The culture conundrum addressed at HR Indaba Online

It’s time to cultivate belonging for people working from home, according to leading HR professionals.

The new three-letter acronym, WFH, dominated the HR Indaba Online Impact Session titled ‘Culture Conundrum: Cultivating belonging among employees working from home’.

During the session, a three-member panel of HR leaders from diverse industries provided insight into the evolution of culture amidst a transition to new working environments.

Organisational development and change consultant at Investec, Paul Haupt, said it’s important for organisations to identify what is changing and at what pace. “There are elements of culture that are moving far slower,” he said. “There are foundational aspects of culture, on which we build pillars and then the roof. Often, we get busy with the top structure and we misunderstand that to be culture, whereas culture is the entire structure, including the foundation and pillars.”

He added that an organisation is a complex and adaptive system. It is also unpredictable and cannot be controlled, but has a wisdom of its own, and it’s inside this system that the idea of leadership resides.

“Leadership can be taken up by anyone in an organisation. So, we create an environment where people can bring their true selves as individuals before their role. This is our commercial difference, it’s not just a ‘nice to have’,” he explained.

Connection not lost
Being authentic and appreciating the whole person was a point that Tantaswa Fubu, group executive: human capital and transformation at Barloworld, was passionate about.

“We need to recognise that the trauma we are living through is a collective one. We may not be connecting with people in a classical employer-employee way, but the connection has not been lost,” she said.

“We have promised humanity to people in our EVPs for many, many years but what we did didn’t tie in with that. Leaders wanted to appear superhuman. If I am a leader and I come to work when I am sick, what does that do to the culture? It says I expect my team to work when they are sick,” she explained.

Tantaswa added, “There was a time when people were told to leave their issues at the office gate, but we are more enlightened now and understand the value of the whole person. The numbers do take care of themselves when people feel valued and are seen as individuals.”

Dieter Veldsman, group human capital executive (interim) at Momentum Metropolitan highlighted that EVPs are needs-based, “but we have to understand needs in the current context. Think human first is our philosophy,” he said. “The starting point is to be clear about what you believe about people and what is expected from leaders with remote working. It’s also important to deliberately engineer social connection.”

This culture engineering allows people to connect without a task-based outcome or meeting agenda. “Technology can become a tool for inclusion or exclusion,” said Dieter. “So the person with the worst internet connection, their voice doesn’t get heard. We have to solve these practicalities.”

From an interaction perspective, Dieter sees opportunity for remote working, office environments and a third space where people can gather in teams to collaborate, rather than engage in work. “We have all been in crisis mode and we are going into a recovery phase. Traditional programmes were generally reactive; now we have to consider what proactive care looks like,” he said.

Dieter added:

“Culture is every memorable moment and interaction in your working day, and we need to become more intentional about that.”