August 16 2021
Approaches to aligning corporate culture have been significantly changing over the past several years. However, with the advent of the pandemic, all current processes have accelerated: the accumulated problems have become more prominent and new challenges required a quick shift in the focus of attention.
In general, a trend towards awareness, self-cognition and self-development appeared even before the pandemic and found a direct reflection in corporate cultures. Demand for work-life balance was gradually replaced by a general demand for well-being both at work and outside the office.
Companies that turned out to be most responsive to these changes, to a great extent, not only led the trend towards human-centered corporate culture, but also made a significant contribution to establishing it. As a result, for several years now, dream employers are companies that provide a cozy and welcoming office, neat features like fruits at meetings, flexible working hours, and that hear their employees and respond to their needs instead of offering a fixed schedule, official employment and a declared salary (things that were quite common in the recent past in Russia).
These and other elements have become part of the corporate culture, and as a result, the most sought-after specialists choose companies with a human face and that have clear values and goals. Companies, in turn, become prosperous only when they pay attention not only to what employees do, but also to how they feel about themselves.
It is becoming the norm at large international corporations that their senior executives regularly communicate with line personnel and listen to their suggestions. This creates an atmosphere of trust that improves the company’s long-term performance. When Covid-19 took hold, the main issue was not the balance between work and private life anymore, but people’s health in general, both physical and mental.
Since the beginning of 2020, transition to a remote work format all over the world has become rather a necessity than just a standard practice. In addition to the rapid reorganization of all business processes, both international and Russian companies have demonstrated an unprecedented level of unity in putting the health and life of people at the forefront and offering employees various support measures.
For example, Delta Air Lines allowed 5,000 workers at higher risk for Covid-19 to stay at home during the pandemic, with full pay and medical benefits. Starbucks allowed its baristas to learn their work schedule two weeks in advance, and, whenever possible, moved them to stores closer to their home.
Mastercard provides us an interesting case study. Even before the pandemic, the company’s leadership set itself the goal to more deeply understand their employees’ potentials and capabilities to use workforce more efficiently. To do this, the organization invested in a forward-looking analytics platform using artificial intelligence to model emerging technologies’ impact on any economy, industry, organization, or job. Since the pandemic broke out, this platform has been key in guiding some decisions on work flexibility ranges. In the future, Mastercard plans to use the insights from this tool to design employees’ career track, among other factors.
Russia, overall, is witnessing similar trends, although with local features. When the pandemic arrived, most of the largest Russian companies, primarily from the IT industry, like Mail.ru and Yandex, were the first to transfer their employees to telecommuting. And to date they have established a hybrid work model, giving a greater degree of freedom to employees in choosing how often they want to visit the office. Even some state corporations with a high degree of confidential information, such as Rosatom, were able to quickly develop office attendance calendars that ensured people’s health and safety, transferring to home office those employees whose functionality allowed them to work remotely.
After the most acute phase of the pandemic was over, Russian tech giant Sber offered its employees the opportunity to take a sabbatical – a long-term (from 1 month to 1 year) unpaid break from work, but keeping the job.
With the improvement of the epidemiological situation, many companies have so far refused from returning all workforce to the office and chose one or another hybrid model. Employee burnout, lack of team spirit and of the sense of belongingness to the same business have become a common feature in remote work. Meanwhile, at the same time, people are no longer ready to completely give up their freedom of movement and the time that is freed up for family and personal matters.
Research shows that as a result of the pandemic, corporate culture of many companies has relaxed: in 2021, only 9% of employees considered their organization’s values and rules as stringent, compared to 16% in 2019 (according to a survey by Superjob, a job search platform). In addition, it was found that Russians want to work in companies with a “relaxed” corporate culture (80%), and only 4% of respondents support “strict” approaches.
In general, while before the pandemic, Russia obviously lagged the global trend to relax corporate culture (with certain industries being exceptions), the situation has changed with the coming of Covid-19. The reaction of companies both in Russia and globally to the threat to the life and health of people turned out to be similar – serious attention and resources were paid to ensuring the safety and support for the workforce.
The pandemic in most countries is not over yet, and today we can observe similar strategies with organizations developing one or another hybrid approach that would be more flexible to employees’ demands. Of course, there are still quite conservative industries in Russia, for example public service or industrial and manufacturing production, which traditionally have a rigid corporate culture and a hierarchical organizational structure. However, it is hard to say that their influence remains decisive for companies seeking to achieve a new leap in efficiency through the introduction of new approaches to corporate culture.