With a renewed focus on the importance of putting people first, transitioning workplace culture from the office to the virtual environment helps businesses maintain a digital-ready mindset.
Humanity at the forefront of workplace culture enables productivity in times of uncertainty, executives from Adobe and Carmax said at a MIT Sloan Digital Learning Series event on Wednesday.
Blurred lines between personal and professional life shape the new telework reality as family interrupts video conferencing and business hours stretch throughout the day. In a time of crisis, an emphasis on understanding employees outside the metaphorical office guides leadership.
Within Adobe's culture, employee's family and health come first and customers second, said Cynthia Stoddard, SVP and CIO at Adobe."
"You have to work and build a sense of trust with the organization. Live and breathe and share and talk and have an open door, and the culture comes around," said Stoddard.
It also helps if trust is built from the top down. Organizations expect chief information officers and other IT executives to be well-versed in soft skills supporting a strong culture, such as emotional intelligence.
Over one-third of women in tech surveyed by Accenture and the nonprofit Girls Who Code, for example, reported leaving IT roles because of company culture. Lack of consideration for inclusive policies — such as family leave, inclusive networking events, and diversity in leadership — shorten the tenure of key employees.
Employee buy-in ultimately keeps culture strong, according to Shamim Mohammad, Carmax's SVP and chief information and technology officer.
"You have to make sure it's not just the CIO trying to change the company's culture. It has to be everybody's job but more importantly is the senior leadership team, they have to be all in for this change," Mohammad said.
With buy-in on building an inclusive and people-first culture at all levels, companies may have an easier time retaining talent, too. The size of the IT workforce shrank by 19,000 jobs when the pandemic first hit in March, but businesses faced trouble hiring qualified IT professionals long before the disruption.
Skill shortages are largely to blame, but lack of inclusion or poor company culture can drive applicants away. Plus, an inclusive workforce boosts productivity. Businesses with high levels of diversity in upper and lower management achieve higher levels of productivity compared to counterparts, per a June study in the Academy of Management Journal.
As technology changes, organizations take awhile to adapt, and culture changes even slower, according to George Westerman, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
"We can focus so much on the technology we forget about the fact that it's the organization that drives the value," Westerman said. "One thing COVID[-19] has done for us it's really called attention to the people."
The tenets of people-first culture are in line with how Westerman defines a digital-ready culture. Westerman urged for impact, speed, autonomy and openness to foster tech innovation.