Cultural Impact of New Ways of Working

Original content provided by BDO United Kingdom

Something in our ways of working have inevitably changed since the pandemic and since our 'gradual' return to the office - we are now experiencing the impact of working from home for over two years.

While one of the benefits of hybrid working that is often cited is that individuals feel they are able to be more productive, one of the concerns we hear is that hybrid working gets in the way of being able to collaborate effectively. For some people, pre-covid culture has become glorified as the ideal, it is something to miss. Somehow, hybrid working does not enable effective collaboration - people hide behind videos/screens; perhaps are reverting to being insular, introvert, not sharing as effectively as they might have once done.

This is not necessarily the truth, but an emerging story/narrative we are telling ourselves about what makes work effective.

How much of our pre-covid culture do we retain today? Going forward, what do we want to keep and how do we accommodate our new ways of working, the best of both worlds, a hybrid model?

Working remotely by some is seen as counter to an ability to collaborate - what this says is that we haven't changed our assumptions underpinning what collaboration looks like in practice. We have perhaps an image in mind that suggests a belief that, effective collaboration means being present in person, face to face, connected in conversation, discussion and perhaps conclusion - doing this online feels counter intuitive.

The reality is that pre covid we were already collaborating; as well as face to face in teams, we were collaborating by email and by phone. Do we recognise that we use all methods of communication to enable effective collaboration?

It is true that with face to face interaction we create in-person connections - this is fundamental to the human experience, to belong means to connect. When we don't have connection, we miss the fundamental aspect of communication - body language. Most of our communication cues come from body language (55% of our communication is through body language).

So how can we continue to create connections in a hybrid 'way of working' situation? How can we collaborate more effectively while working in a different way? How can we collaborate when we miss out on body language that is fundamental to creating connections?

While some experienced lockdown from the perspective that it reduced stress, wasted time travelling and increased family and recreational time, many associated lockdown with isolation, bubbles, anxiety, stress, for some the nature of our whole life workloads increased or changed with additional responsibilities, our wellbeing was affected. If our organisation and managers provided meaningful engagement and connection during this time it likely provided a silver lining. However, for many people, these feelings will continue to be carried, and potentially shape how they view hybrid working - which is meant to be the best of both worlds.

In a hybrid world, a mix of remote, home and office based staff, or even fully remote, people are still expected to work together, in teams and across teams - the key enabler is more meaningful communication not less. Communication that enables a two-way channel. Communication that encourages connection between people, supported (from time to time) by in person connections. Communication that encourages connection with the organisation culture, vision, purpose and values. Communication that encourages feedback, learning and sharing of ideas.

A way to achieve this is to review our fundamental beliefs that shape the way we approach our work and be ready to change beliefs that are no longer helpful to us.

The reality is that meetings run badly will be run badly face to face or online. We have to learn to work effectively in a hybrid way; this means understanding and challenging some of our base assumptions about how work happens and how work gets done. Effectiveness does not happen overnight, but needs proper consideration, new rules for ways of working (including running and managing meetings!), training and time to practice and get feedback on what works/does not work.

Here are five recommendations to developing an effective hybrid way of working:

  1. Establish clear communication channels: Ensure that communication channels are in place for employees to collaborate and stay in touch regardless of their location.
  2. Set clear expectations: Establish clear expectations and guidelines for hybrid work, including work schedules, response times, and availability.
  3. Provide flexible work arrangements: Give employees the flexibility to choose when and where they work to balance work-life needs. This includes choosing carefully when Team members are in the office - take advantage of 'collaboration or networking time' when people are in the office or arrange it so that connections can be made.
  4. Invest in technology and infrastructure: Invest in the right technology and infrastructure to enable smooth communication and collaboration between remote and in-office workers.
  5. Foster a culture of trust: Building a culture of trust is critical in a hybrid work environment, where employees are empowered to work independently and are held accountable for their work performance.

How BDO Can Help

Our experts can support you to define and embed the culture that you need for your business to be successful and to deliver your purpose through your own unifying culture. We can support you throughout your culture journey with the following services:

  • Culture maturity assessments: How effective is your approach to developing culture?
  • Culture understanding and deep dives: What is your current culture and where do you have strengths to build on and challenges to address?
  • Culture definition and strategy: What does your culture need to be for your organisation to be successful?
  • Culture change and transformation: How can you change and transform your culture towards your target state?

Please fill out the following form to access the download.