Updated: Aug 4, 2021
In all parts of our lives culture dictates the way we think about things. This is turn impacts the way we make decisions. We are subject to many bias in the world that come from our interpretation of what we have been taught, and importantly what we have learned from our experiences. How and what we prioritize (our family vs work); our attitude to risk (do you wait for the green person to light up before crossing the road?); how we respond to challenges (thrive on stress vs stress is bad); and whether we can learn (mistakes are an opportunity to learn vs mistakes are not good).
What has this got to do with culture in the workplace? Everything.
How we think, how we view the world, how we are raised, how we experience life, our values, our beliefs - we bring all of this into the workplace. We bring in everything that makes us who we are to work.
With this foundation we create relationships, connections and authority. We begin to establish rules (if they are not already established) about how we do our work and how we relate to colleagues. We establish implicitly what is allowed and what is not allowed, what is accepted and what is not accepted, who is part of our group and who is not. And, just because we have been working differently, does not mean organisation culture has disappeared. In fact, for some organisations it has been reinforced and for others it has changed.
Culture is experienced through people; people who repeatedly spend time together will form a culture based on the experiences, values and beliefs of the individuals involved. This holds true for working remotely. Edgar Schein, Organisation Psychologist, explained that "deeply held assumptions often start out historically as values, but as they stand the test of time, gradually come to be taken for granted and then take on the character of assumptions. They are no longer questioned and they become less and less open to discussion." Another way to understand this is that "culture is learned", one explanation for how shared learning occurs is the way in which people respond to critical events or incidents - when an event or incident is emotionally charged or anxiety producing it can initiate a set of responses (behaviours), which may then create a norm.
How your company culture shows up will depend on how your people are treated during current times - whether your company supported its' people to thrive at work or whether it worked everyone like a workhorse will likely have played out somewhere between the following two examples:
Example 1: Your company was more concerned about getting the job done and less about employee welfare. Concern about employees/ staff/ workers was just not high up the agenda. Learning and development support was limited; HR was more concerned about protecting the company then the employees; there was pressure around performance. When your company had to tighten its purse strings the first thing to go was support for its staff.
Moving to remote working would not necessarily have changed this - there might have been questions about productivity, where the end result was more important than the means for getting there, so employees suffer from feelings of guilt - I am not getting enough work done; I am not doing my hours; I can't focus and concentrate; there are too many distractions at home. Long hours in the workplace are more easily replicated at home - there is no separation of working hours and home hours - you can't leave your workplace at work. Productivity in fact increased, probably at the expense of individual wellbeing and health.
Example 2: If your company prioritised its employees welfare - it was seen as caring and compassionate; then moving to remote working would be accompanied by online social get togethers; regular communication with employees about welfare, mental health, well being. There have been pulse surveys to establish how staff are feeling, whether they need more support. Management have put in some flexible working patterns to enable parents to home school. Indeed there is more social engagement through digital platforms; virtual coffee mornings; lunch dates; and more flexibility in working hours than previously.
This does not necessarily reflect the dimension and context of restructure, redundancies and retrenchment - which many organisations are going through right now as a result of the pandemic. However, most teams will be on a continuum from one example to the other, dependent on the management style of the team leader. Where does your organisation fall along this continuum?
Want to talk more about this? Feel free to schedule a 30mins call with Kami Nuttall, Founding Partner of resetyourorg and Founder of Culture Lab Consultancy.
This blog was originally posted for https://www.resetyourorg.com/culture-in-your-organisation-how-does-it-show-up/