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Taking culture beyond a buzzword

28 April 2022 at 7:45 am
Jonathan Alley
If someone asked you to encapsulate your workplace culture in a few lines, could you?

Jonathan Alley | 28 April 2022 at 7:45 am


Taking culture beyond a buzzword
28 April 2022 at 7:45 am


A popular meme that did the rounds in early 2022 declared “we’re returning to the office, because our culture is so important”.

But the accompanying image depicted an uninspiring, drab, empty cubicle under fluorescent lights.

The message is simple: buzzwords mean nothing without action; and staff – while massively important – will not magically drive a cultural direction by themselves. Management has to create and drive change, and staff have to play their own role by reacting positively and genuinely contributing.

So, what does a “great work culture” really mean? Bean bags and great coffee? Gym memberships? Casual dress and edgy music in the office? All those things might be fun or even beneficial, but a great work culture is about inclusion, dialogue, and sharing ideas that lead to successful goals.

How can you try to create a better work culture? 

Of course, it all reads beautifully in a powerpoint presentation, a piece of external marketing collateral, or a social post – “We all contribute ideas, we’re a great team, our collaborative culture is who we are”. Easy to write, easy to read: but is it harder to carry out? 

Short answer: yes. According to workplace culture experts like Australia’s Colin D Ellis, just one single negative element – be this a staff member, manager or department – can compromise positive development of a stronger, more communicative, respectful and functional professional environment.  So, even when management sets a new cultural direction, if it’s not “one in, all in”, cultural change can be compromised. The entire organisation has to make a mental shift, backed by genuine change in the everyday workplace dynamic.

How will post-pandemic life shape work culture?

As pandemic restrictions continue to lift around the country, the focus is shifting back to how our day-to-day work-life will evolve. But how will this play out? While hybrid work models prevail for now – three days in the office, two working from home for example – there are few guarantees this will remain consistent across the board. Organisations – and the individuals within them – have disparate conditions, diverse needs, and evolve in different ways at different times. If one thing is certain, it’s that some form of hybridisation will remain in some organisations – even if others revert to their pre-pandemic models. 

What will be the long-term effects on organisational culture? According to McKinsey, one fundamental change will lie in how work projects themselves are actually structured.
As colleagues become more geographically disparate, while fully digitally engaged, organisations will have to react by re-thinking their key processes, from initial project planning to final execution. For example, a planning stage may be under-taken face-to-face at company HQ, with subsequent work undertaken entirely off-site by those responsible. The model will only work with a transparent, managed and articulate culture of communication in place; a silo mentality would spell trouble in such a scenario. 

If you put this in the context of your own organisation; could you encapsulate your workplace culture in a few lines? Is collaboration genuine, or a gesture? Does management inspire, drive and bolster change, anticipating and meeting challenges along the way? Do the actions of staff – all of them – reflect support for the culture? And simply, do you look forward to your working day, whether in the office or working remotely?

If the answer is unclear, it could be time to start a conversation about culture in your workplace. If your organisation’s management are worth their salt, they’ll listen.

Jonathan Alley  |  @ProBonoNews

Jonathan Alley is opinion editor at Pro Bono Australia.

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