One of the best changes is the shared understanding of how important connection is, after being locked down away from each other. Sure, in some ways it’s great to not have to commute etc, but your circle of influence is limited – getting back on the bus with locals, talking to the local barista and other colleagues ad hoc is actually good fun, and healthy.

The new emphasis of shared understanding and appreciation is having an influence on culture because culture conversations have matured quickly. More than speaking about our engagement score, we are now talking about what our work community feels like, who wants to be here and why do they want to be here, and what we can do about that.

What are the factors that really matter?

Through the rush of jargon that’s been ‘the great resignation’ and ‘the great regret’, organisations are now seeking information, understanding and insight into what’s important for building connection and community.

I’m often asked about the sharing of food and connection, and it’s a great idea. Perhaps not take away for lunch, per se, but offering a healthy start to the day.

Offering breakfast when staff arrive is great, and people can gather and connect and have a chat over a bowl of muesli and coffee. Once a week, on a Monday even, so there’s talk about what everyone did over the weekend, is a great start to the week.

Businesses need to embrace their culture and people. The best organisations know that it’s not about tricks and perks, it’s about investment in the culture and community of their brand. Teams and individuals need to experience good relationships, agency to perform, accountability in their jobs, and the freedom to look after themselves. Adding value for your people promotes value in their relationship with your brand.

I’ve seen an interesting development recently. We have around 70 per cent of our work coming through from company boards and executive teams, outside of the traditional HR pipelines. While HR is prominent, it’s top tier management now saying they don’t have the information they need to understand culture and what good culture looks like, and they need a way to measure it.

It means that culture is important to the executive team. They want the right culture that attracts the right people to do the work they’re doing with their customers and clients. It needs to be mapped, to understand the best possible culture for the brand, the business and the teams.

So, the questions that need to be asked are:

  • Has your business got really purposeful work that is worth doing and important to people?
  • Have you got good relationships where you’ve got each other’s back?
  • Do my employees have the agency or freedom to do their job, look after themselves, and be comfortable that it’s working well for their life and their lifestyle?
  • Do they have the accountability to feel they are valued, and contributing to their teams and the business?

Those factors – what we call the big four – really drive great culture. If organisations can identify those things, collate data on those factors, they can understand and realise a great culture for the business.

Then, it’s imperative to consider the hygiene factor of psychological safety as they regroup and reframe their culture.

  • Is this place fair?
  • Can employees ask for help when they need it?
  • Can they help their colleagues?
  • Can someone be confident to make a mistake and recover from it?

It’s an important factor. Fairness and safety are critical to all of us post pandemic; not having this will detract from any ‘good’ culture you’ve established within the business.

Changing mindsets

Many people ask me how to get people that are in work from home and hybrid status back into the office, and the answer is simple. Short of taking them to court, you can’t. Nor should you try. Who wants to be forced into anything that doesn’t work for them?

The leader’s role is to create a culture and community that people want to be part of and invite them back in a way that works for the individual and the business; to create a space and environment where everybody can thrive.

Consider the coffee and granola situation and creating value through a precinct community beyond your walls. Supporting businesses near the office is a great way to add to the community mentality. Offer an account at the local cafe so your team members have the freedom to get up, go for a short stretch of the legs, grab a cup of great coffee from a nice barista, say ‘happy to see you’, and bring it back to the desk.

As a culture professional, I see this time as exciting. We’ve been waiting for people to understand connection and culture, and the impact that we can have on each other every single day. We know this is an opportunity to change the way we work, change the way we lead, and think differently about how we operate now and moving forward.

Culture in the workplace needs to be embraced and enabled at the strategy level, because the plan for the business should be about the people and culture that enables that strategy to play out. This can have a massive impact on the working lives of everyone we work with.

Rhonda Brighton-Hall is the CEO and Founder of mwah. Making Work Absolutely Human, and a former director of AHRI.