In January 2019 Ia Adlercreutz and I wrote about the future of work and how it relates to company culture. Companies may have the right strategy, capital, human capital and relevant data to lead the organisation, but if it does not have a culture that is supporting the strategy, it misses its true potential.
Still in this COVID-19 context, many things have fundamentally changed regarding organisational culture.
In the first phase everybody needed to adapt. It was not only about remote work and applying technology but it was also about protecting the company and its longer-term financial health.
In the second phase, remote work became the norm and at the same time governments started to support the economy via large stimulus measures. In Europe, the EU stimulus package is creating a 750 billion EUR market. Yet, it is only agreed upon in numbers, while the implementation of the package is just being planned.
What does research tell us about the third phase?
In the current moment, new research findings are starting to appear regarding the impact of global distress and remote work on motivation and occupational health. Last week AKAVA – the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland – published a report on how academic workers feel about remote work and COVID-19. The results are especially interesting from an organisational culture’s perspective.
First, the cognitive burden of work fell due to the surge of remote work. This indicates a clear potential for a hybrid work environment and will further pose questions regarding the future of office environments and how to design them.
The second observation from the study is that apathy is growing. People feel disconnected and a critical motivational factor, namely belonging, seems harder to achieve at distance. This creates a tremendous challenge for any organisation.
Interesting is also that many other reports from other countries suggests results in the same direction. For example this article in Forbes. Work from home resulted in productivity going up, but innovation going down.
This creates several questions for leaders to consider.
An accelerating use of technology has certainly happened. Still there is room for improvement of how to use the new technologies in a broader manner than just for meeting online. When the hybrid model is here to stay, we encourage companies to rethink and co-create better work environments in this more digital world. There is un-used potential.
In parallel, companies need to pause and consider carefully the impact of a hybrid work environment for their culture. In a study across Europe done by Microsoft, three aspects stand out for managers to lead hybrid work with intention. The key elements are 1. to empower people, 2. to maintain an open and honest dialogue and 3. to actively protect work/life balance.
The importance of motivation for strong organisational culture
We believe leaders need to put more emphasis into understanding human motivation.
Based on our own experience and insight, we present three key conclusions regarding culture in the current context:
- Growing apathy means that there is a lack of individual and collective motivation in the organisation. People feed on each other’s energy and drive when working and in a strong, purpose-oriented culture people often lift each other up when some members are feeling less motivated, so the risk of apathy is lower. While energy is “catchy” so is apathy. If many members of the organisation are not motivated, the numbers of those who prefer to “check out” and do the bare minimum will grow. Humans influence other humans.
- The rise of productivity and the diminishing of innovation is another signal that people are not operating at their full potential. Routine tasks done well in the absence of creativity and innovation will stall the development of the organisation and its ability to respond in an agile manner in times of transition.
- Leaders need support to understand culture and nurture the motivation and creativity of their people. Leaders are key in driving the culture forward. They are the guiding force and energy that inspires the rest of the organisation. However, this task is a challenging one, as leaders are confronted with constant shifts in the market and within the company.
A way forward
The success of a business or any organisation is directly impacted by its culture. This means that the ways in which people work together, as well as the energy and the drive they bring into what they do on a daily basis, make a substantial difference to the life of an organisation and its bottom line. Yet only a few organisations treat culture as a strategic issue and enable it to reach its full potential. More businesses would follow, but they find culture hard to define and even harder to steer.
We believe that in the current phase of the pandemic and the new realities of work, more emphasis needs to be put into understanding human motivation and how to nurture it. By tapping into what deeply motivates people and bringing these motivations to life, organisations can revive their culture and smooth the transition to the new era of work.
While each culture is unique, there is something that manifests itself in every successful organisation – people solve difficult problems together with a common purpose. At Co-founders we have developed new, innovative methods to understand and support motivation at an individual, team and organisational level.
Now, when the ground beneath us is shaking, we would like to help your people to feel safe and supported to develop their skills that are needed in the new era of work. To unleash their full potential.
Featured photo: Maksym Kaharlytsky for Unsplash.