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A Cultural Workplace Maturity Model

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One of the more fascinating developments created by the pandemic is “The Great Resignation.” Attraction and retention of the best and the brightest has been a core precept of workplace strategy for the past three decades. While the usual reasons an individual resigns from their job lean toward the issues of relationships with leaders and teammates, our relationship with the workplace is also a high value factor for consideration.

How do we have a relationship with a place? Such ideas as comfort, trust, and good memories reinforce that value of belonging. The art of belonging is a soft measure of business success tied to company culture. Good work, good social systems, good connectivity to others are all indicators of a healthy culture. Yet, as we focus on our individual work, we can separate, even momentarily, from the value of being an integral part of our teams. Prolonged separation from our teammates and leaders generates a risk of permanently separating from our company.

The last two years have created prolonged periods of workplace separation. If seeing is believing, and belonging is tied to presence, how does the Great Resignation we are experiencing connect to remote work? Does a lack of presence, along with a reduction in physically shared time in the workplace impact the decision people are making to quit their job? Has the connection between individual and company been severed?

The Impact of The Great Resignation

The Great Resignation has added a new set of data to consider in the value of the workplace. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, used by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that this “quitter market” has increased throughout the age of Covid. By November 2021, 3% of the workforce voluntarily resigned their work, topping 4.5MM individuals who quit their job in one month.

The cost of losing employees is profound. Gallup estimates that:

“The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary — and that’s a conservative estimate.”

Consider the potential of losing and replacing 3% of your people next month. If you are an organization of one hundred, and if you were to estimate your average salary at +/-$50,000, the potential value loss for this coming year could be a million dollars in productivity or more. People choosing to not belong to their organization is expensive.

As work navigated through the waves of the pandemic, and as businesses wait for insight into the future value of the workplace, it becomes vital to ask questions about how to prepare now for what is next. But if culture is eroding as a result of loss of connectivity, how can the current lower levels of workplace utility be pivoted to prepare and accelerate for a renewed push toward cultural evolution?

What is your workplace “doing” right now?

If you are following current trends, your workplace is probably less than 50% occupied at any time – possibly much less. The efforts to reopen safe and healthy workplaces have been quite the struggle throughout Covid. While companies would strive to be 100% open to the workforce, safe practice indicated transitional team approaches, dubbed as The Hybrid Model.

Hybrid provides a reasonable model to utilize existing workplace with safe return to work planning. But, as a long-term solution, Hybrid is freezing good thinking about creating a high value workplace ready for what is next. Hybrid strategy is best when overlaid onto existing workplaces that were built based on pre-pandemic paradigms, including assigned desks, scheduled meeting spaces, and team centric zones.

Hybrid assumes that not everyone will be present at one time. This strategy naturally designates work from home (or work from anywhere), which relieves the pressure of requiring everyone to navigate their preferred days in or out of the office. Hybrid anticipates physical AND virtual presence. Hybrid suggests minimal changes to past workplaces full of cubes, offices and conference rooms.

Yet do these patterns and models represent the needs of your people to belong and thrive? The Great Resignation might suggest otherwise.

What do we already know?

Consider that before the pandemic, at any point in a work week, across most all regions and workforce markets, on average one-half the total number of workstations assigned to individuals were empty. And, if you were to review every private office in the US that was assigned to one individual, on average private offices went unused at least 70% of the time. (We saw this trend pre-covid with nearly every client. We were even working with clients diligently tracking badges or occupancy data of their employees to better understand, where everyone was at because they weren’t all at their workstations all day)

Yet people were working. For the past two decades, workplace design strategy has continuously measured the increasing demand for meeting spaces. At the same time meeting needs were escalating, technology matured to untether work processes from fixed and singular assigned desks. Informal contracts were agreed upon between team leaders and team members, opening the utilization of work-from-home (and other) strategies. Some formal remote work programs were successful. Many were not.

The reality is that when covid struck, the nature of work had already adopted the behaviors of agile work processes that were emptying the traditional cube-office-conference room workplace settings. We know so much today about the workforce connection to the workplace, offering a course of action that is appropriate for tomorrow and the renewed value of people working in high performing teams.

In what way does workplace fill our desire to belong?

How do we know when we belong? We seem to know when we are properly and suitably placed in a context where we experience harmony, meaning, and value. We belong at work when the experiences of purpose and production prevail. Whether extraverted or introverted, belonging socially and intellectually blends efficiently to strike chords of resonance that build positive and meaningful relationships.

When we belong, we experience the nature of happiness that drives us to expound on the experience. Human connection is a base requirement of wellbeing, and we work effectively when we are well. The shortest path to achieving belonging comes from the convergence with colleagues in places where the goals of belonging and achievement are shared.

Does Workplace Drive Culture?

When future workplace strategy centers on belonging, assignment attributes prior to the pandemic probably trump the value of the past workplace was used. Past individual assignment that was deemed right and good may challenge the developing needs of people to belong.

Organizational culture is measurable.

For example, cloistered workplaces often exude sensory deprivation in the form of quiet, serious, and often disciplinary glances against noise. Cultural change becomes apparent when people leave their job because they are not having a viable work experience. Often this points directly to a workplace that is void of energy because of outdated cultural expectations.

The opposite is true as well. Overactive workplaces void in respite settings can drive people away. The ebb and flow of the work process require a workplace strategy that balances community and focus as integrated and agile.

Even with the Covid enforced absence of people working together in a physical setting, remote culture attributes formed, including separation, anxiety, misunderstanding, and fear. People naturally change their settings when in fear. But as we change the places that support us must mature with us.

Workplace Strategy Maturity Model

Space changes around us as we grow and experience living. Remember for a moment your childhood bedroom. Is it possible you can recall the elements of that room? What hung on the walls? Did you have toys on the floor? What technology did you use while in your room? It is possible such memory hold nostalgia. It is probable the elements of that room are irrelevant to you today.

Next, consider your room in your teenage years. Not only might the bed have served as a study place, so did other places throughout the house. The kitchen might have been the center of activity and the couch a decent place to focus on activity. Probably you had other places outside the house in which you found value in learning.

Recall when you first went away from home. Possible you moved away to attend a school or begin work. How much time after this move did you return home for a visit? How different was the value of your bedroom (if it had not yet been renovated) to you between your childhood, your adolescence, and your early adulthood?

Please recall your version of those transitions and apply it to the personal work setting in the office.

If your workplace has some form of personally assigned cubes and private offices, they are strategically like your childhood bedroom. They are personal, private, and representative of the preference of each person.

If your workplace has an open team strategy, with dedicated team meeting spaces and overlapping use of individual focused work points, this strategy is akin to the adolescent use of home.

The pandemic has been like going away from home for the first time for many at work. When going away there is psychological comfort in knowing that your home is still there. Time passes and experiences expand, coming to a time when missing the patterns and culture of the family lessens. The future becomes exciting as new behaviors and expectations come into focus.

If you have prepared nothing for your workplace, then your people are coming home to an environment that they have outgrown. Just like a mature college student would not prefer to go home to stay in their sixth-grade bedroom, a team of people who have learned to work agile does not prefer to return to a cube farm under the past cultural rules of work. Thus, people are easily choosing to leave their jobs.

Acting in a time of discontinuity

None of us knows how long the pandemic will continue to bounce. It is possible that our two-year trial could continue for much longer. While natural attrition in the workforce is logical, losing people at the rate of The Great Resignation is damaging. Through caring and diligent study of your cultural evolution, your work process agility, your technology interfaces, and your brand equity, you can achieve much today to embrace the changes that are currently happening to you instead of for you. Workplaces that are waiting for clarity to advance will be detrimental to curbing the changes you do not want to have.