Feeling the way to a new business culture
The Covid pandemic has radically shifted working patterns in industries right across the world. The move towards hybrid working, where employees switch between offices and other sites, notably at home, has been accelerated rapidly and more workers are spending more time away from corporate headquarters, while connecting remotely.
While this has unquestionably created feelings of displacement among office workers, the reality is that for many retail and hospitality staff, not to mention employees on a factory floor or in remote warehouses, this has been the reality for some time. Disconnected from their head offices, from senior management (in some cases from any management), they have a work routine very different from those white collar workers trying to dial into Teams calls or endeavoring to look into sales figures with a school child asking questions.
However, it’s an issue that other industrial sectors have always faced. Workers on a production line are as isolated from office politics and gossip as is the executive with the laptop in his kitchen. The question that all firms have to deal with is: how to maintain company morale and keep a consistent company culture when so separated from other employees?
There’s clearly a need to maintain a corporate culture at the same time as all the links that bind employees to the workplace are being disrupted. Managers are acutely aware of the importance of an effective culture at work. Heskett and Kotter’s 1992 study Corporate Culture and Performance demonstrated the strong links between financial results and the inherent company culture. Businesses with the right philosophy saw massive benefits on the bottom line and that’s been a credo for all successful firms since.
So, if corporate culture is so tied in with company success, how can this be maintained when the workforce is so scattered? This is now a question for office workers, as well as those in factories. How can this new way of working bring dividends?
It particularly resonates at the moment because of the employment situation. The media likes to talk of the Great Resignation – the trend for employees to leave their companies. In the UK, there are two factors at play: the effects of the lockdown on employment practices and Brexit.
For the former, we’ve seen what happens when companies tell employees to scrap any thought of home working and come back to the office: many are resisting. That’s something that many companies in Silicon Valley are finding out, as highly in-demand programmers vote with their feet and leave the cities of sky-high real estate and move somewhere cheaper, while working remotely.
Brexit has certainly had a major effect on employment levels. Hospitality in particular has found it difficult to recruit staff when so many Europeans have left the sector; care homes are having similar problems.
No matter what the reason, it’s become increasingly important that employers work harder to keep their workforces happy. When 69% of employees talk about looking to leave their jobs, companies are going to have to work harder to keep staff happier and fulfilled at work.
When 69% of employees talk about looking to leave their jobs, companies are going to have to work harder to keep staff happier and fulfilled at work
It seems that it’s technology that is going to play the greater part in employee engagement – it doesn’t matter whether they’re remote office-based employees, hospitality staff or deskless workers on a shop floor. The smart company can draw on the very technology that is ensuring that people work effectively while remote and use this to maintain an element of effective corporate culture. It’s not just a question of Zoom or Teams call but the need for a more concerted effort.
Hence the need for offerings like Engage4, a way of maintaining the relationship between employer and employee, ensuring that workers feel like they are part of the business. The surveys that Engage4 offer, for example, are a step up from the normal, anodyne yearly survey. It’s a two-way communication that looks to establish a dialogue in real time. Respondents may well have been affected by something that happened months before and had been affecting them for some time – or even worse, something that made a worker leave, all before the root cause had been discovered.
Within a normal work environment, a good manager can ascertain when something’s amiss. Even if disgruntled employees aren’t coming to him or her, there’s a chance to pick up snatches of conversation, on office whispers. Much good practice comes from what business guru Tom Peters called “management by walking about”, the picking up on any undercurrents. While it’s true that line managers can pick up on the foibles and areas of discontent – which is great – that still needs to be communicated to head offices. It may be something affecting one employee or one workplace – in which case it can be dealt with locally – or it could be affecting many. That level of disconnect needs to be picked up earlier.
The Engage4 survey feature can effectively monitor real time experiences. The process can be taken a step further. Bosses need to ensure that the way that they communicate with staff keeps them feeling secure.
A “good” company tries to ensure that employees, wherever they are working, are not ignored or neglected. The key to the way that the company operates is to make employees more self-aware. Organisations that have employees with a better understanding of themselves will be better ones.
It should be a no-brainer that a happy workforce is a motivated one – and one that will lead to greater financial success. As Tolstoy might have said: all happy companies resemble one another, but each unhappy company is unhappy in its own way. Employees may have one small concern but, if not dealt with, it may grow in importance and dozens of other grievances emerge while the workforce grows ever more disaffected. A tiny issue may become a major one, as unhappiness grows on an exponential curve.
Business is on a cusp of a great change. Partly driven by the pandemic but also greatly aided by technological advances too. It’s important that employees aren’t left behind. Factory staff and hospitality workers are often the great forgotten, but by constantly engaging with these people, employers can pick up on any discontent early and keep staff retention high.