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The Future of Work Across Cultures: Key takeaways from our webinar

19th May 2021

On 28 April 2021, Creative Culture’s webinar on the future of work explored new trends in the workplace that are likely to remain part of our lives. Our panellists, Fons Trompenaars, Anique Coffee, Savanna Wilson and Todd Simmons shared their brilliant insights on this topic. Here are the key takeaways.

Cross-cultural and geographic disparities

There is no denying that hybrid working is one of the main trends that have emerged from the pandemic and transformed the corporate world. However, it is worth noting that culture can strongly impact its implementation across countries. While Germany and Finland were quick to legalise remote working in 2020; in Japan, working culture is centred around the expectation that employees should be present in the workplace to demonstrate their loyalty to the company, thus making it more complex to justify and implement remote working. 

Beyond the cultural element, there are also structural and industry driven factors in some countries that make this implementation more challenging. India is a good example of this: although the country is well-known for having a strong financial service and high-tech industry, the vast majority of its workforce, 464 million people, is employed in occupations like retail and agriculture, which cannot be performed remotely. 

To add to this, some emerging countries still do not have the infrastructure or technology that allow people to work in ideal conditions from home or remote locations. Thus, it is fair to say that the hybrid model is likely to be the solution of the future for specific corporate sectors only and predominantly in developed nations.

Is there a corporate culture crisis? 

In a world where remote and hybrid working have become commonplace, and even a necessity in countries which have been through several lockdowns, one can wonder how this change might have impacted corporate culture, and if employees still feel connected in the same way with their company. 

According to our panel, there is a silver lining: corporate culture has certainly been affected throughout the pandemic, but in a way that has allowed it to evolve towards something better. Those who successfully demonstrate authenticity and empathy towards their teams will be sure to attract and retain the best talent and people who share the same values. 

Todd Simmons, Vice President Brand Experience and Design at IBM, put forward the fact that while organisations didn’t have all the answers at the beginning of the pandemic, they were given the opportunity to demonstrate they were resourceful and could make the right decisions to explore new things and test various scenarios.  

“IBM embraced remote working 20 years ago, so transitioning to remote was not an issue at all. In the early 2000s, almost 50% of IBM’s global workforce worked remotely, either from home, at a customer location or were ‘on the go’/mobile, meaning they had no dedicated desks; and about 75% of managers worked with remote teams.” Todd Simmons, Vice President Brand Experience and Design at IBM

Bringing humanity into leadership

In order to tackle what lies ahead and to adopt a leadership style that caters for all cultures and countries, managers need to take on the role of ‘servant leader’: a leadership style where power is shared, putting the needs of employees first and helping them to develop and perform better. In short, leaders should act like guides, holding the ladder for people to climb and being available to answer questions along the way. Ultimately, this requires us to rethink how we view leadership itself: not as a way to command and enforce power over others, but rather to empower people in order to drive growth and performance. 

This means that leaders also need to be supported as they deal with the difficult situations that they find themselves in. Giving all employees, including leaders, more space to talk and ask questions, as well as offering them coaching or mentorship, should help them be more prepared to tackle these challenges. In times of uncertainty and moving forward, more emphasis needs to be placed on bringing humanity to the office, and on shifting traditional values to promote creativity, empathy and vulnerability.

“Culture can be a major asset and a catalyst for growth. When you have a team of empowered people who love who they are and what they do, growth is inevitable” Anique Coffee, Partner at WithinPeople

Focus on wellness and wellbeing

Work spaces are also crucial to consider in a post-pandemic world. As many companies are currently adopting a hybrid working model, this means office spaces will need to be redesigned to include employee welfare and promote a flexible and healthier working environment.

Numerous studies have shown the positive impact of natural light, access to plants and an optimal temperature of 23°C on productivity and performance. The same goes for having outdoor spaces and the ability to work outside: it is believed that walking in nature increases capacity for creativity and problem solving by 60%, and did you know that being outside for just 20 minutes is the equivalent of drinking a cup of coffee?

Establishing rituals like Fika, the Swedish tradition of taking a break during the day to socialise with colleagues with a cup of coffee and some cake, are believed to help teams feel connected and motivated, particularly for newcomers who haven’t had a chance to physically meet their co-workers. With technology, this can easily be implemented in a virtual work environment.

“The University of Oregon estimated that up to 10% of employee absences could be attributed to lack of daylight.”Savanna Wilson, Expansion Lead at Norrsken Foundation 

How remote working models can learn from expatriate culture

There is an interesting parallel to draw between remote corporate culture and expatriate culture. They both respond to similar mechanics: as subcultures, they gather people who share similar values and aspire to a common goal. Expats are the “remote people” of their nation: while they are influenced by the culture that they live in, their values are rooted in those of their home nation, so much so that expats often tend to reproduce their “home reality” by making ties and living in a microcosm with groups of fellow citizens who share common values; thus also living in a hybrid model. 

Global organisations could benefit from understanding how those expat models work and how they can use them to create ties with their employees working remotely, particularly in a cross-cultural environment. “Why don’t you ask yourself the question as a leader: what can we do locally that helps our company to globalise, and what can we do globally that helps your local customer?” Fons Trompenaars, Author, Speaker and Owner and Founder of Trompenaars Hampden-Turner Consulting

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