Remote work has been difficult for high culture organizations. By high culture, I mean those organizations with distinct cultures that are part of why people choose to join and stay in an organization. In HR, where culture is a key part of the employee value proposition, alongside engaging work and good compensation and benefits.
In the creative space, culture is not only an asset to the employee experience, it is central to the business models of many companies. Many creative people, including designers, strategists, data scientists, technologists, product managers, would die a spiritual death in much of corporate America. Yet, American companies need creativity more than ever to reinvent their businesses in light of changing market, technology and regulatory requirements, and to improve their customer experience.
Related: EVP 101: Creating and Communicating Your Employee Value Proposition
For many, it is precisely this “corporate culture” that is supposed to kill creativity and stifle growth. For creative studios like frog, a key element to enabling a rich and creative culture comes from the studio model. Employees primarily work in small creative teams, formed around a specific client engagement or project. Like most consulting firms, these teams are formed and disbanded every two to three months as individuals transition from one engagement to the next.
Studios are the touchpoints through which employees can experience a company’s creative culture. Designed to foster creativity through interaction with others, the studios allow for a variety of activities, from trainings and team meetings to community-building events and programs. However, relying on a physical space to foster this cultural thread became nearly impossible at the onset of the COVID pandemic when individuals had no choice but to work from home. High culture organizations were concerned about their ability to function, given that culture is an essential part of their operating model. Part of this concern stemmed from the fact that managers believed that innovative work required people to be “side by side” in the same physical space. Designers, engineers, data scientists and strategists all have different vocabularies and different ways of seeing the world. Unlike a corporate department made up of marketing or finance specialists working together, the teams don’t always share the same terminology, the same processes and the same work tools.
Despite these concerns, many creative businesses were able to transition to a global remote work model in March 2020 with great results. All companies initially faced the same issues like too many video calls, disruption of work-life balance, isolation, etc., but found ways to adapt to this new work style as a culture, not just as a company.
One of the keys to success is understanding what really improved with remote work and what aspects needed more attention in order to preserve or create new rituals. For example, we found that using digital tools for ideation and synthesis offered a more permanent record of the team’s thinking and ideation process, in addition to being more efficient. Tools like the digital whiteboard will certainly persist even when we return to the studio. Additionally, we found that messaging apps and platforms added to a sense of global community, expanding connections beyond traditional studio walls.
The road ahead is still unclear. Many companies were planning to return to their offices to some extent this year, but with persistent cases of Covid continuing to affect the country, those plans have been pushed back to 2022, or indefinitely. With things still up in the air, it’s important for HR decision makers to continue fostering a strong culture within their teams, no matter where they work from. As we continue to grow in this hybrid world, companies need to consider a few key factors as if to make their culture a priority.
Be deliberate about the culture
Implement culture-building moments that showcase the success and hard work of the organization and the people who make it what it is. For example, at Frog, we host the Make Your Mark Awards, an annual awards show that recognizes the best work in the company. This high-production virtual event recognized quality customer work across multiple categories, but also featured fellow frogs presenting and performing in all manner of modes. Oddly, colleagues around the world said it was a high point in terms of feeling connected with each other and with the company, even though we launched the Make Your Mark awards in the middle of the pandemic.
Understand employee archetypes
A young person who joins a company after completing his higher education, who moves to a city where we have a studio and who lives in shared accommodation has very different needs from a parent of teenagers living in the suburbs. Both are drawn to the business and want something from the culture, but a one-size-fits-all won’t work. As companies define cultural touchpoints for hybrid working, they must consider a broader set of needs that accommodate different archetypes of the employee experience.
Do what’s best for the team
When it comes to mandates for remote, hybrid, or in-person work, a single mandate may not work across the organization either. Different teams need different things to do their best. In some cases being able to crew a project with people from all over the world is the best for a project, and other times a smaller group is needed to get one person working for a few days. to really get to the bottom of a problem. But having the flexibility both at the studio level and at the global level allows everyone to work with changing circumstances, rather than against them. Our Engagement Managers and Studio General Managers are still navigating the boundaries of future collaboration models, but we have allowed ourselves to be open to experimentation while refining our future working models.
Nearly two years into the COVID experiment, it’s likely that most companies have onboarded new employees who have joined their business remotely and have never been to a studio or office, let alone met number of their colleagues and teams in person. While rituals and actions may look or feel different from before, we are beyond a place where we can rely on relationships built before COVID to tide us over.
Instead, we must embrace this moment of change in order to learn from it, rather than fight it. The fact is that culture remains a key factor in the success of any organization. But culture isn’t just the “perks” like office snacks or once-a-week happy hours, it’s how we build relationships, share knowledge, and support each other that really makes a difference. .
Timothy Morey serves as vice president of strategy for frog, a global leader in creative consulting, part of Capgemini Invent. Partnering with passionate leaders and visionary entrepreneurs, frog applies creativity, strategy, design, and data to reinvent businesses, drive growth, and orchestrate customer-centric transformation.