Work Reimagined: Reimagining our Purpose, Leadership and Culture

Organizations of tomorrow must establish and enable the right kind of behaviors to successfully reimagine and sustain future ways of working

In Brief

  • Leading organizations need to keep their purpose top of mind and draw on it to anchor strategy, make informed decisions and navigate uncertainty
  • In the new era of work, organizations need to foster a culture that promotes trust, transparency, inclusion and empowerment
  • Organizations need to take a holistic view and rethink their target people experience

The disruptive changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to rethink how work is performed and how employees are engaged. Work, as we know it, has changed and there is no going back to the way things used to be. To be successful and thrive by intent, organizations must establish and enable a purpose, culture and leadership that creates trust and engagement by design, rather than by default. In this third article in the Work Reimagined series, I will delve deep into behaviors — one of the three Bs in reimagining the workplace of tomorrow.


Why behaviors?

With “behaviors,” we mean the way people get work done in an organization. How do people collaborate and share knowledge? How do leaders guide their teams and engage employees? How do employees structure their tasks and work toward the overall company goals?

The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent rise of the hybrid work model, with people working from a network of spaces rather than being at the office every day, provides a unique opportunity for organizations to steer a new path toward adopting a people-centric mindset in their work processes. The EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021, with over 16,000 respondents across 16 countries, shows that while 76% of employees rate their job satisfaction at 7 or above (on a scale of 1 to 10), a majority (54%) are likely to quit if they aren’t offered the flexibility they want, with millennials (born 1981-1996) two times as likely as baby boomers (born 1946-1964) to quit.

EY Work Reimagines Employee Survey 2021


of employees are likely to quit if they aren't offered the flexibility they want

Consequently, organizations need to rethink what employee or people experience they want to offer and how work gets done in their organization. Whatever path organizations choose to take, the desired (new) behaviors will put forward different requirements on the physical workplace (bricks), as well as technology (bytes).

Purpose is key

Leading organizations create environments where each employee can readily connect their individual purpose with the company’s purpose. They live through their purpose and draw on it to anchor their strategy, make informed decisions and help leaders and employees to navigate in uncertainty. The accomplishment of any growth, shift or transformation, including technology-focused programs, hinges on the success of people. Most of us are motivated by feeling inspired, trusted, valued and fulfilled; the power of purpose helps grow and promote these feelings within the organization and motivates people to act, drive change and sustain momentum.

Why culture matters

The transition toward the new era of work requires us to revisit and reflect on our culture. How do we define organizational culture? It is the way people collaborate and motivate each other, the way decisions are made, and the way value is created within an organization.

Results of the EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021 show that 48% of employees believe their company culture has changed and gotten better since the beginning of the pandemic (with a net +17% positive score). Two-thirds (66%) agree that the productivity for their job can be accurately measured by their company, irrespective of where they work. Respondents also report that they needed to adopt new behaviors and set boundaries to maintain productivity and work-life balance.

EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021


of employees believe their company culture has changed and gotten better since the beginning of the pandemic.

In the new era of work, organizations need to foster a culture that promotes trust, transparency, inclusion and empowerment. With the hybrid work model being on the rise, employees need to be trusted and empowered to structure their work and make decisions on how to best perform their tasks. Not only do employees need management’s consent to lead themselves, they also need the ability to do so. This requires an understanding of how their work contributes to the organization’s purpose and overall goals.

Given the importance of corporate culture and the move to a more distributed workforce, business leaders should take the opportunity to pause and assess the current state of their culture. In doing so, they should deliberately evolve it to achieve their business, people and customer objectives. Those who keep people at the center of their efforts will find opportunities to match the needs of the business with the needs of people through values and behaviors. With a deliberate culture blueprint in hand, leaders can effectively shift culture and differentiate as one of the great, not just the good.

Leadership in the new normal

The role of trust-based leadership in building and transforming the organization for the new era of work cannot be overemphasized. Going forward, organizations require what is called an “adaptive” leadership — one that is based on leading with emotional intelligence, focusing on shared values, and fostering continuous learning and development for everyone.

The role of a leader has changed over the past decade. This evolution was accelerated by the organizational turbulence caused by the pandemic and the changes in how we conduct work. In this new environment, successful leaders have demonstrated personal resilience, the ability to lead teams virtually, to connect, to be empathetic, and tackle the hard task of decision making. Sixty-five percent of respondents in the EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021 agree or strongly agree that their manager or leader is effective at their job regardless of whether they are on-site or remote.

To successfully lead teams in the new era of work, leaders need empathy, encourage collaboration, innovation and experimentation, and adopt a digital mindset.

Reimagining the people experience

An organization’s ability to attract and retain new talent now depends heavily on their ability to offer a flexible working environment. As the EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021 shows, 9 out of 10 employees want flexibility in where and when they work. If forced to choose between flexibility in work location and work time, a majority of employees (54%) prefer flexibility in when they work, with flexible start and finish times being on top of the list, followed by options for a compressed or four-day workweek.

EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021


of employees want flexibility in work location and work time.

Organizations need to take a holistic view and rethink their wanted people experience in line with their overall purpose and key objectives. Any organization seeking to build and deliver an exceptional people experience needs to have employee listening as a business’s top priority — in order to understand them, their sentiments and their behavior. Listening means designing consistent mechanisms to collect feedback and gather input and information — from capturing employee interactions and mapping employee journeys, to introducing voice-of-the-employee feedback programs and engaging employees in co-creation sessions. Equally critical is that any listening should extend beyond the individual, to understanding how people in the business influence each other, and external and environmental aspects of the people experience. This takes leaders beyond the formal processes and workflow they may expect and provides an understanding of the informal networks and connections that really drive behavior. The insight must also remain distinctly aligned with a clear understanding of what the organization wants and the kind of experience it seeks to offer. This means being clear on the behaviors the organization wants to encourage in the first place.

In the development of a clear vision and strategy for future of work, we should focus on solid employee listening and involvement, preferable future ways of working (behaviors), physical workplaces (bricks), and technology or digital workplace (bytes). Last but not the least, compliance aspects (tax and regulatory risks and considerations) are important to incorporate at an early stage to define and enable the future of work. Only when these parts are integrated, and work together can we successfully reimagine work.


To thrive in today’s disruptive environment and plan for tomorrow, businesses need to revisit purpose, culture and leadership to establish, sustain and nurture desired behaviors and new ways of working.

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