What to do when one size doesn’t fit all

Many CEOS have recently made the news because they expressed that working from home is an aberration and not the new normal. I completely disagree. Even after the pandemic, people will still want flexible working conditions. Here’s how I believe companies can create a culture that can support and meet the needs of their people.

March 5, 2021 4 mins read

Recently the CEO of Goldman Sachs rejected the idea of working from home.

“I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”

He’s certainly not alone in this. The CEO of JP Morgan has similarly offered concerns about the drop in productivity and hopes that a swift return to the office will improve mentoring and their bottom line. Meanwhile, at KPMG, the UK CEO was forced to resign after criticizing employees that were ‘moaning about the pandemic’ at a townhall meeting.

Aside from being tone-deaf, 2.5 million deaths and 115 million cases are definitely something to moan about — not to mention the billions of lives disrupted by COVID-19. 

Thankfully, the majority of businesses seem to understand that remote working is the immediate future. The idea of hybrid workplaces — workplaces where employees only need to be in the office for a few days a week rather than every day — is on the rise. Employees simply don’t want to have to go back to things as they were before. And while US firms seem resistant to hybrid formats, many international companies are open to the idea, if only to reduce their real estate expenses

What caught my attention (and of media sources worldwide) was the use of the word “aberration”. Solomon is right, in some ways. The global pandemic is an aberration. There is nothing normal about it. It has caused real issues in companies across the board. My own data on employee happiness suggest that COVID pushed happiness scores down 4 points on the Happiness KPI scale in 2020 compared to 2019. In my estimates, this is at least a loss of £1,000 productivity per employee (and for Goldman Sachs employees, it is probably much higher).

But where Solomon and the CEOs like him are wrong is in the working from home ‘aberration.’ Social distancing is an aberration, yes. Mask wearing, yes. But remote working? Unlikely. 

The pandemic accelerated what was already a growing trend — especially in employee wellbeing. I’m confident that even after the ‘joy’ of returning to the workplace and seeing long lost co-workers has faded, people will still want the flexibility of remote working. 

In short, it’s not going away.

What Solomon is likely looking for isn’t the archaic ‘one-size-fits-all’ kind of policy he’s trying to enforce, but rather consistency across an entire organization — from the newest intern to the senior leaders. They need a policy that supports all employees — one that empowers its people while being agile and listening.

Microcultures are the real culture picture

Company culture is not a single, monolithic idea. Companies are made up of a myriad of microcultures. You can easily see this in the average work experience. There are teams with different personalities and work styles that reflect their members and leaders. 

When you have a broad range of personalities (especially in large organizations), you can’t expect that everyone will readily conform and thrive. Ideally, you want happy employees because of the wide range of benefits happiness brings. This means focusing on things that will make your people happy. 

The post-COVID world will be full of challenges. We’ve all been changed by COVID, somehow. There’s uncertainty about returning back to normal. COVID was a reset of our social norms. It’s forced us to look at ourselves and identify the things that are important in our lives. In many cases, this means that people simply don’t want to work as much anymore. While work is undoubtedly important, it’s not everything in life. 

COVID has changed values everywhere, so how can employers realistically expect a return to the old way of doing things? There’s truth to the adage, ‘you can never go home again.’ In today’s world, employees will leave for companies that share their values around flexibility and wellbeing.

Building a culture that is consistent and listening

COVID-19 has taught us the importance of being agile in our business practices. But agile doesn’t mean adopting an ‘anything goes’ way of doing things. Changing a culture requires careful, disciplined action — consistency. That means having weekly team meetings, checking in on team members and adjusting to various lifestyles.

Here’s how you can establish consistency in your workplace culture: 

Respect differences and provide flexible solutions

Not everyone’s life is the same, so returning to what worked before may not be possible. Some employees now have added family responsibilities. Some may not want to return to a work life of overworking. COVID has caused a massive value shift and being aware of these changes will go a long way to building trust with your people. There’s no ‘right’ answer to the balance between working from home and the office. But being open to flexible, hybrid solutions is how you find what works for your organization. 

Check in regularly and listen

Because company culture is made up of a vast range of people and personalities in a company, it’s important to check in and listen to those people. It takes time and consistent effort to build a trusting relationship, but it can be done through listening.

In fact, the Friday Pulse people platform is designed to help you listen to your people. At Friday Pulse, we strongly encourage a weekly check-in meeting with your team to discuss things that are going well and how to improve on it, and things that aren’t that you can change. Take the time to celebrate achievements and give recognition where it’s due. 

Beyond the weekly meeting, be sure to have personal one-to-ones with team members to see how they’re really doing and empower them to work to their strengths. Taking the time to listen also has a preventative power — it staves off the resentment that can set in when people don’t feel they’re being heard. 

How I can help

The global pandemic has highlighted the fact that the working world is trending towards the work experience and wellbeing. It’s an excellent opportunity to reset and modernize our cultures rather than return to archaic practices. 

Friday Pulse is designed to look at the strengths and weaknesses of a company’s workplace culture and to helps leaders hear their people’s voices. And, we’re continuing to offer free access for six weeks. Get in touch today to book a demo. I’d love to help.