Waterstone Insights Pulse Survey 2: The Impact of Workplace Changes on Culture

By Carl Kaufman

For the second survey in the Waterstone Insights series, we asked leaders from Canadian organizations to tell us about some of the immediate changes their organizations made to workplaces to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and what changes they expect to make (or maintain) as government restrictions are relaxed over the coming weeks and months.  We also asked whether these changes would have positive or negative effects on the key foundations of their corporate culture.

What did we find out?

Unsurprisingly 95 per cent of respondents said they had already moved to a partially or fully remote workforce and 83 per cent had eliminated all non-essential business travel. The majority of respondents (65 per cent) also indicated that they had employed or embraced new technologies as part of their workplaces. Given the rapid move to remote work and disseminated workforces, embracing new technologies is one of the key opportunities that organizations need to take advantage of in order to perform under extraordinary operating conditions.

When looking at which changes organizations expect to make or maintain as government-imposed restrictions are relaxed, it’s clear that remote work is an option that is here to stay for a majority of organizations – regardless of what their policies were prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Half of respondents (50 per cent) plan to move to a fully remote or partially remote workforce, while over 75 per cent plan to increase or facilitate the availability of work from home options for employees.

It’s also clear that work in the post-shut down workplace will look different than it did prior to COVID-19. Sixty-two per cent of respondents said they plan to change standard work procedures to accommodate physical distancing, and 59 per cent said they plan to make physical changes to work areas. Not surprisingly, 61 per cent of respondents indicated that they plan to continue embracing new technologies and 59 per cent said their organization will review business related travel policies as a result of this crisis.

When it comes to the impact that the changes to work environment have had on corporate culture, there’s good news.

We asked respondents whether these changes would positively or negatively impact 10 aspects of corporate culture, and what we found was that four key aspects are most positively impacted by changes to the workplace and work environment: people focus, innovation/agility, clarity of leadership communication, and trust. Only two aspects of culture – growth and work environment – were thought to be negatively impacted by these changes. Of note is that while the four positively-impacted aspects of culture were the same no matter where the respondents lived or worked across the country, there is a noticeable difference between Eastern and Western Canada when it comes to the ranking of each of those aspects – with the West being focused on clarity of leadership communication and trust,  while the East is focused on innovation/agility and people focus.

One thing is clear: the workplace of 2021 and beyond is going to look different to the workplace of 2019. Corporate culture is going to be a key element as organizations look to move beyond the COVID-19 crisis and grow, and leaders will need to equip themselves with the tools to build trust, be agile, communicate clearly and have a strong people focus to succeed.