Will Flex Work Change My Culture?
By Madison Hanscom, Ph.D.
As many businesses are considering (or have already decided) moving some employees to a permanent telework model after the COVID-19 outbreak, the question comes up often — What does this mean for the culture? A company’s culture is composed of the beliefs, assumptions, norms, and core values that the members hold (Schein, 1985). The people are your culture - so any major change in how people work within your company has the potential to change the culture - for better or for worse.
So, yes, the culture can change when entering a more flexible environment. Though the extent to which the culture will change depends on several factors. For example, how large is the change? If the company is moving to a 100% remote model, this will have different implications than if moving to a 50% telework model. How strong was the culture to begin with? If the company had a very distinct culture to begin with —composed of a great deal of specific statements, symbols, rituals, activities, and expectations — this will have different implications from a company that had a weak culture to begin with. If a culture was very strong and distinct, it will take more work to sustain that culture when transitioning to a Flex Work model (2).
It simply is easier to build a strong culture when people are all in the same place at the same time each day. There are ample opportunities to tell stories, reinforce behavior, establish norms, and correct wrong assumptions when you’re surrounded by others in an office. However, flexible work has great benefits for employees (3) and employers (4) alike, so it is worth considering taking the transition and having a culture change plan.
Although the culture is likely to change, this doesn’t have to be negative. Consider which components of the culture are highly successful — retain those aspects in the remote environment. Was a hallmark of the culture the collaborative nature? Keep bringing people together to reinforce that value. Limited by travel in a remote environment? Host virtual lunches, happy hours, trivia games, virtual birthday parties (send them a cake!), or buddy calls.
Also, consider which components of the culture can be improved — develop a strategy to build those opportunities into improved, refreshed norms that align with the new flexible model of work.
The idea is to be intentional. The culture will not change for the better or be sustained if employees are just given laptops and told to work from home. This should be carefully orchestrated to be successful. Employees cannot be expected to adjust immediately, establish new norms where needed, understand new performance expirations, and so on. These need to be created, explained, and reinforced on a regular basis until the transition is the new normal.
At Propulo Consulting, we partner with you to improve the world of work. Our team has the expertise to help your business implement a sensible Flex Work strategy without pain. We work with you to ensure your company culture and processes develop accordingly during or after a Flex Work transition so you can continue to deliver results for your organization and customers. Please visit our website for the latest insights and research into flexible work.
(1) Schein, E. H. (1985). Defining organizational culture. Classics of organization theory, 3(1), 490-502.
(2) Standen, P. (2000). Organizational culture and telework. Managing telework. Perspectives from Human Resource Management and Work Psychology, 31-42.