I was recently speaking at the Philadelphia SHRM Symposium and listened to some experienced HR professionals with major organizations answer the question:
What are you doing to maintain workplace culture in this new environment?
And not surprisingly, they all struggled a bit. It’s clear we’re all figuring this out on the fly now.
Let’s face it. When you have some employees who don’t want to come back to the office, and some who don’t want to get vaccinated and some who don’t want to come back to the office if others aren’t vaccinated…. well, it’s going to take a while to figure this out.
But there are some things that haven’t changed about why we choose to work where we work and perhaps if we go back to those ideas we might reboot them, reimagine a new workplace culture.
When I talk to my former students, young professionals, about what they like about where they work, it almost always comes down to 3 things:
- I feel fulfilled by the work/the mission of the company
- I feel like the company cares about me and my growth
- I really like the people I work with
I rarely hear about pay unless someone is being completely underpaid or undervalued for their work and expertise.
But now the pandemic has brought us a new expectation:
A former student employee of mine recently told me “I like my job. I’m learning a lot but I DON’T want to go back into an office, deal with traffic and parking just to sit in a room where everyone doesn’t move from their desk or talk to each other anyway.”
But on further exploration, he admitted, he didn’t know his coworkers as well as he’d like since he was on-boarded during the pandemic and missed some of the organic problem solving, feedback and collaboration that can go on when people are in the same space. He didn’t quite feel quite connected yet to the culture.
Long before the pandemic, a healthcare consulting company called Vynamic had policies that gave their employees a great deal of workplace flexibility. They were way ahead of the curve. They only brought all their employees to the office on Fridays. They served lunch, caught up with each other, and also did some kind of experiential learning together.
Often, it had nothing directly to do with work.
It could be a session on mindfulness. It could be a cooking class. It could be any kind of interesting speaker or activity they did together. Retention is and was extremely high. Recruiting is and was easy. It’s no wonder they’ve won numerous Best Place to Work Awards right through the pandemic.
I wonder if Vynamic was on to an idea that could work now for more companies.
If many of your employees can do their work at home, there may need to be a more creative and purposeful intention for bringing them safely back to the office.
Culture is hard to maintain when no one sees each other and everyone is working independently. To remind our teams why they feel good about your unique mission and values, why they like the people they work with and why they feel cared for, we need to experience things together; fun, play, learning, problem solving. But it’s clear, more flexibility is going to have to be worked into the equation.
We will all need to dare to reimagine, “do the new”, take some risks in an effort to come up with an evolved workplace culture. Going back to what was, is really not an option.
I’ll be practicing this with my own career center team at Klein College at Temple University. I’d love to hear from you!