Reclaiming Culture After ‘The Great Reset’

Roughly one-third of employees report that they want to change jobs this year. To stop the exodus, we'll need to make some changes.

Things feel different in the world of work these days. Several months of employees’ working from home has changed many organizations’ corporate cultures. Leaders know this. To reinvigorate or resurrect their corporate cultures, many leaders are asking employees to stop working from home and return to the office. Nearly 70% of leaders believe their employees should be in the office three or more days each week to sustain a strong organizational culture.

Some employees are enthusiastic about the return to an office. Many other are less willing to give up their freedom and flexibility even though they recognize that working in the same office has benefits. A study conducted by PWC found that 87% of employees thought the office was beneficial for collaborating with colleagues and strengthening relationships. This social benefit isn’t enough to make them want to return to the office.

The “great reset” during the Covid pandemic gave employees time and space to give greater attention to their priorities—time with family, a move to the country, a new career, a puppy, whatever. Off the treadmill of long commutes, structured work and lunch on the fly, employees enjoyed a greater sense of autonomy. As a result, roughly one-third of employees report that they want to change jobs this year, higher for those expected to return five days each week.

Corporate culture is a socialized reality. It is passed along, reinforced and shared from more tenured employees to newbies. This combination of voluntary turnover and fewer days of face time is making it more difficult to maintain a strong corporate culture. Try these intentional approaches to build or reclaim your corporate culture:

1. Focus on the virtual behaviors corporate culture.

Actively assess you company’s desired organizational culture and ask: what are the employee behaviors that are critical for success? For example, is high performance and accountability critical for competitiveness? Candor and authenticity? Trust and collaboration? Then ask, how can these critical behaviors be reinforced in a virtual space? For example, if you have a high collaboration culture, have a policy that cameras will need to be “on” during meetings.

2. Rethink onboarding.

Greater turnover means more new hires. If your new hires will be working from home on some or all days, they will have fewer reinforcements of the expected behaviors. In this case, remote onboarding will need to be more powerful and memorable. For example, have your CEO spend time virtually with new hires – in small groups or one-on-one – to welcome and talk about her or his expectations.

 3. Communicate authentically, clearly and repeatedly.

Every decision is subject to interpretation. Without co-located employees, there are fewer opportunities to reinforce the intentions behind decisions. Be certain to use authentic, clear and repeated messaging, especially when decisions can have a negative connotation (e.g., closure of offices, restructuring, downsizing). Misinterpretations can drastically change your organization’s culture because they signal that the former ways of doing things no longer apply.

4. Stay consistent.

Your employees who had tenure pre-pandemic know the truth of your organizational culture. If the culture has always been warm and supportive pre-pandemic, the activity of Zoom birthday celebrations and retirement parties are likely well received. The same celebrations will be met with suspicion if they didn’t fit the experienced reality of the pre-pandemic corporate culture. Keep it real and be sure the behaviors align with your real corporate culture.

5. Ensure your leaders have cultural agility

Without a daily reinforcement of the organizational culture, your employees will have a weaker connection to the expected norms and corporate values. Creating a stronger corporate culture post-pandemic will require leaders with cultural agility, those who can use persuasion, motivation and modeling to tighten the corporate culture again.

Your corporate cultures can be reclaimed return, but we need to ensure leaders have the cultural agility to make this happen.