JWT’s Paul Everson On Creating A Great Workplace Culture To Kickstart The Year

JWT’s Paul Everson On Creating A Great Workplace Culture To Kickstart The Year
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In this guest post, J. Walter Thompson Sydney managing director Paul Everson urges agencies to put culture near the top of their New Year’s resolutions list and consider how it applies to all employees.

Are we still talking about culture? Yes, and I don’t think we should ever stop.

With the workplace landscape changing so fast, we can’t expect a healthy culture to survive and thrive unless it is nurtured and developed. As leaders, I would love to see us start each year by taking a good look at how our culture has evolved over the past 12 months, and where we want it to go, to ensure we are evolving our approach to keep pace with changing ways of working.

But beyond simply providing ‘nice vibes’ in the office and some opportunities for after-work drinks, why should we invest our precious headspace and dwindling resources to build and maintain culture?

It has been proven time and again that culture plays a key role in driving success and motivation. When workplaces everywhere are facing unprecedented challenges in evolving and adapting their businesses, investing in culture delivers results. Research by Deloitte has shown that 94 per cent of executives and 88 per cent of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to a business’ success. Deloitte’s survey also found that 76 per cent of these employees believed that a “clearly defined business strategy” helped create a positive culture.

The question many leaders are asking is: how we can create a sense of culture and community when our teams are under enormous pressure, and increasingly fragmented?

The modern workplace is everywhere and nowhere

We’ve moved well beyond a traditional idea of what employment looks like with the gig economy, the rise of share spaces, growing demand for flexible and remote working arrangements, technology-assisted collaboration with colleagues and clients across the globe. The modern office is everywhere and nowhere, even if your company still maintains a bricks-and-mortar place for employees to congregate. When fragmentation is the new normal, we can’t expect our culture to come along for the ride – we need to actively enfold these new ways of working into the way we embed culture.

The tension comes when you don’t have a regular staff base turning up to the office – why spend time and money running events, providing opportunities for interaction, fostering those ‘nice vibes’ if half your staff aren’t here to enjoy it? And if you’ve already adopted a culture that includes opportunities for flexible working and remote arrangements, haven’t you already made an investment in culture?

If you build it, they will come

Employees can become reluctant to make the trip into the office if they don’t have to, but many of them actually crave the interaction and relationships of their co-workers and peers. Many remote workers report that they feel isolated if their jobs don’t allow opportunities to regularly touch base with their teams in person.

Making remote and flex workers feel included can be as simple as tweaking some of your current approaches, and can make a big impact on how culture is experienced and embraced by all of your employees, regardless of location.

When you have an event coming up, send personalised invitations to any remote workers and take a moment to acknowledge and address how their particular working arrangement can align with them taking part in the event. Even the simple acknowledgement that they may not be able to attend can signify that they are still considered part of the team. You can also get creative and use all that tech you invested heavily in, but no one seems to know how to use. Set up a Google Hangout or a Surface meeting on a big screen and allow them to come and join the event remotely, even just for the speeches or a set time to check in.

Where possible, ask for their input when it comes to planning events or new initiatives to make them feel involved in the development of the culture. Try appointing a remote working rep to sanity check how planned events or initiatives will work for remote workers, part-timers or flexible arrangements, and let them liaise with offsite teams to get a read of how involved – or isolated – they feel.

If remote workers feel like they are part of the team, they will happily make the effort to continue to foster collaboration. They will be more flexible when it comes to planning meetings outside of their local hours if it suits the ‘home office’; they will make more effort to come in to the office; and they will be more engaged with their work, and invested in delivering success for your organisation.

These ideas won’t cost you a lot of time or money, but they can deliver big benefits in terms of engagement, retention and collaboration. In fact, the biggest benefit you’ll receive from investing in culture is that it actually enhances collaboration and drives success – 83 per cent of executives and 84 per cent of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success, and this applies to all employees, not just remote workers.

So, amongst all your business resolutions for the new year, make sure you put culture near the top of your list and take the time to consider how this applies to all your employees, not just the ones you see every day.

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