Building a strong work culture

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Nearly a century since the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America successfully negotiated the first weekend in 1929, the world of work is set for an upheaval that promises to be at least nearly as seismic – or even more so.

For the first time in generations, work is changing. Not incrementally, but radically. The response to the Covid-19 pandemic has shaken off preconceived notions about what it means to be ‘at work’, with a renewed focus on genuine productivity over antiquated, dated and unproductive clock-in culture.

Companies like Dell Technologies have been advocates and enablers of remote work over the last decade. But when the pandemic hit, employers across all industries were forced to adopt remote work models for their employees – and some plan to stick with those models. In Britain, for example, the vast majority of top employers said that there would be no full-time return to work. In France, Peugeot and Citroen maker PSA views remote work as a benchmark for its tens of thousands of office-based staff, while in Germany, the ‘Mittelstand’ sector of small to medium-sized enterprises, traditionally sceptical about its benefits, have now embraced remote work. It’s a phenomenon that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Change at scale is rarely simple, though – and although the remote work may be allowing staff to boost their leisure time and become more productive on their own terms, there are new challenges to be ironed out in order to create successful workplace cultures with a highly distributed workforce.

During this teething period, it’s up to senior decision-makers to take the reins and lead their organisations through a once in a lifetime opportunity, carefully moulding their workplaces into one that is people-centric, supportive, effective and empathetic.

While many forward-looking organisations especially in the technology sector had already made the move to fully or partly remote workforces, for others, the breakneck pivot may have been a shock. In response to the pandemic, remote work capabilities were often stood up in ad-hoc ways; but now, as it becomes clearer that a hybrid future is inevitable for many businesses, a more considered approach is necessary, not only in creating the safe, secure technology structure to enable it, but also in driving the appropriate culture to match.

Technology evangelists have long advocated for progressive cultural change as the focal point to the success of any organisation, but it’s something that becomes a touch more complex when many of our interactions will occur remotely.

Collaboration tools like Slack and Teams are a good start; a way to foster positive inter-personal relationships like a kind of digital water cooler, a place to swap pet photographs as well as solve business problems.

At a higher level, leaders will need to institute bold change management programmes for every stakeholder within the organisation – whether users, managers, or IT staff. Organisational design needs to be people-centric and empathetic, because when the lines between home and office are blurred, staff may find themselves working more hours.

With restrictions seeming to recede and re-emerge like cresting waves, what we think of as the office needs to be completely re-cast. When open, it’s no longer sufficient for offices to be a place where workers congregate – it needs to be a destination; one that employees can head to when it makes sense to do so, for instance, with town hall meetings, for product demos, brainstorming sessions, employee on-boarding, and social events.

Managers should be mindful to avoid a culture of digital presenteeism emerging: the point of hybrid work and flexibility is to play to peoples’ strengths and allow them to work at their most productive, rather than clocking in, even if it is remotely.

Transparency, meanwhile, has always been a vital issue for staff – in one poll of 40,000 anonymous workers across 300 countries it was far and away the top issue – but it becomes even more crucial when creating a workplace that embraces hybrid work.

Staff want to be part of the decision-making process, and if this isn’t possible, they at least want to know why decisions have been made. When workforces are dispersed across varied geographic territories, employees should be looped in and involved to the degree that they can be.

Indeed, trust and transparency are the key factors for making a success of hybrid work, writes LinkedIn’s India country manager for Forbes India, Ashutosh Gupta: “Managers and leaders will need to step into the shoes of their fellow workers to build more trusted and transparent relations with their teams,” he says.

“They will need to play an active role in scheduling more time-offs so workers can come back with more energy and accountability. Managers will also need to extend unique flexibility offerings that best suit each staff member.”

That kind of flexible, collaborative approach to working can be easily found in businesses that have embraced DevOps, a movement that has encouraged shifting away from blame culture, while fostering collaboration, breaking down silos, and unifying teams in pursuit of a single goal. With hybrid work on the horizon, it’s time to extend these mentalities to every workplace.

“Individual purpose is something we’re seeing come to the fore,” says senior partner at McKinsey, Bill Schaninger, in a recent podcast. “After such profound blurring in our personal and professional lives, code-switching is difficult. You’re aware that every moment you spend working is a moment you’re not spending with a child, with a parent who needs care, with your partner.

“Increasingly, the bar is rising, and people are saying, “My work has to be more than a job. It has to fit in with my life’s purpose.”

This opens up opportunities for leaders and managers. By understanding and meeting employee needs, organisations can improve retention, motivation, and job satisfaction.

Part of that involves offering genuinely useful training that helps staff make the best use of remote technology, or re-skilling opportunities to staff who may wish to move horizontally within the organisation.

As executive editor at Computerworld, Galen Gruman, notes, for many organisations, training has been “limited, pro forma, or non-existent” – and in the cases where it is available, it often takes the form of vendor-provided instructional videos or LinkedIn Learning courses.

As remote work continues to be a bigger part of all of our lives, there’s an opportunity to bring IT and technology closer to the users so that they can make the best of the resources available to them.

Businesses could even create training teams within business departments, consisting of power users and IT staff, suggests Gruman. These could jointly develop job-specific training so employees gain more technical knowledge and IT also gains subject matter expertise.

Dell and VMware have a range of different offerings that will help organisations move seamlessly into this new way of working. To find out what Dell and VMware can do for your organisation, click here.

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