The COVID-19 pandemic permanently changed the workplace, including where employees worked and how/where organizations conducted business. Today, many organizations are embracing hybrid arrangements or work from anywhere models.

Some employees are fully remote, some are choosing to work onsite full-time and others prefer a hybrid blend of the two. Employee work arrangements often vary based on the functional area of the business, but sometimes they even vary among members of the same team/department. An increase in flexible schedule options adds even more variation across employee groups. Employees now work across many physical locations, time zones and geographies.

Organizations that once relied on physical office spaces and in-person interactions as the primary drivers of their culture and workplace values need new strategies. Reconsidering how to nurture workplace values when work is no longer a place will help organizations shape values-aligned cultures that attract and retain purpose-driven talent.

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The importance of organizational values today

The marketplace has seen in the last year the largest mass exodus from the workforce in history: The Great Resignation.

But employees aren’t just quitting their jobs over salaries alone. They’re leaving unfulfilling jobs to find organizations or careers that align with their personal goals, values and priorities. When companies clearly communicate their values and what they stand for, they can attract committed, like-minded employees. 

Values define what an organization believes and the behaviors it agrees to live by every day. They provide a framework that creates a common language across organizations. Values communicate what’s important to an organization and provide clarity when making decisions. They give organizations the structure they need to empower employees to collectively work toward achieving the purpose or mission.

It’s not enough for organizations to share their values, though. They have to be authentic to the organization and show up naturally in the employee experience. Values are empty promises if employees don’t see them in action across the organization. The transition to a virtual workplace has made it more critical for organizations to intentionally integrate and weave values into everything.

Values-aligned organizational cultures provide employees with a sense of belonging and purpose. When employees feel a sense of belonging at work, they’re more engaged. And organizations with high employee engagement experience greater profitability and customer loyalty and lower absenteeism and turnover. 

Reinforcing workplace values without ‘place’ as an anchor

Organizations must identify new or refreshed ways to authentically nurture values now that work happens across many more physical locations, time zones and geographies. We recommend organizations activate or reinforce their values using the following strategies:

  • Align internal communication to the values. Threading values throughout communication is critical to reinforce the values, demonstrate how the organization is activating them and encourage employees to embrace the values in their work. For example, we recommend tying any new initiative, policy or product back to the organization’s values to demonstrate how those values show up in the company’s decisions and actions. Sharing success stories and publicly recognizing employees or teams that lived the values is reinforcing and motivating.
  • Encourage leaders to model values through their behaviors. It’s just as crucial for a leader to model the values in their actions as it is for them to communicate them consistently. For example, if an organization has a value of “inclusion,” leaders can model that value by ensuring all team members feel included, valued and heard. Employees are more likely to trust and embrace the values when they see them reflected in leadership’s behavior.
  • Regularly check in with employees about their experiences with the values. Values are just words unless they feel true to what employees experience. Regularly gathering employee feedback can help organizations keep a pulse on employees’ perceptions and experience. Feedback channels could include surveys, virtual town hall meetings, anonymous comment forms, direct mail and an always-open email inbox. This employee feedback can help organizations pinpoint how they’re doing and where they can improve.
  • Identify new ways to bring values to life in the virtual workplace. There are many ways to keep values front and center without a physical workplace as the anchor. Finding natural opportunities for values to thrive is critical to keeping them alive across a disparate workforce. For example, organizations can creatively apply values to digital assets, including the Intranet, presentation templates, screensavers and employee swag. In virtual meetings, managers can ask employees to take a moment to focus on a specific value and share how they experienced that value in the past week.
  • Integrate values throughout the entire employee experience. Values should guide all organizational decision-making, including decisions related to recruiting, hiring, promotions, social impact, technology investments, workplace etiquette, employee programs and more. It’s always been important for organizations to use their values to guide these decisions. However, it’s even more critical to intentionally integrate values into the day-to-day employee experience now that work happens across more time zones, locations and geographies.

Workplace values are as critical as they’ve always been and perhaps even more so now that work is no longer a place for many employees. Values provide a shared language and belief system, creating connection points between employees even if they never meet each other in person. Naturally weaving values into everything the organization does increases the chances that employees will embrace them, creating a stronger, more unified organizational culture.

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