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The world of business beyond a pandemic

19 August 2021 The Marathon Group

How workplace culture has and will continue to shift

The rollout of the Covid vaccines to younger South Africans from 01 September is one step closer to some level of normal again in the country. When herd immunity is eventually reached and restrictions are once again relaxed, business leaders will be required to adjust their workplace designs to accommodate shifting cultures and employee expectations.

This is the view of Alwyn Rossouw, CEO of The Marathon Group - a management consultancy and financial services company, who says there has been a dramatic shift to what employees are considering valuable. “While many employers may be eager to bring everyone back into the office, the pandemic and remote working have taught many people that flexibility and a work-life balance matter more than ever before. Workers have found freedom from working a traditional 9-to-5 job.”

A report released by the Harvard Business School indicated that, while adoption of work-from-anywhere in all-remote organisations is likely to increase, as the pandemic winds down, it is likely that hybrid remote arrangements will become the norm at workplaces globally.

Rossouw explains that the pandemic pushed consumers and companies to rapidly adopt new behaviours and methods of working. “From remote work, rapid digital migration, and new social patterns, very little of a pre-Covid workplace environment are the same. It will be important that employers understand that most of these changes will be permanent.”

With new systems, greater flexibility, and general uncertainty about the future, employees won’t be rushing back to the office.

Rossouw points out that as businesses eventually start reopening, it will be essential that leaders connect with their teams to better understand how to restructure their workplace designs.

He explains that employers will also start to find that a new work culture will start to form – a combination of office and remote working behaviours. “Leaders will have to try and find a balance to this. In turn, employees will find that this shift has shown managers why work-life balance is so important, and more importantly how difficult it has been to maintain in an age of constant flux.”

“Part of returning to the office will mean that it will be necessary for employers to find new routines and rhythms to ensure your processes, workflows, structures, meeting formats, roles, and decision-making processes are still relevant and effective,” Rossouw adds.

Rossouw adds that this will also result in greater flexibility, but with the caveat that individuals take far greater levels of accountability for their work and performance. “In turn, this will also mean that there will be less of a command-and-control management and more collaboration, influencing and creative leadership in office environments.”

As more companies adopt hybrid working structures, it will be important to create a fine balance between working from home and in the office. Rossouw says that there are benefits to both, which employers can capitalise on to ensure that employees remain motivated but also productive.

This can be done by allocating tasks between the two. Working from home can work best for relatively independent tasks when knowledge is easily accessible online or can be shared digitally. However, being together matters when tasks are interdependent – which is especially important for sharing tacit knowledge in creative and innovative ways, and coordination needs are not scripted or predictable.

Rossouw says that this balance should be built on the trust that has been created over the last year. “Employees have consistently demonstrated their ability to manage their time and deliver on their work. Business owners should recognise the incredible value in ensuring that the changes to the workplace culture work to preserve the new-found trust that has helped to enable greater empowerment, collaboration, and creativity among employees.”

In his bestselling book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni details the reasons why a healthy organization needs a cohesive leadership team to foster and nourish clarity, direction and motivation to keep moving forward – all of which are needed more important than ever before.

The role of leadership is to direct, align and motivate their teams on a company’s journey from “here” to “there”, he points out. “If a company’s culture has to change to serve its mission better in a post-Covid world, it will be the responsibility of the leadership in a business to make it happen.”

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