Silver Lining of the Pandemic: Rethinking Corporate Work Culture
Category: COVID19
November 13, 2020

At Bridgeford, we believe entrepreneurs are a powerful source of positive change.  This change is driven by a small business’s ability to challenge the status quo and disrupt ossified structures inherent in old, large organizations.

In addition to contributing to our clients’ success through our passionate representation, we seek to encourage positive change through the advancement of thought-provoking ideas, particularly ones that relate to transparency, equality and inclusivity in business.  With that in mind, we are sharing guest posts on our blog on these topics.

While we may not agree with all the ideas our guest posters promote, we do encourage that everyone spend some time empathizing with another person’s perspective.

The following is a post from Sarah Johnson, Legal Marketing Guru.  I hope it demonstrates how we can use the disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic as an opportunity to build a better workplace and challenges your perspectives on the traditional notions of corporate culture.

Silver Lining of the Pandemic: Rethinking Corporate Work Culture

By Sarah Johnson

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of the ways we’re doing business – including internal work culture.

Although workplaces each tend to have their own vibe, everyone knows what a corporate work culture looks like.

It’s the “fun” workplace where instead of a better benefits packages, you get occasional happy hours.

You might have a slogan or team song you rally around when you hit goals. It’s the college bro culture “grown up” in the workplace.

What is Work Culture?

Work culture is different across industries and regions. The Society for Human Resource Management defines work culture as:

“The proper way to behave within the organization. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding. Organizational culture sets the context for everything an enterprise does.”

While most corporations vary in their specific rituals and cultural norms, there are some that do hold true across most corporate office environments. You usually have:

  • long and sometimes unnecessary team meetings,
  • team bonding events,
  • the unofficial happy hour,
  • the showmanship of being in the office the earliest or latest,

…to name a few.

While each of these rituals may look different, it’s the same people that are rubbed the wrong way by these cultural norms.

Those who have children, familial responsibilities, health issues or other personal life priorities are frequently less involved with work’s “inner circle” due to lack of attendance or importance placed on these official and unofficial workplace traditions.

The “New Normal”

At the beginning of the pandemic, many CEOs tried to hold on to this last stronghold of the “boys club” masked in team bonding exercises and after-hour events.  They tried to transition to the “new normal” by hosting Zoom happy hours and transitioning rally cries to IMs and Teams messages.

However, most of America was fed up with this. The white male-dominated “corporate work culture” was dying.

As businesses transitioned to work-from-home and flexible hours for employees with kids, it was easier for those who were not in the club to distance themselves from these toxic work environments.

Male coworker harassing you? Ignore their IMs. Team happy hour during work? Optional. Long morning team meetings to “pump everyone up?” Go on mute and get more work done on your desktop.

Long Overdue Industry Changes

I’ve heard this story many times during the course of the pandemic – women and minorities who previously felt ostracized in their white male-dominated workplaces were now happier with their jobs.

They weren’t searching for the next job any more now that they benefit from long-overdue changes and the distance from their presidents and CEOs who chugged toxic corporate work culture Kool-Aid.

Parents were given grace when it came to splitting time between work and managing virtual school for their kids at home. Those with chronic illnesses or disabilities were given the flexibility to work from home and work outside the 9-5 timeframe. Those dealing with mental health issues could sneak away for a therapy session during the workday without the stigma.

Productivity started to be measured by how well you served the clients or how timely/well you got the project done and not by who put in the most hours or sacrificed enough of their personal life for the job.

Work/Life Balance

Everyone had a hardship they were going through during those beginning months of shelter-in-place orders.

The work/life boundary was broken. It was now normal for your mess of a life to be on display – literally and figuratively – via your virtual workplace.

Sure, we all tried to keep up the workplace cultural pretenses at the beginning of the pandemic. Having a clean, quiet workspace, wearing your office clothes, etc.  But now it’s the “new normal” for pets or kids to crash the background of a Zoom meeting. The CEO or high-powered executive is now wearing sweatshirts on team calls. Virtual meetings getting rescheduled because of personal life priorities is understandable.

While it seems that the blurred lines between home and work would ruin or further exacerbate the work/life balance everyone strives for, it turns out this change SAVED it.

Working from home allowed employees to prioritize THEMSELVES over THE JOB.

Creating A Healthier Work Culture

While a company’s original work culture was likely (unintentionally) determined by the personality of early management, the current environment creates a good opportunity for business leaders to reevaluate the explicit and implicit expectations they place on their employees to ensure a healthier work culture for everyone.

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