Published on in Reshaping BusinessDigital Transformation

Workplace culture.  Two very simple words, but a complicated concept.  Fostering a positive culture is a challenge at the best of times, let alone when under the intensified circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. I had the honour of participating in a Dublin Chamber Leaders Series event focusing on this topic, and the discussion was both illuminating and thought-provoking.

We are all acutely aware of how hard the last 15 months have been and how we have all needed to adapt. For those of us who are fortunate enough to be asked to lead our businesses, at the heart of this adaptation is our most important asset – our people. Our staff have been at the coalface since the pandemic began and we can learn a lot from listening to them. More than anything, what I’ve learned from them is that everyone’s experience is unique.

While many have experienced huge challenges, others have enjoyed the freedom which comes from not being tied to a rigid working time and place and even being able to re-order their working week. As employers, we need to not only recognise this, but react to it and seek to create structures for what work will look like once the necessary restrictions are lifted.

To inform our thinking and aligned to our Work Life Shift campaign, Fujitsu Ireland conducted some research recently in Ireland in terms of people’s experiences and expectations of remote working and our research suggests the following:

  • A majority of people – around 8 in 10 office workers – want a hybrid model of working but it’s not so straightforward that you can just tell people to work from home when they want.
  • 50% of respondents would consider relocating (within Ireland) for quality of life or cost reasons, however,
  • 2 in 3 workers say lack of interaction with colleagues in the biggest challenge of long term WFH; and
  • 1 in 3 are worried about career progression (a case of out of sight, out of mind when it comes to promotion)

Our own research was borne out by data presented by our guest speaker, culture expert Bruce Daisley, who pointed out that surveys across the board have found the same thing – productivity is increased by working from home and that a clear majority of people want to continue doing so on more than just a tokenistic basis – in other words, most employees will not accept a rigid office-based working life.

So, the 5-day office based week is officially dead.  What does that mean for the office of the future, and specifically workplace culture?  We spend a lot of time and energy defining, cultivating and fostering a positive working culture but how can we make sure we either retain or improve it when we are seeing less of each other?  That isn’t a question that can be answered in the space of a few workshops or brainstorming sessions. It’s going to take time and space, trial and error to figure out, but our discussion certainly suggested some good places to start.  There are some key areas of focus that leaders can concentrate on in order to begin the shift to the new future of work, and to build culture into that from the very foundations:

  • Respect for autonomy – all the data* shows that productivity has increased as a result of WFH. So let us, as employers, accept that allowing people a degree of ownership of how they arrange their work and their working day is a good thing.
  • The power of groups – the businesses who are making people feel connected, making them feel like they are collaborating, that they can still chat informally to the bosses and their colleagues are the ones who are successfully transitioning their culture from the office to home and back to a hybrid model.
  • Trying to recreate your physical office in a virtual space doesn’t work – if you had a team huddle every morning in the office and have continued that over Zoom every day since March of last year, it’s probably time to reassess how much people are actually getting out of it. Not everything that we did in the office needs to be replicated at home.

It’s clear that shifting workplace culture is a big challenge – it’s one we’re grappling with ourselves – but it’s one that businesses need to step up to.  We owe it to our employees and we owe it to ourselves.  Let’s make sure we get it right.

* Data and links to understand Work Reinvented – Eat Sleep Work Repeat

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Tony O'Malley

Tony O’Malley is CEO of Fujitsu Ireland and Chairman of the Fujitsu Ireland Limited board. He is leading the delivery of Fujitsu’s innovative ICT services to the public and private sectors.

As CEO, Tony is committed to creating value for customers and putting into practice Fujitsu’s vision to create a Human Centric Intelligent Society.

He also oversees significant research programmes in Ireland in collaboration with Fujitsu Laboratories Japan, in particular addressing Data Analytics and Healthcare systems for assisted living.

Tony sits on the Dublin Chamber of Commerce Council and is a member of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics Advisory Committee.

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