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The Virtual Culture

How do you understand and maintain your identity when the core of your existence is challenged?

The focus of organisations has understandably recently been on survival; procuring remote technology solutions and ensuring their business remains productive in a virtual world. However, as the realities of a ‘new normal’ begin to unfold there is a need to think longer-term and adapt more sustainably; and the importance of understanding and developing your culture is becoming clearer. Getting a grasp of your core values and beliefs, and ensuring these align with your strategy will ensure a foundation is built upon which you can remain agile and adaptable in an ever-changing world.

When the COVID-19 situation became reality, working for an organisation that prides itself on its culture, and its people and values, meant our first thoughts were for our people’s and their families’ health, safety and wellbeing. Immediately the scale of the pandemic began to become clear, we closed our offices, before the official lockdown was announced, and it’s thanks to the flexible nature of the work we do and the way we do it, that we already had the infrastructure and systems in place to support us.

What we were not as well-prepared for was the operational challenges this would pose; with extremely high volumes of work in some areas of our business, and conversely very quiet teams; often the ones who had been out working hands-on with our clients.

As a technology company some may argue that we should somehow be better equipped to deal with a scenario such as this. Whilst in the context of basic infrastructure this may be true, as a consultancy where customer intimacy and building and maintaining trusting relationships is central to our beliefs, our business is about a lot more than just technology.

As we have navigated this changing environment, our established culture of ‘people first’ has provided guidance and reassurance around some of our actions and activities but, nonetheless, we too have had to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

We asked ourselves a lot of questions along the way. Questions like ‘with such a strong collaborative culture, how can we maintain it at a distance?’, and ‘how best can we support our people - both colleagues and clients?’; and perhaps most critical of all ‘what will the future look like for us as an organisation?’.

Culture is often described as ‘the way we do things’, or the unsaid. For us at Waterstons, the shared culture and values of our business are held in high esteem. We have worked hard to ensure that our people remain at the forefront of what we do and that every decision made is guided by our value set and organisational culture. This doesn’t mean we don’t have to make tough calls; but when we do, we share the ‘why’ and hope that our investment in our people will provide reassurance to them.

Whilst we have been constantly adapting to changing conditions over the last six months or so, we recognise that we must continue to do so; and we will share any insights we have as the situation develops. In the meantime, we would like to share some things we have been considering during our journey to help define and refine our focus; and which will hopefully help you to align your culture with your business goals.

  1. Establish what culture means to you, your teams and your people – and are they aligned?
  2. Analyse the gaps and plan for future actions – what has changed, or what can you change whilst you have the chance?
  3. Communicate with your people – make sure they share your understanding and are clear on the direction of the business and their role.
  4. Keep in touch – communicate regularly, clearly and consistently to invest in your people’s wellbeing.
  5. Live the values – and don’t be afraid to call out leaders if they aren’t contributing to sustaining them.
  6. Utilise expertise – consider outside help and identify change leaders within your organisation.
  7. Keep your promises and keep talking – whether small or large, change takes time and consistency.

In all of this, don’t lose patience. The key to changing the way you or your organisation work is in capitalising on chances to identify new practices that allow your business to work better and/or more safely. We know this situation isn’t entirely temporary; it is here to stay, and we believe the key to weathering this, and other storms to follow, is having agility embedded in your organisation.

If you would like to talk more about defining your culture or developing a gap analysis, then you’re in luck – we are currently developing a tool to do just that and would love the opportunity to discuss it with you.

Jisc | Data Matters

26 January 2021

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