Bee Heller
Bee Heller Partner @ The Pioneers
19 May 2020

How to get your company culture ready for a world in which the 9 to 5 is dead

“Workin' 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin, barely gettin' by, it's all takin' and no givin'”

The words to Dolly Parton’s 1980 song ‘9 To 5’ have maintained their relevance to our working lives for far too long. The concept of a 9 to 5 job has been a dominant narrative in society, but it’s been dying for a while now. COVID-19 is finally going to kill it off. If your company wasn’t already some way down the path towards more flexible working, the past two months will no doubt have been a period of serious adjustment.

What’s now clear is that we’re not going back to previous ways of working. Our need to keep people safe means we’re facing long-term changes to the way we work. The good news is that these changes can be hugely positive. COVID-19 is accelerating existing trends around the future of work. For those who embrace the challenge, this crisis provides an opportunity to create a culture that will drive the future success of your business.

At The Pioneers, this is what we believe you should be thinking about… 

People’s perspectives are changing

Life has changed dramatically for everyone recently and this sudden shock to the system has prompted many of us to reconnect with what’s most important in our lives. We’re appreciating nature, savouring our time outside. We’re enjoying spending time with our kids, valuing the opportunity to see them learn and grow every day. We’re missing our friends, recognising that no amount of video calling can replace a hug. We’re treasuring our health, recognising how lucky we are to have it when we do and how important it is to look after it. As we emerge from the peak of this crisis, new priorities are likely to be front and foremost in employees’ minds, and companies will need to respond to this.

But cultural challenges remain

The rapid and enforced move to remote working for everyone has exposed many companies to underlying cultural issues. The office provided a veneer of connectedness and productivity. Take the office away and these companies are struggling. Those that failed to nurture their culture pre-pandemic will find this a more difficult time than ever to try to improve things. If you didn’t trust people to work from home before, you didn’t give people access to appropriate tools and technology and you didn’t communicate effectively, people may view your recent efforts as “you’re only bothering because of the virus”.

How to get your company culture ready for a world in which the 9 to 5 is dead

Those companies that have nurtured their culture are faring much better. Indeed, for many, responding to the changes wrought by the pandemic has provided a single unifying agenda, bringing teams closer together and supporting one another. But from a people perspective, even the good guys are finding that one size does not fit all. Everyone is experiencing this distributed world of work differently – the challenges and benefits of working from home vary significantly, depending on the person and their situation.

So, what can you do now to keep your people feeling connected and your culture strong?

1. Broadcast communication and lots of it.

Regular messaging to your employees really matters right now. You might think that nothing’s changed or that you don’t have much to say to people, but without regular communications, your employees are totally in the dark. Where before they could have picked nuggets of information up on the office grapevine – a quick catch up with a colleague over the coffee machine or a chit chat with someone from another team they used to work in as they passed them in the corridor – now they’re isolated and physically apart from each other. Their only source of company news is what you choose to share with them, or what they pick up from the colleagues with whom they’re maintaining regular contact through virtual team meetings etc.

Receiving regular communication is just as important for furloughed employees. We’ve heard leaders use furloughing as an excuse not to communicate with employees, claiming they’re not allowed to. This is quite simply not true. Furloughed employees can’t work, but they can still do training, and they can definitely still receive communication from their employer. Not to keep this group of employees in the loop and feeling connected to the business is lazy and unfair.

How to get your company culture ready for a world in which the 9 to 5 is dead

There are plenty of examples out there of companies that are maintaining a brilliant schedule of events and communications to maintain regular contact with all employees. From virtual fitness sessions led by company founders and virtual pub quizzes putting teams against each other, to weekly company radio hours, 15-minute coffee breaks online and lunchtime lectures hosted by different internal experts.

If you want to emerge from this crisis with a strong culture – communicate, communicate, communicate!

2. Personalise your employee experience. 

Creating personalised employee experiences was already a big trend in the HR world pre-pandemic. In a distributed world of work where people’s experiences already vary wildly, the need for personalisation is more important than ever.

Technology has suddenly become central to our ability to connect with others and get work done. For younger generations, this reliance on technology is both easy and familiar. Using digital communication platforms to chat back and forth and video calling technology to connect face to face with people comes naturally. For older generations, this shift has been more challenging, placing a strain on their ability to work efficiently and effectively. Working parents have found themselves home-schooling their children while also trying to work full time. People who live alone have gone from having vibrant social lives where their home is a sanctuary of calm to total social isolation. Flat sharers are vying for desk space on a kitchen table. Those with elderly parents or at-risk relatives are taking on extra responsibilities to keep their loved ones shielded.

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"Despite the early rhetoric that this virus was a leveller, it is not affecting everyone in the same way. Putting aside the varying health risks different demographics face, we’re all experiencing the social changes differently as well."

These different groups have different needs right now. The companies that identify and respond to the varying needs and priorities of their different employees will earn themselves more loyalty and trust. Allow parents in families with only one computer to borrow spare company laptops so their children can join their online classes. Set up a virtual social for the office crowd who are missing their regular Friday beers. Provide training on how to use Slack/Zoom/Teams for the people that never really got to grips with it before and tended to rely on email, face to face communication and meetings taking place in the office. Ask after people’s family and how they’re coping. Make it clear it’s perfectly ok for them to go food shopping during the day when the queues are shorter.

If you want to personalise your employee experience, start by identifying different persona groups. Then create solutions that respond to the needs of these different groups.

The way we work has changed for good. It hasn’t changed in the same way for everyone. And where we are right now is far from ideal for the long-term. The office isn’t dead, but it will never be the same again. Now is the perfect time to start discovering different ways of working, building a culture that delivers for your people and your business.

Written by Bee Heller – Partner, The Pioneers.

How to get your company culture ready for a world in which the 9 to 5 is dead

The pioneers help global organisations to re-engineer their people operating systems to create happier teams, clients and investors.

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