With companies and executives consistently striving to improve their products, reduce costs, and increase sales, they are constantly asking what the future of work will hold. This is a question that I am passionately looking to not just answer, but impact. Predictions about how the industry will evolve are obviously based on current trends. The current trends for workers that are fluttering around? Desk work will become more prevalent, workforces will have hybrid models, and we are going to work ourselves into a lower life expectancy (at least in the U.S.). There is only one thing that is able to unit these trends and help them move in a beneficial direction: culture. It means different things for different people, but in this context it is the customs upheld by a social group. The social group in question are desk workers.
Work culture has been a buzzword for some time and we are only now getting to see how it is truly affecting the workforce. I have heard far too many stories about companies that promised much, but delivered very little to their employees. A truly proper execution of culture is not difficult. Companies have cultures regardless of their intention to do so. The culture can be toxic or beneficial, inclusive or alienating, competitive or collaborative. Starting culture and being in the midst of work culture is easy. It is the “norm” for that social group. The difficulty comes when we want to change culture. Be it from scarcity to growth thinking or collaborative to competitive, both directions are difficult. How do we change culture? Slowly, gradually, persistently.
The change of work culture and improvement of productivity, health, longevity, and happiness of employees does not happen over a few months; it occurs over years. While huge revamping of company values, mission and vision, and policies can have an effect, it rarely lasts and pushes the social norms too drastically. We cannot expect everyone who goes to the gym on January 1st to have a six pack by the end of the week. I hear many experts speak on the importance of starting the correct sort of culture in your company at the beginning, but most of us are far far past that phase. Changing the culture starts with you. Here are 3 steps you can take today to begin to shift the culture around you.
Step 1: Become aware of what the norms are in your social groups at work. Different groups perceive things differently. This is apparent if you ever speak to an office worker versus their HR manager.
Step 2: What is the final result that you want to achieve? Many people see the problem, but they do not look for solutions or the possibility of a brighter future. Get clear on how it needs to look different, even if that might change later on.
Step 3: DON’T start big. Start very small, super small. Start with a cultural change that is easy to implement and will definitely succeed. If you want employees to reduce time on their phones, give them specific times to use phones. DON’tT take away their ability to use phones at other times, that is micromanagey and childlike. Give permission and structure.
The idea is to repeat the last step with increased changes and always monitoring the trajectory with what you want the final outcome to be. I have spoken with too many people that start taking actions and making “solutions” that are simply busy work and do not directly address the problem. This is why you should start small. When it is small it has to be effective and it can’t become busy work. It just becomes work. The trends are clear, more and more people will be working at a desk and will be compensating their health for work. Simply sending them to the gym and buying standing desks does not fix it, especially for remote and hybrid employees. Culture is able to reach across the divide and make the change you want to see in your company.