Business Culture Connected 2023: Why is it important how and where we work?

Sophie Grant, Principal Strategy Consultant Culture, Workplace strategy

Business Culture Connected exists to share outstanding business culture insights that accelerate organisational performance. It’s a day of learning and connection with a focus on how to create and sustain a positive and purposeful culture in business.

In November, Principal Strategy Consultant, Sophie Grant, joined Lisa Massey, HR Director from SOCOTEC, and Kerry Taylor-Smith, People Director at Spirit Health in a discussion chaired by Jihan Ahmed, Head of Employer Brand at Personio. The panel delved into the employee experience, exploring topics that range from hybrid work to employee engagement and DEI. Here’s what they had to say.

Q1: What do you think are the key factors influencing where and how people are choosing to work today, and how do you see that evolving?

Lisa: In today’s world, the economic climate plays a huge part in the decisions people make about where they work and why. One of our biggest challenges at SOCOTEC was the attrition of talent and that was really impacting on financial performance. So, we looked at the different ways we could encourage people to stay at the company and identified the working environment was a problem. We invested in making the workplace a better experience. If you want to encourage people to come into the office regularly you have to invest in it.

Kerri: It’s about embracing transformation and connecting it to purpose. We’ve done a lot of work to make our workspace more meaningful, establishing the company culture and understanding individual core values. What’s working? What isn’t working? What’s important to you as a person and does it align with the business’ values? Now we really know the business needs and the individual needs.

Sophie: Lots of it can be boiled down to human behaviour and human nature. A huge factor is how our interests change over time. Think about when your interest is sparked by a new product. Eventually, interest plateaus, wanes and dips, like a buying cycle. This can also be applied to our relationships. If we don’t invest in our relationships, then we drift apart. The same thing can be applied to workplace and work. How are you maintaining interest in the workplace? It’s our job as workplace thinkers and makers to help to flatten that curve, to create spaces where that interest is maintained, and where people want to come back to time and time again.

Q2: Have you seen any organisations try something new and do something special with the workplace?

Sophie: At the moment, there’s lots of noise around curating experiences. For me, it’s important to not to target short-term interest. We talk to businesses about strategic, long-term thinking when creating interest. You can create a beer tap, but it’s not enough to sustain interest in the long term. What sustains interest is having choice in the spaces you can interact with in a dynamic, flexible environment.

Lisa: What keeps people coming back day after day is not your working practices, but the people you work with and the community you create - that’s culture. A key element is the investment you make in your managers to be good at their job. To recognise that every person they interact with needs something different is really important to be those shape shifters every business needs.

Q3: We’ve spoken about listening to your employees, and what brings purpose. How are working environments and practices affecting your company culture and employee engagement?

Kerri: When you come to a Spirit Health office there’s a buzz and you can feel it. We use it as a recruitment tool. When people come in, we ask them to walk around and talk to people. Now, I think the culture is stronger than ever. We’ve increased our headcount by about 5% and have done a lot of work around purpose and alignment. We listen to employees a lot. We speak to people when they start, we have pulse surveys, we have conversations to reflect and report back on the culture. If you’re truly people-centric, it’s all about listening to your employees.

Sophie: Regardless of environment, practice or policy, the thing that will have the biggest impact on your engagement is the way you communicate. Time and time again, we speak to organisations who seem to have forgotten how important communication is. Any type of workplace transformation represents a type of change, and change is hard. In fact, social change triggers the same response in our brain as physical pain. Communication can be broken down into three parts:

The motivation - Have you given people your ‘why’ message? Your leaders might understand the purpose behind the change, but it’s much harder to filter that message evenly across the company.

The ability - Have you put the tools and techniques in place that will allow people to make the change you’ve asked them to?

The trigger – Why should people care now, rather than in 6- or 12-months’ time?

Only 11% of the workforce feel engaged and thriving at work. Why don’t the further 89% feel engaged? If we examined it closely, I think lots of it would come down to a lack of communication.

Lisa: Traditional measures like absence levels used to be reliable measures of engagement. Today it’s not like that because people can work from home. Consider other KPIs that will help you to understand levels of engagement, like rate of turnover. How much of that is due to the wider economic versus how much of that is because we’re good at engaging with employees or implementing a successful people strategy?

Q4: How do you influence those who feel inclined to hang onto the pre-covid ways of working?

Lisa: It has to be done for the commercial benefits of the business. We realised that adopting hybrid working would mean we would prosper as a business as we could attract the best talent. Don’t do things for the sake of it, do what’s best for the business.

Kerri: Less important is where we work but how. There’s a myth that when we work in a hybrid fashion, we never come into the office. Is the default a Teams call? Does that always align with what we are trying to achieve? It’s important to pause and think, ‘Do I need to collaborate or do I need focus time’? Am I better going into the office to brainstorm, or do I need to work alone to analyse data?

Q5: How have you maintained interest in the office?

Lisa: Events that help bring people together or to be social help, especially when they are driven by individuals based on their own passions in life.

Kerri: For me, it’s about making sure people have access to the environment they need when they come into the office. A space to support what people need to do.

Sophie: Have people got the tools they need to do the job they’ve been paid to do?

Q6: How do you achieve equity in the workplace?

Lisa: Listening to what people need and want in their job is a good place to start. Different roles and requirements mean that equality isn’t always possible, but you can still support the different needs of individuals to achieve equity.

Sophie: This lends itself to the DEI conversation, that’s to say Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I think the terms are the wrong way around, and it would be useful to describe it as Inclusivity, Equity and Diversity instead. If you build an inclusive environment, then diversity and equity will follow.

Kerri: It’s important to consider what you can do to recognise people. How can you show appreciation and that the business values what individuals do?

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