Unmasking workplace and company culture

Picture of John Denslinger
John Denslinger is a former executive VP Murata, president SyChip Wireless, and president/CEO ECIA, the industry’s trade association. His career spans 40 years in electronics

John Denslinger wonders what post pandemic workplaces will look like given all the data squarely points to hybrid.

A careful look at a CDC demographic shows 62 per cent of the US adult population received at least one vaccine dose as of May 2021 and 50 per cent are now fully vaccinated. CDC guidance suggests vaccinated Americans can forego masks and social distancing: the two biggest impediments to everyday person-to-person interaction. As one would expect, the news generated swift policy changes across the country from state governments to business. America is open again.

Given the steady pace of vaccinations, business leaders must now orchestrate the post Covid employee workplace. Will it be a return to the old-school workplace circa 2019? Will it be a continuation of the 2020 new-school thinking: remote forever? Or will it be a hybrid? If hybrid, who, why, where, when, what conditions, and for how long are the likely questions employees will ask. For executives, the decision is extremely consequential to talent retention, morale, flexibility, inclusivity and bottom-line productivity. Good or bad, it will define the company and its culture.

So here are the numbers to digest. According to a March 2021 KPMG article, 45 per cent of CEOs do not expect ‘normal’ to occur until late 2022. Surprisingly only 30 per cent are considering hybrid working models with most requiring two to three workdays in the office. But the Genie is out of the bottle. Employees may resist if pushed too aggressively to return. Another survey by Gallup reports seven in ten white-collar workers are still working remotely. Forty per cent would like to continue working from home because they prefer it, while another 11 per cent would opt to stay remote citing Covid anxiety.

To be fair, management has legitimate concerns about productivity, worker motivation, spontaneous creativity, employee development, worker dedication and keeping teams engaged in a remote environment. Additionally, how does the company fairly assess and retain its talent pool, safeguard its data and circumvent potential cybersecurity threats? From the employee’s perspective, what about long-term isolation from peers, lack of stimulation, a feeling of invisibility to management, timely tech support, and perceived response indifference. Caregiving responsibilities only serve to complicate matters.

The post Covid workplace model will not be an easy decision for any company. Misjudging employee sentiment could be a disaster. A May 2021 survey by Ernst & Young revealed 90 per cent of employees wanted work rule and workplace flexibility as to when and where they work. More than half said they would consider quitting their jobs absent this flexibility. Also, many workers made life-defining choices during the pandemic: where to live. That stat seems confirmed by Accenture plc who found 83 per cent of workers viewed the hybrid workplace as optimal. If not permitted to work remotely, retaining these employees will be problematic.

Office, remote or hybrid? All the data squarely points to hybrid, but that’s not the end of the story. The new workplace must still assure the organization can deliver on its mission. While each company promotes a unique culture, the successful ones typically expound the virtues and value of agility, innovation, respect and customer focus. If employees can work from anywhere, achieve assigned goals, realize their own potential, be available when/where needed, and deliver on company values, then the hybrid model works for the long term.