An Interview About the Importance and Impact of Business Culture in a Hybrid Work World

Dec 18, 2022
Annicken Day Telefónica Empresas

By Cristóbal Corredor Ardoy, Telefónica Empresas

I recently had the opportunity to interview Annicken R. Day. She is a global authority on the topic of business culture. I met her when I worked at Tandberg. At that time, she was the Chief Cultural Officer (CCO), one of the first in the world to have this title. She later founded the company Corporate Spring , which upholds the philosophy that "being happy at work is beneficial for business" (fun generates profit ).

Data from various studies – Gallup, Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and McKinsey – is overwhelmingly supporting her standpoint. Highly engaged teams (with high degree of passion and happiness) are 56 percent more effective, 23 percent more profitable, bring a 30 percent increase in customer satisfaction rate, have a 50 percent lower turnover rate – and contributes to a 3 times higher shareholder value.


What led you to create Corporate Spring?

I have always been passionate about the power of company culture. After having worked with culture on the inside of some hugely successful global companies, I knew the business benefits of investing in people and culture. But I realized that most companies were not as aware as the companies I had worked for; that culture was not even on the agenda for many business leaders. Most of them were focusing on strategy, business objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs). But the people, the ones who was going to make it all happen, were far from given the same kind of attention. I wanted help change that. I decided to leave the "corporate world” and instead create my own company that helps leaders and teams create people-focused, thriving organizational cultures where people are inspired to do deliver on business objectives and goals.  

Corporate Spring’s mission is to make the corporate world a happier place. In fact, I think this should be the mission for all companies because as it turns out, happiness is not only good for people, it is also very good for business. Happy teams deliver way better business results.


Why do you think business culture is so important?

First of all; corporate culture is a concept that is often misunderstood. Many leaders think it's about having ping pong tables in the office and Friday beers. All of that is fine but it is not company culture. “Culture is all around”: business culture pervades everything. It is how decisions are made, problems are solved, how products are developed, how teams work together, the way they communicate, innovate, and treat each other– and their customers. In short, company culture is the way work is done.

Corporate culture is shaped from the top since the behaviors of leadership tend to be replicated in the rest of the organization. But it’s not only shaped from the top. I named my company Corporate Spring because I wanted to highlight that corporate culture also is shaped bottoms-up, that everyone in the company influence the culture through their behaviors. When everyone in your company realizes this, and feel a shared responsibility for the company culture, you can build a strong and effective business culture that will contribute to your business success.


How has the pandemic impacted aspects such as the "humanization" of organizations or their purpose and values?

During the pandemic, people have spent a lot of time at home, and many have been thinking and reflecting on their life and work situation and what they wanted to do moving forward. Many came to realize that they weren’t happy with how things used to be. This led to many new kinds of reflections and conversations amongst families, friends, and work colleagues. Many managers, who rarely had taken the time to talk with their employees, suddenly were forced to do so. To “check in” on people and not only “check up” on them. And through that, many new and more human connections were established in the workplace. Many managers had to become more human in their approach. Have different kinds of conversations, ask their people how they were doing, and show that they care. The pandemic has changed the way things are done and how people communicate in many companies. Many leaders have understood that they must be more people-oriented and spend more time to talk with their people. Hopefully this good, new habit continues post-pandemic.


On the other hand, the new generations also demand changes…

The younger generations, the Millennials and Gen Z, who were born after 1982 and will make up 75 percent of the work force in 2025, have other expectations and demands to work. As an example, they don’t talk as much about work-life balance. They talk about work-life integration.  They want (and expect) the freedom to live their lives and define the way they work; when, how and where. Many say they don't mind working on a Saturday, not because their boss says so, but because they are passionate about their work and feel it has a purpose.  And of course, working on the weekend means that they will have the freedom to take a day off another day.

But we all know that companies don't change quickly, even when it's important that they do. Many leaders hope that this is all just a temporary thing, that things soon will go back to “normal”. But there is a new normal now, and if leaders wait for things to turn back to how things were, they will lose people and most likely struggle with attracting new talents.  


In your opinion, has teleworking meant a loss of feeling of belonging to the company?

The conclusion of recent studies on the topic is that there is no correlation between the feeling of belonging to a company and working remotely, hybrid or in an office. What determines the sense of belonging is the relationship with the team and manager, and how well they collaborate and communicate with each other.

We see that many companies lean towards effective hybrid work cultures, which is less about sitting side- by-side doing tactical work, and more about creating arenas for meaningful conversations, collaboration, and socialization. What determines people's feeling of belonging to a company boils down to business culture and leadership.


And in a context of hybrid work, how can you spread the business culture?

Since the informal communication that normally occurs in the office (meeting in the lobby, chatting around the coffee machine, having lunch etc.) easily get lost when teams work remotely it is important to pay extra attention to this kind of communication. To make sure that meetings are not only task-oriented but also have a relational and social component to it.

When people don’t naturally meet in the office, it is important to be more deliberate in communication; to check in on each other, ask each other how they are doing and if everything is fine. This goes both for managers to employees and team members amongst themselves. This kind of communication is important to establish trusting relationships and good social work environments, both very important for business cultures.


Why are there so many managers who resist the idea that their employees do not go to the office?

This is a key question with a sad answer. Studies show that 2 out of 3 managers don't trust that people are doing their work if they don't see them. In my opinion that is a strong sign that something is clearly wrong with their business culture.

The new generations say they are okay with coming into the office if they are convinced that it makes sense to do so, not so that their boss can see what they are doing.

So clearly, something’s got to change.


How can companies keep the passion alive amongst the workers?

Passion can be seen in people's eyes. If it’s there, it is the leader’s most important job to keep that flame alive. People who love what they do tend to have shiny eyes. If a leader sees the light fading in their employee’s eyes, it is time to intervene and ask some important questions. Like: how are you? Are you enjoying your job? Is there something I can help you with? Should we change something? Passion can move mountains so keeping that flame alive is so important.

Leaders underestimate their importance in how people feel about their work. Studies show that seven out of ten employees leave their job because of their relationship with their boss. Being a leader who cares more about their people than about themselves (which regretfully is quite rare) helps prevent this from happening.


What would you recommend to a company that wants to improve its business culture?

A conscious approach to culture should always start with gaining a deep understanding of your WHY. Why your company/team exists, why you all show up in the morning. I am not referring to the sales objectives of the next quarter, but to your long-term goals, the mission and purpose of the company. To align and excite people and the entire organization around this is absolutely key.


Second, you need to think about your HOW. To have a conversation with the teams about how to work together to achieve the objectives, missions and purpose. How will you collaborate, communicate, support each other? How are your company values guiding your daily actions? How do you make decisions? How do you approach and solve problems? How do you celebrate your wins?

And third, you must figure out the WHAT; what it all means in practice. What to do, what to prioritize, what practices and habits you can implement to work better and more effectively together as a team? What systems and structures are supporting the culture you need, what is hindering it, and what will you do about it?

Making culture a strategy and continuously pay attention to how to strengthen and make it better, is the most effective way to improve your workplace culture and gain immediate and positive business benefits.