Culture change in business – BusinessWorld Online

By Amelia H. C. Ylagan
I wonder if things will ever go back to the old times when business executives closed deals over cocktails at a five-star hotel lobby bar, or at a half-day golf game in a prestigious golf course in the outskirts of Manila. Or maybe it was just entertaining foreign buyers or visiting VIPs, and the dark night beckoned with bars and hot entertainment. Business and pleasure were alliances with dalliances.
Will the office lights in the tall buildings crowding the Makati skyline still burn late into the night as office workers do their daily overtime? Two years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization, the EDSA highway saw heavy traffic on weekdays until midnight — because many office workers only drove home after 9 p.m., thinking that if they started for home later, they would not sit in two hours of slow-moving traffic. What to do about traffic? The malls were open until midnight then. So were the bars, karaoke places, and little cafes!
Really, why should one rush out of the office to go home at 5-6 p.m. — the height of rush hour traffic — just to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic inching (or at a standstill!) from Quezon City to Parañaque? There is always easy justification for overtime work. Daytime hours are busy with customers and clients and regular operations. Overtime work by the rank and file is paid at least 1.5 times the per hour rate, and it can happily happen that total overtime pay might exceed one’s regular monthly take-home pay. For supervisory and management levels, that they have no overtime pay is more than compensated by the extra output of the team, which would translate to a good evaluation and productivity bonuses or promotions in rank and pay. Everybody happy, including the often-neglected families waiting at home.
The spirit of competition within and outside the organization moves the culture of businesses. After all, natural selection and market share are a crowding-out game of winners and losers in business, paralleled in all aspects of living. In a business, there are two basic “publics” — external, like buyers, suppliers, regulators, creditors, etc., and internal, which are the employees, owners, and working associates.
Harvard Business School defines “culture” as “the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive” (Harvard Business Review, January–February 2018 https://hbr.org/2018/01).
Whatever the organization type, size, industry, or geography, interaction between people is the key driver of the company’s achievement of its goals. Highly interdependent organizations emphasize integration, managing relationships, and coordinating group effort. “People in such cultures tend to collaborate and to see success through the lens of the group,” the HBR says (Ibid.).
And the success of a business culture would be sustainable only if it has the flexibility to adapt to change. Innovation within the organization would be good as evaluated and implemented. External change would be less controllable, as its ramifications and effects particular to a company and its situation would be difficult to assess and accept.
The world has had to accept and adapt to technology since the earliest inventions of man to make things easier for work and life. More than for the goal of a better quality of life, technology has insinuated itself inextricably into the mercenary activities of business, for the sacrosanct net profit and whatever else is net-net beneficial. Little labor-saving devices evolved into computer-driven logical systems that did the thinking, evaluating, and measuring, forecasting and planning, implementing and actual performance and production for management and the workforce. And then it became clear that group effort in a physical workspace seemed optional, to the point of being expensive, as outsourcing and work-from-home (WFH) were deemed more efficient and effective.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic brutally lashed at and trashed the whole world with none knowing what it was so rabidly angry about. COVID has changed the world. Some say the pandemic was a levelling of the playing field for people, much like wars level the playing field for nations and the world. Back at ground zero, strategies and the enabling cultures must emerge from the purging and cleansing of the COVID pandemic.
In the Philippines, most people have gotten used to working from home, a business executive notes (https://businessmirror.com.ph, Nov. 8, 2021). Staff meetings have been conducted virtually. Most clients are likewise working from home and meetings with them are held online, scheduled whenever convenient for all. Office hours have effectively been stretched as needed for the conduct of business. Technology has certainly dictated the changes and adaptations to doing business, where virtual discussions and online presentations and reporting claim the attention and concentration of internal and external publics of the business. Certainly, there has been a radical change in business cultures, from the necessary change in business strategies, in the dictatorial socio-politics of the COVID pandemic.
The Department of Health (DoH) this month encouraged employers to opt for work-from-home setups or other alternative tasking arrangements that would reduce the opportunities for the spread of the coronavirus (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan. 7). Such a work setup will eliminate close contact between employees and other people interacting with an establishment. This is going to be “critical especially during this period of exponential increase” in COVID-19 cases, according to the DoH. Various market studies suggest that even when the virus variants abate, businesses will be encouraged to at least adopt a hybrid work setup, meaning part work-from-home and staggered or selective reporting at the office for the workforce.
In a series of surveys conducted among professionals from 15 industries across the globe, Euromonitor found that employers were forced to “rethink their attitudes to flexible working” as remote work has become the norm rather than a temporary fix.
The number of professionals permanently shifting to some form of a work-from-home setup rose by 20% from 2020 to 2021. A country survey in October 2021 by Robert Walters Philippines found that 52% of employees qualified for middle- to senior-level management positions were likely to turn down a job offer that required them to report full time at the office (Ibid.).
Among government workers, alternative work arrangements “had positive effects on [their] perceived performance and productivity,” according to an online survey and a focus group discussion conducted among 2,756 civil servants by the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) (Ibid.).
So, there has evidently been a change in business culture. In the isolation and restrictions of COVID, and the individualism brought about by technology, the greatest loss might be what the HBR considers the ground-cover — healthy human relationships — to nurture the healthy tree (the organization) of communities.
Something lost, something gained. No more late nights at the office. More time with family and loved ones.
 
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.
ahcylagan@yahoo.com

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