Cultural change in a remote working era

By Katy Howell | April 22, 2021

“Change is popular when someone else is doing it, but when it comes to changing ourselves, not as many hands are raised.”

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend DigiConf 2021 and was struck by a session from Malin Liden on cultural change during a pandemic.

Who even are we anymore?

She touched on an interesting point – we’ve all been changing so rapidly. I remember my first proper job, being told that remote working was impossible because it didn’t lend itself to oversight, or thinking as a group, etc., and now, a year later, all of these arguments have been disproven (obviously, only in the industries where it makes sense, not construction or retail or the NHS, but even there, steps have been taken to move to a more digital workforce).

Due to Covid, we were forced to adapt. We didn’t have the chance to only try once. We iterated, failed, helped onboard people during a crisis, had to furlough others or, unfortunately, let them go, utilised different software or tools to aid brainstorming or just to provide human connection at a time when we were all separated – and all of that happened, organically, in little piecemeal steps as we adapted to the crisis. We essentially had a massive shift in how companies worked, but approached it in little, DRASTIC, but little steps, as we learned about the virus and what it meant for us.

It’s not as big as you think

And that’s what Malin’s session was all about. When it comes to cultural change, there’s often this notion that it’s too big. If there’s an issue in the company, that’s how it’s always been, and always will be. If there is a divide between two teams, or if there’s a discriminatory way of doing things, there’s no way of fixing it, because it is embedded in the company.

But we just saw how a company can seem like it changed overnight. Within the span of the year, most people I know have seen drastic changes in their company structure, workflow, the flexibility they can now enjoy, and have also seen changes in their own productivity, for better or worse. It’s a learning process, but change is very much possible.

The approach

Malin suggested we approach cultural change the same way. She spoke of creating smaller projects, giving people an opportunity to execute tasks in a meaningful way, which I find especially compelling now that we are all so remote. She suggested breaking up the change process into bite-sized chunks (eating an elephant, as she put it), that would be able to roll out over time.

If you’re looking to affect cultural change, here’s her steps to success:

  • Lead by example
  • Create moments of success
  • Create role models
  • Reward the right behaviour
    • Her alternate title here was: “Never reward the successful jerk” – which I thought was fantastic.
  • Celebrate wins as a team

Change is possible, but only if we stop seeing it as impossible. And that’s my TED Talk. Goodnight!

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