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Lead and Live the Culture in a Hybrid Workplace

Insights from Recent Workplace Culture Survey jointly conducted by aAdvantage Consulting Group P/L (“aAdvantage”) and Institute for Human Resource Professionals Limited (“IHRP”).

Over the last 16 months, not a day has gone by without the mention of Covid-19 and its impact on lives, both at home and at work. From a workplace perspective, many research studies have shown that one of the key drivers in the pace of adoption of digital transformation is none other than the advent of Covid-19!

With proliferation of digital technologies and mandatory work from home arrangements for many sectors, this has spawned off many conversations on the future of work, in particular the Hybrid Workplace. One simple working definition of hybrid workplace which I have come across is “a flexible workplace model that is designed to support a distributed workforce of both in-office and remote workers”. Many are aware that the success of hybrid workplace is determined by able leadership and enabling culture. Our survey seeks to generate data and insights for leadership teams to facilitate conversations on employees’ experience with current and desired work culture and in doing so, enable them to lead effectively in a hybrid workplace environment.

What is employees’ current experience with the Workplace Culture?

Our recent research on Workplace Culture was conducted from 22nd February to 12th March 2021, during a time when many of us were working from home or remotely, for a period of 10 months and more. The survey was administered using the Culture Values Assessment tool developed by our network partner, Barrett Values Center. This is what the survey results suggest when participants were polled on the question:

“Choose the top 10 words (from a list of 90-100 words) that best reflect the way your organisation operates today (i.e. your current organisation culture)”.

The following are the top 10 words chosen based on the number of votes cast on each word, starting with cost reduction with the highest number of votes cast i.e. 143 out of 366 participants who responded chose cost reduction as 1 of top 10 words to describe the current workplace culture.

Source: 2021 Workplace Culture Study by aAdvantage Consulting Group & IHRP

NB: Words in Red are identified as Potentially Limiting Values according to the Barrett’s Model. When the effects exist to an extreme level (overemphasising), it has limiting effects on organisation growth and sustainability.

From the survey results and aligned with the Barrett’s model, the following themes might be derived about the current workplace culture:

  1. Stronger Focus on Organisation Performance This can be derived from the choice of words chosen (4 out of 10 words): Results Orientation, Brand Image, Customer Satisfaction and Cost Reduction. Whilst most companies were initially navigating and adjusting to the pandemic, many are now feeling (of have long felt) the negative financial impact given the long drawn Covid-19 effects, particularly after the tapering of broad-based government grants. In the quest for survival and sustainable financial performance, more focus is now being placed on costs optimisation, marketing and happy and returning customers.

  2. Attention Placed on Evolving the Business Words like Continuous Improvement and Digital Connectivity suggest that evolving and growing the business remain a focus for organisations even as they strive to meet urgent day-to-day needs. This is consistent with our research findings in 2018 (For a copy of our 2018 Singapore National Values Assessment, please click here) where there was also a strong call and focus on transforming businesses through digitalisation. What remains unclear is whether efforts in transformation have been compromised due to immediate needs of business survival and financial performance.

  3. Presence of Organisational Inhibitors that Create Employee Stress As a result of stronger focus on business performance, there could be unintended consequences in terms of how businesses are being managed in the short and medium term. Staff are beginning to feel the negative effects of Hierarchy, Bureaucracy and Cost Reduction especially if they are lived out in limiting ways such as excessive control, lack of information, cutting costs at expense of future investments etc. Organisation stress (dissonance) will be felt when these limiting values are seen to counter other business priorities of evolution and growth. Based on the survey results, the Cultural Entropy score which measures the level of “stress” in workplace culture currently stands at 25%, certainly an area to focus on. A score within 0% -13% is deemed healthy and 29% and above is potentially toxic.


Desired Culture in a Hybrid Work Environment - What are the Opportunities Ahead?

In the same survey, the participants were polled on the Desired Culture as follows:

“Choose the top 10 words (from the same list of 90-100 words) that you would desire for your organisation to achieve success (i.e. your desired organisation culture)”.

Source: 2021 Workplace Culture Study by aAdvantage Consulting Group & IHRP

To recap on how the table is to be interpreted, “Balance (home/work)” is voted by 150 participants (out of 366) as one of the Top 10 words they would use to define the Desired Culture.

Based on the results, there exists opportunities surrounding the following themes:

  1. Focus on Business Evolution and Growth by Building Trust Consistent with current culture, there appears to be a strong call for continuous improvement and agility in organisations, in terms of “the way we work”. As organisations navigate unknowns, the willingness (mindset and beliefs) and ability to experiment and fail fast, learn and adapt and be bold to make quick decisions are imperative. Yet we all know of organisations that espouse such values but when it comes to implementation, they fail miserably. The foundation of risk-taking and collective wisdom lies in organisation trust (or presence of psychological safety) and leaders can certainly focus more on employee engagement, empowerment and leading by example, hence countering the limiting effects of hierarchy and bureaucracy (in current culture).

  2. Strong call on Leadership Teams to lead and live the Culture Perhaps the strongest call can be observed in this theme on Leadership. Many of the words called out: leading by example, employee engagement, transparency, empowerment, coaching /mentoring and leadership development (6 out of 10 in Desired Culture) relate to leaders at every level. The senior leadership team however sets the tone for all others to follow, and it will be insightful to ascertain how your current leadership team operates and behaves as a Team (beliefs, promoters and inhibitors). Where there is high level of dysfunction at the leadership team, research has shown a correspondingly high level of entropy at the organisation level and vice versa.

  3. Focus on Overall Employee Well-being Employees today are now better aware and more likely to speak up of their need for balance (home/work). Whilst working from home saves travelling time, many might feel that they are now working 24/7 given the proliferation of use of virtual meeting platforms and chats. There needs to be dialogue and alignment between leaders and staff on what are acceptable practices (and not) in a hybrid workplace environment. Besides this, other drivers to employee well-being include employee recognition, coaching/mentoring and leadership development. What opportunities are there to demonstrate appreciation and recognise the contributions of your colleagues and invest in their professional and personal growth?


Going Forward

Clearly, there is a strong call for a shift of culture (from current to desired) moving forward. The purpose of sharing the survey results and insights is not to draw early conclusions. Clearly, every organisation will have its unique workplace culture experience and what better way is there then to start the conversation going. It is hoped that the sharing here will spark off the dialogue across the organisation and enable leadership teams to lead and live a high performing culture in a Hybrid Workplace environment.


Vincent Ho, Director, aAdvantage Consulting

Vincent Ho is the Co-owner & Director of aAdvantage Consulting Group, a boutique firm "Partnering You in Organisational Growth through Culture Transformation".

He has 25 years of business advisory and coaching experience and focuses on organisation transformation, customer experience, leadership team and culture development, senior leadership team coaching and change management.

His motivations are driven by his core values of Respect, Humility and Collaboration.


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