Culture via Slack

Navigating the disruption of work: Culture comes first

As remote work settles in as the new normal, culture is even more important than before, and should be made a top priority for any successful company

El equipo de Slack8 de marzo de 2021

This is the final installment of a five-part conversation about how work is changing, why it’s changing, and what the people who lead companies and teams can do about it. We hope it spurs some new ideas for your organization, and we invite you to share those ideas with us on the Slack Twitter feed (@SlackHQ).

The pandemic illuminated it for all to see: The businesses with strong cultures aligned around clear values are faring better, pivoting faster, and emerging in better shape.

While it’s true that a strong culture was always a good predictor of success, the importance of culture rises in a world of dramatic change and uncertainty, a world where distributed work is the norm. Leaders are now seeing the power of culture in action—or the drag of a misaligned or dysfunctional culture.

The culture acceleration is on, but creating and feeding a strong culture in a world of remote work is a real challenge that all managers are currently unpacking. Today, culture isn’t just an HR issue. It’s a boardroom and HR and every-line-of-business issue.

“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core that you don’t even think of it as culture.”

Brittany ForsythSVP of HR, Shopify

Read the full guide on Navigating the Disruption of Work here.

The next normal: Culture moves to the top of the boardroom agenda

The companies we admire most make culture seem effortless, as if it were just an inevitable result of strong leadership and mindful hiring. But look under the surface and you’ll always find that great cultures are actively and consciously designed, built and maintained. Great cultures come from investing in culture.

With the rise of remote work, many leaders we’ve talked to are more concerned about preserving and evolving their culture than any other issue. As the next normal emerges, they’re discovering new ways to create and transmit culture. For many companies, like the Australia-based analytics platform Culture Amp, it’s prioritized in Slack from the inside out.

To accelerate your own cultural transformation, consider concrete steps to make progress on these issues:

  • Psychological safety: Create an environment where it’s safe to share ideas
  • Experimentation: Build a culture that finds out by trying; one that’s OK with the right kinds of failure and even celebrates mistakes
  • Autonomy: Push decision-making out from the center; let culture and values guide decision-making instead of explicit rule books
  • Diversity: Discover the magic that happens when you combine people with different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences

Of course, culture is far more than this, but we’re seeing more emphasis on these fronts.

“Culture guides discretionary behaviour. It picks up where the employee handbook leaves off.”

Frances Frei and Anne MorrissHarvard Business Review

The next imperative: Invest in culture

Just as every company culture is unique, every company’s cultural acceleration is different too. But a handful of issues are bubbling up a lot more in our conversations with customers and other business leaders. It’s time to invest in:

Employee experience (EX)
Always a critical driver of success, EX is taking new forms that don’t depend on everyone being in the office. And the lip service paid to “work-life balance” is starting to turn into real action.

Continuous feedback
It used to be OK to measure engagement by walking around or to confine performance reviews to an annual sit-down. That’s changing fast, and it’s fueling a boom in engagement apps and continuous-feedback platforms.

Employee-driven learning and development
As we decentralize, we’re seeing learning programs evolve from “how to do” content toward “how to think” content. Soft skills, informal micro-learning and self-guided careers are all accelerating.

Remote hiring and the global talent pool
Distributed work dramatically expands your potential talent pool—but you’ll need to master remote hiring and creating a great candidate experience.

Distributed culture vectors
Culture doesn’t just happen in meetings, over lunch and by the watercooler. For example, we’re seeing a huge rise in engagement in Slack channels that are essentially culture carriers (everything from #ceo_ama and #parenting_from_home to #lgbt_forum and #podcast_recos).

When the pandemic lockdown started, Culture Amp founder and CEO Didier Elzinga began hosting a two-minute video in Slack every workday, which he continued for the first eight weeks. “I also started a #ceo channel on Slack, where I [shared] this video every day—just observations, what’s going on, how we’re going, how we’re tracking against plan,” he says. “It took the pandemic to trigger this kind of openness, but the advantages apply in every context.”

Unconscious biases, exposed

For alert leaders, the pandemic exposed a lot of biases we didn’t even know we had. When you can see the extra pressures of parenting while working full time, or being a caregiver, or living in challenging conditions, it’s harder to ignore them as employee-experience issues.

The impact of “presenteeism” and favoring people who work in HQ over remote workers has also risen to the surface.

Samuel Stern, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, identified three big benefits of great employee experience:

  • Better business results from better work performance and more discretionary effort from employees.
  • Lower employee turnover and reduced recruitment costs. Starbucks estimates that it saves $1.7 million for each 1% reduction in turnover.
  • Better customer experience: A 2016 Yale study showed that employee engagement had a significant impact on net promoter score (NPS) for a car rental company.

On cognitive diversity

A striking dimension of post-pandemic conversations about work is a growing awareness of the value of cognitive diversity: Different people have different ways of thinking. While often oversimplified to being about “introverts” and “extroverts,” the reality is far more nuanced.

The important thing is that the rapid shift to distributed work has shown leaders that different work modes advantage and disadvantage people differently. For example,

  • People who may not shine in a live meeting may prove to be absolute superstars in messaging channels
  • People who hate “brainstorming” may be the best contributors in a “brainwriting” session
  • People who love Zoom are no better than people who hate it; they’re just different

At Slack, we’ve always known that more introverted people can blossom in the context of a channel-based messaging platform. Today, more leaders are seeing this for themselves, and they’re pushing for more cognitively diverse teams and new collaboration options to support them.

For example, at Twitter’s first virtual all-hands meeting, involvement skyrocketed among employees who had been reluctant to ask questions in front of a crowd. “It engaged the people who weren’t as comfortable approaching a mic,” says Jennifer Christie, Twitter’s vice president of people.

“As of today, Shopify is a digital-by-default company. We will keep our offices closed until 2021 so that we can rework them for this new reality. And after that, most will permanently work remotely. Office-centricity is over.”

Tobi LütkeCEO, Shopify, May 2020

All in all: Five ways to move forward faster

We’re convinced that these accelerations are five of the most important things every business should be focusing on right now.

Acceleration 1: The age of the office is ending
Acceleration 2: Agility is the new scale
Acceleration 3: The rise of openness
Acceleration 4: The last gasps of analog work
Acceleration 5: Culture comes first

They all came out of the conversations we’re having with our customers and with other business leaders whom we admire. None of them was created by the pandemic, but all of them have been dramatically accelerated by it. Some of the accelerations may resonate with you more than others. Some may take more work than others to get your company up to speed.

But one thing is clear: Work is changing faster today than it ever has. We believe the winners in every market will be the companies that best understand the changing shape of work, let go of legacy thinking, and fully embrace the opportunities created by “the next normal.”

We hope you’re one of these companies. And we’d love to help you make the change.

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