You've received the message from your supervisor. "We're going back to the office."
Following in the footsteps of Disney's CEO, Bob Iger, who implemented a company-wide, mandatory 4-day in-office policy, and Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, who issued an all-staff email at 2:30am, stating, “office is not optional.”
Many corporate executives have mandated a return to office in our post-COVID era, often attributing their decision to bolstering company culture as the main rationale. However, a discernible shift is emerging, indicating that rigid mandates for in-office work are inadvertently undermining that which they’re looking to strengthen: company culture.
In today's rapidly evolving work landscape, & due to 2020, coined the “unprecedented time,” the concept of a traditional office has undergone a profound transformation. The emergence of hybrid, remote, and in-office work models has sparked a dynamic shift in how employees perceive and contribute to company culture. In this blog, we’ll be debunking the idea that being in-office is essential to fostering employee engagement and connection, and delving into the prevailing trends in workplace arrangements – encompassing remote, hybrid, and traditional in-office setups – and their consequential effects on company culture.
Gallup's recent analysis on hybrid, remote & in-office work cites that a mere 3% of professionals with remote-capable roles prefer exclusive on-site work. While only ⅓ professionals opt for complete remote work, a ⅔ of professionals, ranging from engineers to consultants, expressed preference for a hybrid workplace. Some of their reasons being work-life balance, efficient time management, autonomy, reduced burnout, and heightened productivity.
Business leaders are championing a return to the office, citing concerns over collaboration, waning culture, and productivity. And they’re inkling that something may be missing is not wrong. According to Gallup, “The American Customer Satisfaction Index has fallen four percentage points since 2018, the largest drop in its 28-year history. Why does this matter so much? Because customer satisfaction is the primary driver of business growth.”
The potential cause: Only 3 in 10 employees are proud of the products and services their organization offers.
We believe business leaders are jumping to the “resolution” of in-office mandates as a means to mitigate employee disengagement. However… take a look at the chart below.
The data suggests otherwise. There is actually low correlation between employee engagement and in-office workplaces. The argument for sustainable productivity driven by remote or hybrid flexibility is legitimized through this study, and several others.
This indicates that flexibility actually exerts a significant positive influence on culture. This is further exemplified in a survey conducted by Future Forum, where “employees with flexible work cultures were 57% more likely to say their company culture has improved over the past two years compared to fully in-office associates.” Yet, in the same survey, 25% of executives cited ‘culture is negatively impacted’ as the primary reason to deter from flexible work policies.
Gallup's data also reveals that maintaining a presence in the office for two to three days per week generally correlates with the highest levels of employee engagement. Preferably, “in-office” days would include the entire team. This practice also appears to mitigate burnout and improve retention.
All of this is highly contingent on the nature of the work. Is the work reliant on collaboration? Is the team benefitting from face-to-face, in-time interactions? If there are clear-cut reasons as to bring the team into the office, engagement increases. However, this also implies that some flexibility is optimal for success.
At The Culture Fix®, we hold the view that these business leaders are justified in their concern regarding a disconnect between employees, their work, and the company culture. We commend them for acknowledging growth-potential & prioritizing their company culture; however, we suggest that they take a deeper look at the potential reasons for the lack of employee engagement or a diminishing company culture.
So, what is the root cause of the disconnect? It could be…
1. Your employees feel a lack of purpose.
According to research conducted by McKinsey & Company, 82% of employees feel an organization’s purpose is important, and 70% say their work defines their sense of purpose. However, only 42% of employees said that their organization’s purpose drives impact. This means there’s an engagement-potential gap that could be filled in by developing & reaching toward purpose.
At The Culture Fix®, we advocate for the incorporation of a CorePurpose™ within every organization. This statement serves as a powerful link between your team and the positive impact your work has on the world, transcending the mere output of your operations. The elements of your CorePurpose™ should encompass:
We strongly advocate for a collaborative effort involving individuals from diverse levels of the organization to work together to refine and enhance the statement. By getting everyone involved, each associate feels tethered to the deeper meaning of their work.
We recommend that CorePurpose™ is established into your daily or weekly operations and meetings. By organically incorporating your values and purpose into the conversations you’re having over zoom, or in office, and the decisions you’re making, it reinforces the “why” behind the work.
2. You have yet to systemize and implement accountability.
A highly effective approach to fostering a culture of accountability within a hybrid and remote work environment is to integrate “accountability” into your CoreVals™, which serve as the guiding principles anchoring your organization. In a culture-driven organization, CoreVals™ become the pivotal focal point around which your business operations orbit.
Next, channel your communication efforts through the lens of CoreVal™ alignment. By establishing a shared foundation rooted in agreed-upon values, you can defuse potentially challenging conversations surrounding accountability. This approach is particularly pertinent to remote and hybrid settings, where clear and consistent communication is paramount.
An invaluable tool for facilitating such conversations is Catch & Correct™. This technique harnesses your core values as an impartial benchmark whenever an employee's actions deviate from the organization's established values. Quick acknowledgment and resolution of such instances not only curbs their escalation but also prevents them from evolving into more substantial concerns for either the company or the associate. This method is especially adaptable to remote work scenarios, where proactive intervention is crucial.
Equally significant is the practice of acknowledging instances when employees embody your CoreVals™. At The Culture Fix®, we refer to this recognition initiative as the Notice & Nominate™ program. This scheme focuses on spotlighting and appreciating actions that closely align with your CoreVals™. Whether executed on a weekly or monthly basis, this approach encourages team members to nominate their colleagues who exemplify your values. While real-time recognition is encouraged, we also recommend allocating dedicated time in all-staff meetings to collectively celebrate and commend these aligned behaviors and achievements.
Making accountability a habit within your workplace is essential. These strategies are equally effective in hybrid and remote work setups. Like any other initiatives, it's easy to become wrapped up in day-to-day operations. However, by thoughtfully implementing processes and programs, achieving this objective can be seamlessly accomplished. To ensure consistency, pre-schedule your quarterly team meetings, monthly one-on-one sessions, and other recurring interactions to avoid overlooking these pivotal milestones. In the hybrid and remote landscape, proactive planning is the linchpin to sustained accountability and success.
3. Your employees long to belong.
According to a survey by Global Human Capital Trends, 79% of respondents reported that “fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce was important to their organization’s success in the next 12–18 months. 93% agreed that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance.”
While face-to-face interaction seems like the obvious solution, in-office workplace mandates are not a guaranteed solution. And, as previously stated, “employees with flexible work cultures were 57% more likely to say their company culture has improved over the past two years compared to fully in-office associates.”
Belonging begins with culture. According to a Forbes article, which sites research by Coqual, a sense of belonging is rooted in four elements: “1) being seen for your unique contributions; 2) connected to your coworkers; 3) supported in your daily work and career development; and 4) proud of your organization’s values and purpose.”
While corporate leaders may have good intentions in mandating in-office work to fortify company culture, the reality seems to tell a different story. Gallup's data reveals a nuanced preference for flexible work models among professionals, with a majority leaning towards hybrid setups. This trend underlines the growing importance of accommodating individual needs for work-life balance, autonomy, and productivity.
Interestingly, the link between in-office work and employee engagement isn't as strong as one might assume. Contrary to common beliefs, research suggests that flexibility, in the form of remote or hybrid arrangements, can actually contribute positively to company culture.
As we navigate the evolving landscape of work, it's crucial for business leaders to reconsider their approach to company culture. Rather than simply enforcing in-office mandates, a comprehensive strategy that encompasses purpose, accountability, and a sense of belonging can truly cultivate a robust and thriving company culture, regardless of the work arrangement. The future of work is about embracing flexibility while staying grounded in values that foster a strong sense of community and purpose.