Why workplace culture matters more than ever

7 May, 2020

Many practices had to scrabble to adapt to remote working. First, it was ensuring that everyone had the technology. Then it was learning how to use it effectively. But now practices are realising they also need to maintain a workplace culture if they’re to expect the same loyalty from employees post-lockdown.

Pre- Covid, downtime with colleagues was seen as essential as a way of attracting and keeping staff, from work drinks to yoga sessions, trips to see new buildings and charity bike rides – let alone the endless networking events.

But after six weeks practices are having to find ways to fill the gaps.

Some, including Wright & Wright and Tonkin Liu are running regular sketch clubs, others like Walters & Cohen are having weekly quizzes or, like Knight Architects having Friday evening drinks. But whatever it is, the aim is to bring people together at a time when they are isolated.

Lucy Keens of Walters & Cohen says: “We’ve managed to keep our spirits up and replicate the rhythms of the office with morning coffee breaks, a place to chat and swap cultural tips on Teams, Friday night drinks and an office quiz”.

Some of us are also finding our own internal mute buttons on a meditation and wellbeing course run by former clients from the London Buddhist Centre.”

Of course, positive work culture doesn’t exist just in extra-curricular activities; it is work culture, after all. So how can practices adapt their day-to-day activities to a more digital world?

Technology solutions are paramount (as we discussed here), but it’s also about creating a digital culture as well. It is useless to expect employees to simply copy and paste their normal work habits into remote working and expect the same results.

I have seen some companies set clear rules for how online meetings should be managed. Digiday has a wonderful summary of Zoom “etiquette” here. 

Another simple, yet effective, example we’ve noticed is where weekly team meetings now have a dedicated section where people can honestly talk about their challenges throughout this time. Practice leaders need to foster trust for this to work, but giving employees a way to vent, and recognising the emotive side of remote working, can be an important way of helping everyone feel heard.

Finally, practices can use this opportunity to come together for a cause. Wright & Wright are donating their daily food allowance to The Trussell Trust, as well as doing a charity relay race. Lots of practices have thrown themselves into making face masks and PPE.

But we’re also hearing multiple stories of employees being coerced into returning to the office early. The justification has been that work is not getting done, and that certain elements have become more difficult.

Yet what this actually suggests is that some practices have tried to shift to online working rather than rethinking how they can achieve the same results in the new, online, medium.

They are also putting employees at risk if they’re expecting them to return to work without a proper plan in place, for example talking to staff who have child or care responsibilities and knowing staff’s travel arrangements so the need for public transport can be reduced.

Practices who have been unable to adapt to remote working and can’t guarantee to protect the health and wellbeing of staff suggests they never will. But going back to how life was before will not be enough – the workplace has changed too much.

Ben Storey is Archiboo’s marketing director and based in Amsterdam.

How is your practice adapting to remote working and how is it maintaining a positive work culture? Please do send your stories to [email protected] and we’ll pick the best ones for a follow up article.