the pandemic should offer inspiration to other organisations who are struggling to re-establish their identity and culture and, consequently, retain their talent. Treacher says what sets these companies apart is that they’ve “applied human-centred design frameworks to support their people and ways of working, setting very clear objectives and treating employees like people – grown-up people”.

He says parenting employees is the fastest way to erode culture and employee engagement. “The business leaders of these culturally successful companies realise that their employees don’t want or need to be ‘parented’ in the workplace – they want to be respected and supported and feel part of a trusting team,” he explains.

This, Treacher says, also reflects a level of cultural leadership in action. “This isn’t a core capability for the average manager, who sees culture as just another line item to manage,” he says. “Proactive cultural leaders know how to lead, nurture and change culture for future success.”

Best Global Company Cultures 2022

The top five global companies with the best company culture, as reported by

  1. Microsoft – Redmond, Washington, US
  2. IBM – Armonk, New York, US
  3. Google – Mountain View, California, US
  4. HubSpot – Cambridge, Massachusetts, US
  5. Elsevier – Amsterdam, Netherlands

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