David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, recently rejected the idea of working from
“I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative,
collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s
not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon
He’s not alone in this line of thought. Executives at JP Morgan have also expressed concerns
over the drop in productivity and lack of mentoring. They want staff
back in the office as soon as possible. Meanwhile at KPMG, the UK CEO was forced to
resign because of criticizing employees “moaning about the pandemic.”
2.5 million deaths and 115 million reported cases are certainly something to
moan about — not to mention the billions of lives disrupted by COVID.
Perhaps it’s the return to the old way of doing things that is the
aberration. The majority of businesses seem to understand that remote
working is the immediate future. The idea of hybrid workplaces — workplaces where employees only need to be
in the office for a few days a week rather than every day — is on the
rise. Employees simply don’t want to have to go back to things as they
were before. And while US firms seem resistant to hybrid formats, many
international companies are open to the idea, if only to reduce their
real estate expenses.
But Solomon is right in some ways. The global pandemic is an
aberration. There is nothing normal about a pandemic — certainly not in
a way that you can readily predict on a calendar. And the loss of
productivity is a real issue in today’s marketplace. Our own data on
employee happiness suggests that COVID pushed weekly happiness scores
down 4 points on our Happiness KPI scale (out of 100) in 2020 compared
to 2019. In our estimates, this is at least a loss of £1,000 productivity per employee
(and for Goldman Sachs employees, it is probably much higher).
But where these CEOs are wrong is in the working from home ‘aberration’.
Social distancing is an aberration we are likely to get rid of as soon
as possible — mask-wearing too in western countries. But working from
The pandemic accelerated the remote working trend that has been steadily
picking up momentum over the last few years. Even after the ‘joy’ of
seeing co-workers back in the office has passed, people will likely want
the flexibility to work remotely. It’s not going away.
What Solomon and other CEOS are looking for isn’t an archaic ‘one size
fits all’ policy but consistency across the entire organization — from
the newest intern to the senior leaders. What they need is a policy that
supports all employees — one that is empowering, agile and listening.
The microculture conundrum
While CEOs may speak about their company culture as an organizational-wide philosophy, the
reality is that a company is made up of a myriad of microcultures. This
is readily apparent in the average work experience: there are teams with
different personalities and work styles that reflect their team members
Indeed, when you have a broad range of personalities and experiences
(especially in large organizations), it’s unfair to expect that everyone
will readily conform and thrive. Ideally, you want happy employees
because of the wide range of benefits happiness brings. This means focusing on the
things that will make them happy.
Emerging from a COVID-19 world will be full of challenges. There is
uncertainty and anxiety about returning back to normal. We’ve all been
changed by COVID somehow. It has reset our social norms. It’s forced us
to look at ourselves and the things we value, and identify the things we
COVID has also drawn our focus on the things that are important to us.
In many cases, that means that people may not want to work as much.
While work is a really important part of life, it isn’t everything.
When people’s values are changing because of COVID, how can employers
realistically expect that their people will conform to the old way of
doing things? In today’s world, employees will leave for companies that
share their values around flexibility and wellbeing.
Creating a consistent culture of listening
If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has taught businesses, it’s the
importance of being agile. Transitioning to a post-COVID world will
require agile processes. This doesn’t mean adopting an ‘anything goes’
way of doing things. Changing a culture requires careful, disciplined
action — consistency. It requires weekly team meetings, checking in on team
members and adjusting to various lifestyles.
Here’s how you can establish consistency in your workplace culture:
Respect differences and provide flexible solutions
The first thing to recognize is that not everyone’s life is the same —
especially during and after COVID. Mandating five days a week in the
office may no longer be an option. Some employees now have added family
responsibilities. Some may not want to return to a lopsided work life
balance. COVID has
caused a massive value shift and being aware of these changes will go a
long way to building trust with your people.
There’s no ‘right’ answer to the balance between working from home and
the office. However, being open to flexible, hybrid solutions is the key
to finding what works for your organization.
Check in regularly and listen
It takes time and consistent effort to build a trusting relationship,
but it can be done through listening. Because company culture is made up
of the vast range of people and personalities in a company, it’s
important to check in and listen to those people.
In fact, our people platform is designed to help you listen to your
people. At Friday
Pulse, we encourage weekly check-in meetings with your team to celebrate
successes, identify frustrations and discuss areas for improvement.
Beyond these weekly meetings, checking in regularly means having formal
and informal one-to-ones with team members to see how
they’re really doing – listening to their concerns and what they want
to do, and empowering them to work to their strengths. Taking the time
to listen also has a preventative power — it staves off the resentment
that can set in when people don’t feel they’re being heard.
How Friday Pulse can Help
The global pandemic has highlighted how the working world is trending
towards the work experience and wellbeing. It’s a good opportunity to
reset and modernize our cultures rather than return to archaic
Friday Pulse is designed to look at the strengths and weaknesses of a
company’s workplace culture and to helps leaders hear their people’s
voices. And, we’re continuing to offer free access for six weeks. Get in touch today to book a
demo. We’d love to help.