Pandemic and Beyond: How Workplace Culture is Transforming for the Better

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The workplace culture has moved to the home. Social interactions and watercooler conversations that provide off-the-cuff inspiration have disappeared. For organizations with global teams, visa and entry restrictions have decreased opportunities to travel and interact with people in-person. On the face of it, the pandemic appears to be an inhibitor of organizational culture.

However, many organizations managed to win on the culture during the pandemic. Effective leaders understood their teams’ concerns and found ways to engage and motivate them by clearly and thoroughly communicating important goals and information. Technology made it easy to connect with team members, no matter where they are located. Health, safety, and well-being of their employees as well as their families became a top priority for leaders. According to a Deloitte- MIT Sloan study, 72 percent of organisations reported adopting a largely humane approach to deal with the crisis. MIT Sloan also analysed Glassdoor data to find that employees gave leadership high score for communication and integrity in the first six months of the pandemic.

study from Quartz and Qualtrics found that organizational culture had improved during the pandemic. 37% of the 2,100 participants felt their company culture had improved since the pandemic. 52% felt more purposeful in their work since the beginning of the virus outbreak. Let’s look at some of the major factors that led this change.

A level playing field

In a research project called Project Aristotle, Google found that the most collaborative teams are the ones where everyone speaks equally and often interacts with each other. Most GCC leaders agree to the fact that the pandemic has created a level playing field for all employees. Before the pandemic, employees sitting around the table were at a distinct advantage as they listened and perceived body language in a natural way. The remote attendees were handicapped in trying to catch everything and interject gracefully. Today, everyone’s dialled in and everyone’s equal.

According to Hari Vasudev, Country Head and SVP of Technology at Walmart Labs India, a virtual environment makes everyone comfortable to speak up, making way for new ideas to take root.

A burst of technology innovation

In a matter of months, the pandemic brought about years of change in the way organizations across sectors and regions do business. According to a McKinsey Global Survey of executives, their companies have accelerated the digitization plan by three to four years. Disruptions like the pandemic are adrenaline for innovation. Organizations that promote a culture of innovation and maintain a through-cycle perspective emerge from the pandemic stronger. Similarly, innovation that pivots products and services to new customer priorities should be a key ingredient of the COVID-19 exit strategy.

Case in Point: Lowe’s India

The pandemic kicked off a wave of home renovation activity, with everyone staying home. This resulted in unprecedented growth in online sales for Lowe’s, higher than the Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The technology and business teams at the India GCC could quickly pivot and build capabilities required to support such exponential growth. The team also built new innovations to make the customers and associates feel comfortable and safe during the pandemic. Thus, while fast-tracking the existing projects, the GCC was also able to develop solutions that was not part of their original roadmap.

“We have seen significant surge in the work coming from the HQ to India team. It is because the GCC team has shown tremendous maturity both in terms of ability to manage more and deliver exceptional quality work. Lowe’s India has become an innovation hub that accelerates the experiences the customers expect today and develop the capabilities that will power tomorrow,” says Ankur Mittal, SVP Technology, and MD at Lowe’s India.

Surviving disruption through agility

An agile culture enables an organization to turn market disruption into a competitive advantage while thriving in complex environments. Any company that has attained business agility is able to adapt their structures to rapidly deliver products or services, innovate beyond market changes, and grow leaders who can effectively support all of this. Although start-ups have an advantage over larger organizations when it comes to adapting to changes quickly, the pandemic has prompted GCCs to collaborate with startups to stay agile. One of the key advantages of working with startups is that GCCs can focus on their core business while the startups offer support with bringing in cutting edge technology and creating a positive agile culture.

“Quite often, corporate organisations are not used to delivering with the agility that startups are used to. So finding a business problem and opening it up for startups to come in and pitch ideas on how they could solve it will not only give you potentially great answers but also demonstrates to the in-house team agile ways of working in action.,” says Paul Coby, Group CIO, Johnson Matthey.

Doubling down on business resilience

The pandemic was a wake-up call. To thrive in the post-pandemic world, organizations must develop resilience—the ability to stay strong on the face of a crisis or change and then to emerge stronger. According to the 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report, organizations that prepare in advance for disruption—whether it’s a slow-rising tide or a sudden overwhelming surge—are more likely to adapt, rebound and endure. According to the report, “more than 80% of CXOs who said their organizations have done very well cultivating resilient cultures also said they are doing well weathering the events of 2020.”

Resilient GCCs adapted to remote working quickly, kept employees safe and took actions to maintain trust between leaders and employees. “Develop resilience” is easily said than done, however, organizations with a balanced focus on financials, operations, technology, organization, reputation, and business model will come out of the pandemic in flying colours.

Corporate culture is not just an indicator of the company’s relation with its employees, but it is also a crucial point where organizations can make significant improvements in their ways of working. As COVID-19 has reset major work trends, organizations need to rethink workforce planning, management, performance and experience strategies. For employees, work-life balance, flexibility and mental health are top priorities as they look to their employers for certainty about the new normal.

eBook: The GCC leaders’ guide to building a strong workplace culture

As we brace for the future of work, a culture and leadership mindset fostering agility, collaboration, innovation and empathy will be the key imperative for the C-suite. ANSR’s e-book contains testimonials, case studies and success stories from GCCs that upheld their culture even in challenging times.

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