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How to Build a Positive Workplace Culture

How to Build a Positive Workplace

Having a positive workplace culture is important when running a business. Without it, your business might not succeed. But how can you build positive workplace culture, especially now that most of us are working from home?

Andre Van Der Merwe from Barclay Recruitment and Verity Consulting shares advice around people and culture in organisations.

Key Takeaways: 

• One of the key indicators of positive workplace culture is people staying in your organisation. Another is what we call discretionary effort.

• The workplace culture is set by the leadership team.

• Your customers can impact the morale and therefore the workplace culture within the business.

What Does a Positive Work Culture Look Like

How would you know if you've got a positive workplace culture? How do you measure workplace culture?

People Stay

Andre: One of the key indicators of whether you have positive workplace culture or not is whether people actually stay in your organisation. Another one is how many times people smile in a day and how much they interact with each other.

Discretionary Effort 

Andre: One of the best indicators that you have a positive workplace culture that most people don't think about is what we call discretionary effort. It is when people stay longer than what they need to in the day and when they do extra things that they don't need to do but they choose to do them because they believe in what the manager is looking to achieve or they are passionate about where the company is going and they feel that what they're doing is contributing to that, so they choose to put an extra effort in order to achieve that goal. 

They're all working together towards the common good because they believe and trust their leader enough to do that sort of thing.

How To Create a Positive Workplace Culture 

Positive Workplace CultureDorks Delivered is in the IT industry, so we see that certain industries have a huge churn rate. They call us up asking us to reset their password, set up usernames, and migrate profiles every two to three weeks. If you've already got a business that might have a poisonous workplace culture, how do you rectify that? 

Andre: Grant Doyle, who is the managing director at Execforce, heads up leadership and strategy at Verity Consulting. He'll tell you that everything starts with effective leadership. I definitely have to agree with him.

If you want to improve the workplace culture and reduce churn rate within the business, then it has to start with the leadership team looking at themselves and asking themselves some really hard questions in terms of what are they actually doing that's causing that?

What Makes People Stay (or Leave) 

Andre: There's a company that does a study every seven years across 10,000 companies in 44 countries. They look at what makes people take a job, stay in the job, and leave the job. There's more to it, but for this conversation, we'll bring down to these points.

1. Their boss or leader 

2. Their peers - If they actually get along with those peers, that comes down to culture.

3. Being part of something that's bigger than themselves - Are they actively able to contribute to that and actually make an impact?

The last results of the study came out two years ago, and in the results seven years prior, money was 5th on the list. Interestingly, in the latest results, money moved from 5th to 7th or 8th on the list of things that make people stay in their job. People, especially Gen Ys and Gen Zs, are caring less about money these days. For them, it's more about the common good.

If you're looking to build positive workplace culture, understand that the culture is set by the leadership team within the business. As a leader, you have got to start asking yourself questions like "What are you doing that's driving the culture?" and accept the fact that the workplace culture is what it is today because of you 9.9 times out of 10. Are you building something that's bigger than just having people turn up every day to do their job? Are you inspiring the people to actually work towards and actually contribute to that?

A survey of senior business leaders from different countries showed a link between automation and employee engagement. Find out how you can help your employees.

How Your Clients Affect Your Workplace Culture

When we started the business, I was living with mum and dad so I'm doing it in the garage. I said yes to anyone that wanted to work with me. I needed the money, but then I realised it wasn't the best decision. We started cutting off the ugly parts and making sure that we're dealing with clients that have the same mindset.

Clients Affect Workplace CultureI think that our culture at Dorks Delivered has become better now after we've gotten rid of some of the clients that didn't respect the staff as much. They weren't derogatory and rude to them, but when people call up for tech support, the first thing we ask is if they have tried turning it off and on again? Usually, it fixes it. Just doing that five times a week makes you feel like you're not really respected by the person when you've already said that maybe this is the solution to your problem. 

Can your clients really bring down the morale of your staff and affect the positive workplace culture in your organisation? 

Andre: You looked at your customers or changed some of your customers because of how they were interacting with your team. That was a leadership decision that you made. You made a decision for your team. You wanted them to be treated in a certain way.

Your customers can impact the morale and therefore the workplace culture within the business. But again, it starts with leadership to actually recognise that and then make the appropriate decisions.

It doesn't matter where you sit in the organisational structure, how much money you've got in the bank, what car you drive, or what suburb you live in. At the end of the day, the one thing we've all got in common is our humanity. We're all human beings, and no human being wants to be treated badly, whether that's bullying in the workforce or working for somebody who's rude. As human beings, we've all got the same innate needs at a human level. If you look after those things, the rest of it tends to become really easy.

How to Build Positive Workplace Culture When Most People Are Working From Home

A lot of people are working from home instead of from their office, and it's a big change. How is that affecting the workplace culture? Is that something that we should be worried about?


Andre: I think we need to go back to pre-COVID when working from home has been a thing for a number of years. Most organisations were trying to wrap their head around that and how to actually balance working from homework and working from the office.

Even before then, there was another trend: offshoring your team. You'd have teams working partly in the Philippines and in Australia. I specifically remember seeing statistics around the big banks having a high volume of customer interactions about setting up funds to support the teams overseas. There was a huge move to have teams working overseas to the point where they almost went too far that way. Those banks moved a lot of those people back into Australia, and they now have balance.

Finding the Balance 

Andre: Similarly, with working from home, we've been trying to find balance for a long time, especially as we move through the different generational changes within a business. With your Gen X and older generations, there was no such thing as working from home. You work longer from the office, and that's just how it is. You go home to relax. 

As a new generation comes in, that's slowly starting to change. All that COVID has really done is just make that change happen a lot quicker. Because it's happened a lot quicker, some companies have gone from one extreme to the other extreme where everyone's working from home all the time because it makes a lot of things easier to cover what needs to be done. 

Workplace culture has been heavily impacted. Companies have realised it's not everyone in the office or everyone working from home. It's a balance of the two wherever possible.

Find balance and remove tedious tasks from your employees' to-do lists. Talk to a dork about business process automation.

Interacting Is An Innate Need 

Andre: Again, we're still human beings. We want to interact with each other, so how do we actually do that? Zoom’s sales rose by 326% in 2020, which is phenomenal. Profits jumped from $21.7 million in $2019 to $671,000,000 end of last year. Zoom has gone through the roof because people have realised that they want to interact face to face with each other, even if it is from home. We want that connectivity with each other. 

I'm a true believer in the remote workforce, but I also think you need to have that interactivity to keep a positive workplace culture and high productivity. Working from home while relaxing at home can be also really difficult because you end up getting very feature creepy. You have all the functions that you can do in a work environment at home. If you can do everything you can do for work at home, it makes the ability to turn off and actually relax and separate the two.

I'm guilty of it. I'll wake up Saturday morning and 20 minutes before I go to boot camp, I'll just quickly get that email out. I'm dealing with a company in America and because of the time difference, it brings the response time to 24 hours. I go, "Am I actually working or am I relaxing?" I can't think of a better term than incestuous—the work and the home sort of just come together—but I think it's okay.

As long as you've got an environment, you can do that. I've set up a specialised room so that if I'm in this room, I'm working. If I'm not, I'm not working.  

Does Working From Home Affect Productivity? 

We've got some pretty cool tools that show some data around this, but have you seen productivity go up or down with people working from home? Are employees enjoying the flexibility or do people go through the recruitment process and ask specifically if they will be able to work from home (or maybe they really hate their family and they want to make sure they're not able to work from home)?

Andre: Domestic violence cases have gone up since COVID. It's terrible. There have been more issues around mental health as well. I guess some of it was driven by the financial impact of COVID and by having to adjust at home. How much you see your partner, how much you see your kids change the dynamics of any relationship. 

"I'm seeing you all the time, but it's not quality time together."

To-Do ListsAndre: Statistically speaking, when we're working in an office space, we interact with the people at work for around 6 hours a day and you interact with your partner at home for around 3 hours a day. When that shifts because you're all working from home now, especially if it's a family where you've got both partners working from home, and the home is not set up for work from home and you're homeschooling your children, which can be an added pressure, the team dynamics shifted significantly. Stress goes through the roof. 

Keep Your Productivity Up While Working From Home

Andre: Are people more productive at home? It depends. It comes down to a lot of the stuff that Dorks Delivered does to help companies do better, which is having the right working environment.

I was talking to our office manager in the lead up to today. During the last snap lockdown that we had in Brisbane, she was caught at her parent's house in Bribie Island. Her laptop was with her but most of the time, she found herself working on the lounge floor. I wouldn't have known it unless she told me last week. She said her neck was starting to get sore after a while; she's uncomfortable. If she's been working from home, she would have been at the home office.

The most important thing and probably the most obvious one is that if you want to be more productive working from home, you have to have an environment that's actually conducive to that. That can be converting that spare room, changing the bed to a futon that can fall up and down, putting a desk in there, or getting the right screen. 

Next, you also want to have the ability to allocate time to actually do the work without being interrupted. That's where it becomes challenging. When you've got kids running around, that sort of impacts things as well.

Maintain Balance

Andre: I think the work-life balance has shifted in terms of what it actually means to us these days. I don't think it's a work-life balance anymore. I think it's just life these days, and work is just part of that, along with kids, along with eating, and everything else. It's around compartmentalising—when am I doing what. In a situation where it doesn't matter what time of the day you get work done, then that's great.

Do 45-Minute Sprints

Andre: It's also realising that you're not going to do this piece of work and when you hear that the washing machine is finished, you will stop what you are doing and hang up the clothes and then come back to do the same job. It's actually focusing on what you’re doing. Try doing 45-minute sprints. 

1. Work in 45-minute blocks of time or “sprints.” Focus on what you're doing for the next 45 minutes until it's done.

2. Take a 15-minute break at the end of each 45-minute sprint. Then, go and do the next thing, which might be either another work topic or maybe something in the house. 

3. You can have 6 sprints throughout the day (ideally 3 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon). 

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Cultural Diversity and Positive Culture in the Workplace

We had someone that came on board in January. She's a lovely Indian lady, and she's quite smart and did a great job. But when she answered the phone, people just wanted to hang up on her and we felt really sorry for her. She's not from overseas, she's in Australia and she just has a bit of an accent. It made me see how racist Australians can be. 

Most of the time, what happens is if she transferred the call to someone else, they would just take the notes and then she would complete the support request anyway. She's more than capable. It was just getting people over that hurdle and just because of the stigma that's been created by big business offshoring and doing that to start off that has put us in this position.

We went and introduced her to all the clients around Southeast Queensland, where we could, as the new person who's going to be helping us out with a few different tasks. They still didn't really want to have too much of a bar of it. Now they are more accepting. But is there a problem with racism and diversity that you've seen? What are some of the disadvantages of cultural diversity in the workplace and how does it affect positive workplace culture?

Andre: I was born in South Africa, so how I answer the question might be taken in different ways by different people. I think Australia is one of the most accepting countries in the world for different races and cultures. I certainly wouldn't live anywhere else. I think we live in an amazing place that's very accepting of those cultures, even if you look at politics on an international scale, like how accepting we've been to refugees. Now, some people will have a different view on that, and that's fine.

Unfortunately, whether we admit it or not, we've been exposed over the years to different accents, particularly over the phone. Someone calls at certain times pushing certain products—we're not happy when they call at dinnertime, pretending they're from Microsoft.

I was talking to my business partner at Barclay Recruitment, Guy Mason, about this just earlier. The amount of spam phone calls and messages we're receiving has gone through the roof, and you must be seeing the same thing with what you're doing in IT. Over the years, unfortunately, we've developed this stigma or preconceived ideas around receiving phone calls from people with certain accents. I don't know if that's politically incorrect to say, but to me, that's just the reality.

Introduce Your Team to Your Clients  

Andre: Knowing that it exists at least in Australia and you want to keep a positive workplace culture, knowing that clients can affect it, how do we then get around it when you are employing somebody that has a certain accent who makes certain phone calls at different times? 

Communicate to your customer base and to your potential customer base about your team through social media marketing activities. It can be a focused piece of marketing content around your team members, talking about multiculturalism, which then leads to some lead generation. When they hear about your brand and hear the accent, that kind of puts two and two together. There's a level of acceptance there and they answer the phone call. 

When you go through customer onboarding, it's extremely important to make sure that there's a face that's attached to the material that goes to new customers so that they look past the accent and preconceived ideas and actually see the bio of your team. 

We have some customers who offshore some of their teams to the Philippines. It's amazing to me that the number of people in the Philippines working for Australian-based businesses is through the roof. They're highly intelligent, very well-spoken, and articulate individuals.

However, it is when you see the face in front of you whilst you're talking to them and find out about their background that will make you realise that you're just dealing with another human being. Bring it back to a human level, regardless of the accent, whether it's marketing on the front end or it's sending some collateral switches for the onboarding process.

People say Australians are racist, but I don't think anyone here would actually go out and intentionally hurt someone.

Andre: As a society and as Australians in general, we're extremely accepting, not racist in the slightest. However, when it comes to the commercial world, I think it plays out a little bit more. I wouldn't say racist. I would just say having preconceived ideas about people.

Ask Andre van der Merwe

Andre van der MerweI got involved with recruitment many years ago because I thought I wanted to have an impact on the most important and most valuable asset of every business, which is human beings. I started working in recruitment and moved into management consulting because I realised that people not only start a job; whether they stay in a job or leave a job has actually had nothing to do with recruitment. It's actually got to do with a lot of things, primarily leadership and HR practices, including workplace culture. 

The only way to impact leadership and workplace culture is if we're actually in touch with people who could actually impact those parts of the business. It ultimately leads to having happy humans in your business, making it more productive and profitable. 

Everything starts with leadership. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has it on their website that if a business has a poor strategy and inferior product but a good leadership team, they are still likely to be successful or more successful than a company with a fantastic product and easy market conditions but a poor leadership team. 

We've got Execforce that does a health check on businesses' strategy and leadership. We also have Tameka at Bramwell Partners, which is also part of the group, and she does a health check focusing on HR practices as well as the onboarding of teams and different practices that can be put in place to reduce that ramp-up time to get an employee to contribute to the team.

We've got a number of tools, from skills testing to personality tests, emotional intelligence test, and IQ test. We choose the tool based on the actual situation.

Go to Verity Consulting

Andre's Advice

It doesn't matter where you sit in the organisational structure, how much money you've got in the bank, what car you drive, or what suburb you live in. At the end of the day, the one thing we've all got in common is our humanity. We're all human beings, and no human being wants to be treated badly, whether that's bullying in the workforce or working for somebody who's rude. As human beings, we've all got the same innate needs at a human level. If you look after those things, the rest of it tends to become really easy.

On Business Freedom 

What is business freedom to you? Why are you in business? 

Andre: I've chosen to go into business for myself to have more freedom. I'm looking to be semi-retired just before the Olympics come to town in 2032 in Brisbane. I'm in a very fortunate position that I work with a lot of likeminded people across the different businesses that I'm involved in, and a lot of them have got similar goals and aspirations as well, even though it's unique between each one, there's this theme of wanting to be in a position where we choose what we do, when we do it and how we do it without having a financial impact that's detrimental to ourselves. In other words, having a residual income and growing assets. 

I think it's important that all of us remember the fact that we're all human beings working for other humans and actually start thinking about what's actually important to us outside of the paycheck? What does the paycheck actually help us to achieve? What is actually important to us? Then have the right conversations to move towards achieving those goals.

I took a cut on income to be able to spend more time with the family, and I would never look back on that. It was the best decision ever. Honestly, if you love going out on a boat but you're spending too much time working, you've got all the money but you don't have the time to go out on a boat, so what's the point of having the boat?

Finding out what it is that you're there for, why do we exist, is a difficult question to answer. When I was going through Know Your Why, it took months of reflection to be able to work out and come back to the same spot I was in, which was to automate people's businesses, better my lifestyle, and have more time for everyone.

Andre: You've achieved freedom through automation. I think we should all ask ourselves the question, what does freedom mean to us and what can we do on a day to day basis? We underestimate what we can do in 10 years and overestimate what we can do in 12 months, right? Consistent execution over a long period of time is what makes you successful.

Have a book, write it down like you write a business plan. I wrote down my first business plan in the same book where I write down the current business plan. It really makes you feel chuffed just going through it because I think we get caught up, always trying to run for the carrot or the next goal without looking behind how far we've come. 

Andre: We call it the shiny object syndrome. Most of what we do, we do without realising we're doing it. We think without realising we're thinking it, but it governs our behaviour and that's our subconscious. When you write those goals down, you actually have a direct link to your subconscious. And if you do it over a period of time, you're actually influencing up to 90% of what you do on a day-to-day basis without actually even realising it.

You're slowly moving towards that goal that you're looking to achieve. If you constantly relive that—think about it, write it down, review, rewrite, review, rewrite—execution sits in between on a day-to-day basis. But if you do it for a long period of time, you're actually tapping into that subconscious, which means you actually get to that scenario where after a year or two, you look back and be surprised that you're a lot closer to the goal of what you thought you were going to be.


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