The past year has seen a massive shift in how work gets done around the world. As a result, organizational performance and workplace culture have become mission-critical issues that are now top of mind for every business leader. I’ve mentored dozens of professionals during my nearly 30-year career about organizational performance and workplace culture. I find that although each situation is unique, the techniques to solve a problem often fall into one of three categories: communication, communication, and communication. Learning how to interact, speak, listen, and network is an important component of navigating the professional workspace. Just about every disagreement among coworkers can be traced to some form of communication misstep.
Culture and Communication
Communication is couched in the office culture. In other words, how you communicate is a function of the expectations of those you work with. In some settings, brashness, boldness, and blunt communication are celebrated, and in other settings, collaboration, congeniality, and caring are heralded. The key is to understand that culture eats strategy for lunch; your best intentions can be mired if you don’t properly understand workplace dynamics.
New Jobs Means New Workplace Rules
For some, this past year has been a year of opportunity. In May 2021, the U.S. economy added 559,000 new jobs, which was double the amount in April. In addition, the unemployment rate fell to 5.8%—the first time it has dropped below 6% since the pandemic started. As a result, people are leaving positions in search of better opportunities. Many employers are reporting difficulties hiring qualified applicants, and some seasonal employers have resorted to providing incentives to hire temporary workers, like allowing pets at work, providing profit shares, and morale boosters such as team member of the month.
Success in the Workplace
However, getting the job is one thing, but becoming successful in the new role is quite another. According to Hays Recruiting, there are a number of skills that have to be mastered in the workplace, including:
- Understand your employer’s expectations, and make sure you understand your company’s culture. Your cultural “fit” with the organization and your working relationship with your supervisor or manager are very important.
- Have a positive attitude. Whether things are going well or badly, always maintain a balanced viewpoint, and resist the urge to complain to coworkers about your boss.
- Be a team player. Those willing to set aside their personal goals for the overall goals of the department or company are valued by organizations.
- Be willing to take on extra duties. Whether it’s overseeing a major new project or offering to learn a new system, always volunteer for extra responsibilities.
- Don’t gossip. Stay focused on the positive, and avoid sharing sensitive personal or departmental information with your coworkers.
- Be considerate. Whether or not you’re sharing a tight working space, respect shared office space by keeping your voice at an appropriate level on the phone and in person.
- Personal business on company technology. Most companies monitor employee usage of technology, so skip the personal e-mails and text messages.
- Be on time. Most employers are prepared to be flexible, and each environment has its own rules on timekeeping. Find out what they are, and stick to them.
- Meet deadlines, and keep your word. If you miss a deadline, it may have a knock-on effect throughout your company.
Returning to Work
As employers start bringing people back to the office, the culture of the office will be reexamined. The pandemic has changed some of the antiquated notions of a productive workplace, as workers combined work and home responsibilities over the past 15 months. When culture eats strategy for lunch, it also means that a reexamination of a productive workplace is needed. Here are some tips to rethink the culture in your workplace:
- Rethink the definition of culture. Is the culture of the office long hours, endless meetings, strict deadlines, and little recognition? If so, you may see employees venturing off to find more accommodating workplace offerings.
- People are key to creating culture. The culture of the office is based on the employees, and personalities are key to developing a warm and inviting workplace.
- Culture extends beyond the boardroom. As we’ve witnessed over the past 15 months, workplace culture includes home culture and how well both mix. Although employees have reported higher productivity rates while working from home, workers also mixed home activities like monitoring kids, preparing meals, and completing household chores in between work-related activities.
- Building trust takes time. Employers can build trust by removing many of the in-person requirements in the workplace. This includes flex time for arrival/departure, replacing unnecessary meetings with e-mail correspondence, providing workplace amenities, and giving employees the autonomy to lead and execute tasks without micromanaging.
- Replace hierarchy with collaboration. Rank-and-file workplaces often have several layers of bureaucracy that can hinder productivity. Rethink the workplace environment by providing access to key decision-makers in a timely manner.
- Prioritize results, not work hours. In most workplaces, your salary is a reflection of the hours you work. Employees are expected to show up at a certain time and work 8–10 continuous hours for 5 consecutive workdays. Rethinking office culture means focusing on the results, not the process. This means team members can work intermittently, during nonpeak hours, and on the weekend if needed. It also means having a flexible telework policy.
- Work/life balance should be prioritized. Conversations with employees will tell employers what matters to each individual, and the company should provide flexible means to enable successes in and out of the workplace. This could include providing parental flexibilities and allowing employees to enroll in academic courses.
So what’s the best strategy for building a formidable workplace culture? There’s no one answer, but questions should begin with the employer; promote inclusivity, engage employees, and collaboratively work to instill a productive work environment.
Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd-Wyatt is Professor, Transportation & Logistics, at American Public University System. Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd-Wyatt, PMP, CLTD, is a trailblazer, an advocate, and a renowned expert in transportation, logistics, and supply chain management. She has nearly 30 years of experience leading, teaching, advising, and mentoring students. Her skill set as an instructor includes designing, developing, and facilitating courses for both undergraduate and graduate students.