From Trends to Truths: 6 Changes to Corporate Culture in A Post-Pandemic World
Imagine: it’s spring 2022, and the working world has emerged from pandemic hibernation. Lattes and laptops sit on countertops as remote workers clickity-clack their way through the day. It’s just like 2019, except, well, everything has changed.
While thankfully, the pandemic will soon no longer rule our lives, we can’t entirely know how the world will look. “You cannot predict the future,” management guru Peter Drucker once said, “but you can create it.” So how should we prepare? And how can we create the future we prefer? I’ve been keeping an eye out for trends that are likely to become post-pandemic truths; here’s what I’ve found so far.
1. WFH IS THE RULE, NOT THE EXCEPTION
Let’s start with the big one. Whether it’s bringing employees back or conversing with candidates, expect the script to have flipped from “how many days are employees allowed to work from home” to “how often will they be expected to come to the office.”
Not everyone can live a fully distributed life, and thoughtful companies allow for variability. I appreciate what I saw while working with incident response platform PagerDuty. They’ve established three personas for three scenarios, and set expectations accordingly. 1) On-premises employees such as facilities directors or front-desk staff, are those whose role requires them to be at the office all the time. 2) Distributed employees live far from central offices and come in a few times a year. 3) Hybrid employees are those who agree to be in the office three to four days a week.
But at-home productivity comes with caveats, which is why
2. ALL WORK FROM HOME MAY NOT BE ALL GOOD
After a full year away from our desks, I can confidently state that the initial celebrations of WFH productivity were premature. Yes, working from home is terrific for tackling low-cognitive load tasks like email or focused projects like writing, but anything more collaborative or creative requires coming together.
A study on remote work by productivity software maker Atlassian finds that remote work may lead to an innovation drought. More formal connections and structured communication are, so far, limiting the serendipitous encounters that spark new ideas. Here’s how the report summed up the issue:
People shared the insulating effects of [distributed] work. They missed the organic encounters of others’ work, once pinned to walls or left on desks, [making] progress open to comment and improvement. Some were concerned that the quality of the team’s work might be threatened if there continued to be limited perspectives given or gathered.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to collaborate from a distance, but it is more challenging and in this extrovert’s experience a lot less fun. Which sounds to me like
3. IT’S TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT CREATIVITY
Through the pea-soup of the pandemic, we’ve all experienced the limitations of video calls. When companies finally go into flex mode, leaders serious about creativity and collaboration will develop rules and tools to foster the hybrid work patterns. The most explicit example of this trend that I’ve seen is investing in function-specific office spaces, like global ad firm R/GA has done.
This New Yorker piece reported an internal survey of R/GA staff that found workers wanted “More spaces for collaborating [and] less individual desk space.” They also wished “to see more team-oriented spaces like a table, screen, and partial privacy that a team can use to have informal meetings.” In response to these shifting circumstances, the firm traded their gargantuan downtown New York and San Francisco leases for comparatively-tiny office hubs built for collaborative work.
Worth noting: periodic gathering isn’t entirely new. For proof of utility we can look to firms that have been forever distributed. A recent Harvard Business Review article explained how consulting behemoth McKinsey hosts “Super Fridays.” These are once-a-month culture-building events where firm leadership brings together all 5,500 employees. I can only imagine they’d continue to invest in this immense assembly if it was effective. But that arrangement is just one example of
4. PLANNED SPONTANEITY AND RELATIONSHIP BUILDING
Pre-Covid, physical offices facilitated human connection. We didn’t realize how vital coffee station greetings and accidental run-ins were. Those collisions are gone, and with it, our primary method for building and strengthening our relationships. When teams are apart, there’s no swinging by a colleague’s desk to chat. Companies will need to schedule times and experiences that inspire the kind of insight and relationship-building that casual collisions once did.
If we are going to work apart, we need to establish new ways of connecting. “Wear your favorite T-shirt to our next meeting,” Neil Stevenson, Co-Founder of Harmonic, instructed his employees. Over Zoom, he had each person share why they chose their shirt. Even better, these interactions go right to the bottom line because they foster trust, a critical element we humans need to do our best work. Other approaches include leaning into those days teams gather in person and creative collaboration technology like Mural and Miro. However, all this planning will likely lead to scheduling fatigue. So, it’s time to
5. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR OWN BOUNDARIES
Boomers, Gen X, and elder Millennials began their careers when office and home were clearly defined, a settled part of the landscape we never questioned. But when work emails started to sneak into homes on the backs of Blackberries, these physical barriers began to fall. Now that we are at work at home, the borders are not only gone, in their place is a neon sign buzzing “Open 24 hours”.
To be successful, we can no longer rely on the physical separation of work and life to draw boundaries for us. We need to take ownership of when we are on or off the clock and make sure to tell colleagues. If you want suggestions for how to can start reclaiming your edges, I laid out a few here. And finally, this self-directed scheduling is perfectly compatible with
6. NON-LINEAR WORK DAYS
With so many people working across further-flung time zones, expecting all employees to work at the same time has become unrealistic. Dropbox, among others, has begun to set core working hours — those times when everyone must be present for live meetings and conversations. Beyond that, anyone can work anytime as long as the work gets done. Non-Linear Work Days is a great description because it makes explicit the unstated truth that nobody is capable of working straight through the day, and it makes it clear company policy that’s acceptable. What a relief to ‘allow’ what’s been happening for a while. h/t to Dropbox for calling it that and calling it out.
We can’t predict the future but by keeping eyes and minds open, we can begin to close the gap between predicting and creating. A bit of planning for more flexibility and a few thoughtful work experiments will go a long way to help organizations prepare for a post-pandemic work world.
Have you seen trends you think are sure to become truths? Leave a comment below.