George Bernard Shaw once stated that the United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language. Not only are these two countries divided by a single language, but office culture and management styles are often found to be an area of confusion and contention as well when staff find themselves working across the pond.
If your company is lucky enough to have employees from around the globe, whether short-term or long-term, it’s important to establish the ground rules necessary to avoid any confusion that might arise as a result of conflicting work and communication styles within a blended global team. In setting these rules, you might consider a balance between the organisational culture and a universal approach that takes into account the diversity of the team. This would enable both nationalities to benefit from an exposure to different working styles.
By communicating the standards that are expected, businesses will be able to minimise employee frustrations and set a healthy company culture that will allow staff to flourish.
1. Lead by example.
The culture of an organisation is very much set from the top. This is why it’s crucial that the leadership team sets a positive and consistent example when it comes to communication style, work culture, and even organisational messaging and tone. Without this alignment, a company runs the risk of establishing a disjointed culture where one set of people are working late into the evening while others are not.
“As leaders, people will follow what you do. I think a number of CEOs don’t recognise that the way in which they conduct themselves is often mirrored by the staff around them, as most people want to please their bosses,” explains Anna Stobart, Founder and Director of Hafton Consultancy Ltd. “Instead, it is best to show we are trying to create a culture of hard work but recognising our private lives are also important. This is how organisational culture is developed and something that should be taken into the mix when understanding both the good and the bad of current cultures”.
2. Allow flexible working hours.
Over the past year, UK businesses have been required to transition from the traditional nine-to-five model into a more flexible approach that accommodates staff working from home and balancing care commitments. According to the Office of National Statistics, 20% of working parents with school age children have changed their routines in order to balance work and life.
This adjustment in working hours can often cause conflicts within teams as parents find themselves working unsociable hours while their peers might continue with the norm. To prevent miscommunication within teams it is recommended to do the following:
- Manage expectations of teams and allow them to fully understand any adjustment of hours individuals might be working compared to their regular nine-to-five.
- Set boundaries for when work emails should be sent or use delay/scheduled send for after work emails as this will allow emails to be drafted and lined up for an allotted time during office hours.
- Include a note at the bottom of emails that explains “I am sending you this email out of work hours because it suits me, but I am not expecting you to read, action or respond to it outside your regular hours”. Be mindful that things change when children are involved and parents don’t always have a choice as to any disruptions that might appear throughout the day.
3. Champion the break.
It’s a common sight in any office, and now while working from home, to see staff eating lunch at their desk while working diligently at their computer. This can be seen by senior members as an employee working hard and forgoing the relaxed lunch of their peers, but colleagues may not see it in this light.
For those infiltrating the office with last night's microwaved salmon, or the pungent Stinking Bishop cheese sandwich, it’s best to implement the simple rule that lunch be away from the desk. Whilst this avoids HR receiving complaint emails of the smell, this will also mean as an HR professional you are helping protect staff from long periods of DSE (Digital Screen Equipment) work and gives their eyes a rest. This also allows you to enforce the minimal legal duty of a 30 minute break and grant them enough time to go for a short walk, give remote colleagues a chance to disconnect, read a book, have a conversation, or eat somewhere else as a way to step away from the desk.
4. Emphasize results over hours.
According to data from the Office For National Statistics, full-time employees in the UK work longer hours than those in the European Union, with the UK working an average of 42 hours a week which is nearly 2 hours more than the EU average. That said, staff in the United States are renowned for their long hours and hardworking nature with a whopping 47 hours per week.
It is understandable work can run over, events are late and calls need to be made after hours, but as an HR professional it is important to stress that presenteeism isn’t always the answer for that next promotion. This could be achieved by making it company policy to measure presenteeism as well as absences, this would create a clear signal that both are considered to have an impact on the business. Managers should also be encouraged to pay attention to the quality of output above the level of input.
5. Manage holidays.
Taking annual leave is something to look forward to and a much needed holiday is a way to recharge the batteries. According to a recent Acas and YouGov survey, four in 10 UK workers took less paid time off during the pandemic than previous years, and with recent travel restrictions placed on UK travellers it’s no wonder fewer people are partaking in those sunny days away from the office.
People accumulating holiday means there is a risk of it all being used at once towards the end of the year, and companies need to seriously consider whether their business can support the staff shortages. It is therefore essential that businesses encourage employees to spread their time across the year and show staff leadership recognising that our private lives are important.
Communication is important when giving staff permission for their time off. Your staff should feel as though the company respects their time away from the office with no expectation of “checking emails”. This is especially important as employees increasingly view work/life balance as a “must have”.
A business needs to be managed to achieve its mission and goals as well as benefit its workforce. This means advocating for policies that work for the business but also make it a great place to work for the staff members and inspires them to give their ‘discretionary effort’.
As companies adjust to the “new normal” these simple points might seem obvious to the seasoned HR professional, but the clear communication to staff and management teams with the above points might be the lifeline they need. “Now is a great time to really engage with your team, as they return to the office, to co-create an excellent working culture that promotes your business goals” Anna Stobart says. “Done well it will help you set the tone for the next chapter in your business”.