There's an old marketing saying:
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. That means that a company's vibe, energy level, morale – you name it – almost always trumps its business plan. Internal culture matters – especially in radio.
Even radio naysayers who celebrate the good old days will admit that even today's modernized, clustered radio buildings are often fun places to work, spend time, and commune.
Until the arrival of COVID, that is.
In the past 13 months, radio has proved it can function in a largely remote environment. The on-air talent, sales department, and administrative workers have all functioned well in this pandemic-influenced environment. Many station buildings are still closed – especially the ones owned and operated by radio's biggest companies. It may be months before many of them reopen.
And many remote workers are, in fact, not at all tired of doing their jobs in their PJs, surrounded by the trappings of home – partners, kids, pets – you name it. In fact, a new research study by the Robert Half Company reveals that one in three current employees may quit “if WFH ends.”
While not all workers are enamored by the idea of continuing to come into the office – or station – what's the toll on workplace culture?
For mature operations, perhaps the damage is minimal. When many employees have been on board for several years, Zoom meetings, phone calls, and even texts can suffice as at-work shorthand.
We may, in fact, be heading for a hybrid solution, where employees will return to the workplace on certain days. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and other big tech companies are in the midst of plans to devise these mix and match solutions for their headquarters and satellite offices.
Because culture matters.
And while most workers have adapted to WFH – and some prefer it – its long-term toll on the esprit de corps is what's at stake if this goes many months longer.
It has been especially traumatic for new employees, especially those more accustomed to fraternity parties than department head meetings:
Newly minted workers have been hardest hit by WFH, making it more difficult to learn, adjust, and fit in. They don't carry a sense of the culture and history of an organization with them. A Microsoft study broken out by generations tells an important story about how culture has been shattered by remote work among the youngest employees – Gen Z workers. They're the ones that need the most mentoring and guidance, especially when it comes to fitting in.
The lesson in 2021 for radio?
WFH eats station culture for lunch…and dinner.
As broadcast radio companies begin to devise ways in which to bring remote employees together, internal event development and promotion may become a way to reconnect workers from all departments. And a lot of good thinking is going into figuring out how to bring employees back.
Microsoft's “Hybrid Workplace Dial” has less to do with timelines, and more to do with staging out how companies – and radio stations – can help return to some semblance of normalcy:
Radio stations may find it will require even more planning to re-engage employees post-COVID than it did to hastily make arrangements last March to get everyone operating outside the station.
Because in radio, culture matters.