Why workplace culture matters now more than ever

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Cat Mules

In the current era of the virtual worker, workplace culture must be top of mind for leaders.

Digital change initiatives don’t just take off: they work when they’re closely embedded in workplace culture.

In the early 2000s, Peter Drucker famously said, “culture­­ eats strategy for breakfast”. Now, decades later,  in a more dynamic, digital world, close strategic attention must still be paid to culture – but digital leaders may take a different approach.

Take, the classic tale of industrial conglomerate, General Electric. Their aspirational digital initiative – GE Digital – was designed to be a sensor-led hub that would see them one of the world’s leading software companies.

Their initiative quickly backfired and became an economic sinkhole, with quarterly profit and loss requirements tethered to short-term goals and unable to add real business value.

Sometimes, the issue with digital change initiatives might be poor software choices or disappointing products. But more often than not, it’s due to something that is actually in your control: a digital culture.

With the quickened pace of digital, organisations may struggle to shift into digital methods of developing and sustaining culture. Yet with email, Skype and Slack now the water cooler of previous generations, employee relationships – and therefore workplace culture – are changing quickly, and businesses must keep up.


Credit: HLC Group Inc.

Here are six ways to build a supportive and inclusive culture to support digital employees.   

  1. Keep up professional challenges

Give employees plenty of opportunities to stay on track with their career and professional development trajectories. These days, more than ever, on-the-job learning opportunities are readily accessible.

Research by Execu-Search finds that 76% of millennials see professional development opportunities as one of the most important elements of company culture.  And, as reported by the American Psychological Association, 89% of workers with leadership support are more likely to recommend the company as a good place to work.

It is now the job of the organisation to make room for people to grow and feel like they are part of the team.

  1. Treat your employees like customers

Your employees are just as important as your customers. Talented employees will fit into the culture if you let them. Deloitte recommends an employees as customers  approach to building a supportive and inclusive work culture.

Deloitte explains that the job market has heated up and “new technologies have exploded, power has shifted from the employer to the employee.”

  1. Prise open those silos – listen to your employees and encourage them to listen to each other

Research shows companies have better success when employees don’t feel their freedom is blocked by hierarchy.

In a Deloitte research article, they explain that open and transparent workplaces are the most productive because good ideas can come from anywhere.

“Corporations need to offer some flexibility in order to be able to adopt digital platforms and strategies” and that “Employees working in the trenches often find the most efficient solutions, and it is often best to follow their lead.”

Social media management platform, Buffer, pushes for a “default to transparency” rule. One way they do this is by having all emails cc’d into a list which is accessible to others in the department, which gives workers the ability to work ‘surprise free’.

The Advantages and Workflows of Fully Transparent Email

Buffer advocates for a fully transparent email approach. Credit: Buffer.

  1. Maximise the use of digital tools

Although innovative digital tools are readily available, they are only effective when they are used – and used properly. Without a tool-driven culture digital opportunities are not maximised. Tools alone don’t deal with the underlying social behaviours that influence the interpersonal interaction that has such a profound impact on business outcomes.

One of Gallup’s clients had started using a digital recognition tool for its employees but were disappointed at the lack of meaningful change in engagement. On closer analysis, it was only highly engaged employees using the tool – the less engaged employees did not know about it or, justifiably likely, weren’t interested in using it.

Vector Marketing uses a rule book, aka ‘bible’, of digital workplace commandments for new and existing workers. Setting up a similar document doesn’t have to be complicated. Vector’s started as a one-page Google document where team members left comments and suggestions, with the most valuable ones retained.

  1. Be data-driven – but diverse

Maximise your understanding of employees. Workforce data, sometimes overlooked, can bring significant value. Data about niche skill sets, employee preferences and personality, and feedback surveys are all sources of information that can feed into your workplace culture strategy.

Google provides ‘people analytics’ to show patterns in recruitment and retention, employee wellbeing, performance and tenure, and ultimately to provide insights about job roles.

A word of caution though, don’t over-rely on data. Wherever possible take advantage of differing perspectives, ideas, attitudes and thinking to prevent your company from becoming stale, and the risk of groupthink.

  1. Give good feedback, often

Provide ways to give meaningful, regular praise.  Even online, the effectiveness of a culture of recognition hasn’t changed.

A Gallup study found that employees are most motivated by recognition from a manager (28%) or a high-level leader (24%). Employees also value public awards, private recognition and positive reviews.

Give short positive affirmations, be it via a quick email, apps to share praise or on-the-spot feedback.


Ultimately, you’ll only win the game if you’re all on the same side.  Realise you’re part of a team – not a cluster of separate individuals. No matter how strong your strategy, the human relationships and culture within it are, and by most indications always will be, the foundation to give your workplace the edge to win.

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Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

Data, AI, BI & ML

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