Sacrificing Culture on the WFH Altar

by Christian D. Malesic, MBA, CAE, CMP, IOM

Company culture was all the rage. Then, businesses sacrificed culture on the Work From Home (WFH) altar for reductions in employee and office expenses gaining short-term record profits. But long-term effects have been devastating on the workforce. As the Great Resignation claims more & more top talent and corporate loyalty sinks to an all-time low, we must again ask: Does a strong corporate culture lead to happier employees with blossoming retention, brand growth, and, eventually, skyrocketing profits?

In the 2010s, corporate culture became the buzz phase of business. As the decade progressed, legions of keynote speakers and authors made their names and fortunes heralding the benefits of creating an environment of loyalty where employees became teams, offices transformed into creative spaces, and culture became the loyalty glue that kept it all together. The biggest companies in the world, in Silicon Valley and beyond, built their brands on the backs of this ancient concept that had taken the executive office by storm. From there, it spread like wild fire to change the planet by changing the board room then the cubicle farm. But, where is culture in business now?
Synergistic Evolution
The pandemic created an ‘evolve or die’ conundrum. Many small businesses, especially the traditional brick-and-mortar types, faded into the pages of history without the necessary cash reserves to survive the trajectory-altering health catastrophe.

Larger firms, with plenty of gold in the gold room (cash reserves), tweaked, pivoted, and, modified to a ‘new normal’ creating an office environment of the future. Right out of the pages of a sci-fi movie script, this new model shepherded the mainstream of virtual teams, online meetings, cloud storage, document collaboration, and keynote speeches at continuing education events from speakers on the other side of the globe. All was well. Problem solved. Or, was it?
Within half a year, most traditional desk workers were ‘Zoomed out’ having quickly tired of a day-filled virtual meeting cycle. Attention spans reduced as co-workers checked emails, wrote reports, or simply turned their video off to attend to the kids or make lunch with one ear supposedly still on the meeting. This resulted in loss of productivity as managers retraced at subsequent meetings, spending more and more time covering topics previously discussed, debated, and agreed-upon.

Sure, the new normal had its benefits as a majority of workers preferred this WFH freedom; but, there were business sacrifices to be made. Executives soon argued these sacrifices seemed a fair trade for the reductions in utility bills, security, office space, commute times, and, most of all, increased net profits. That was, until the next wave hit.

Loyalty and Culture are Synonymous
It turns out, the experts and authors were right! Strong corporate cultures create engaged teams resulting in company loyalty. Thus, the unintended consequences of the WFH changes were a devolution and erosion of culture to the point of disloyalty. Enter the Great Resignation.
Without culture binding them to their current company, the virtual WFH employee can, theoretically, work from anywhere in the world for any firm they choose. The city or metropolis housing the office or corporate HQ became irrelevant. The perks, decor, great snack bar, abundant athletic courts, length of commute, and billion-dollar buildings & landscapes were superfluous. All that mattered was the almighty salary size. Since any large firm can pay a few dollars more than the last firm to attract great talent, the talent war escalated, feeding the Great Resignation. So, where do we go from here?

The Triumphant Return of Culture
We are doing it wrong. It is now clear that WFH, in its current form, is mutually exclusive to culture. Since culture breeds loyalty, it follows that the talent wars will continue while loyalty numbers shrink further until culture returns.

As executives and owners, the writing on the wall is clear: return workers to the office to embrace the cultural success formulas of the past or die. That is, unless the business community can once again shift the paradigm.

Can culture, loyalty, and Work From Home coexist? No, not how we are doing it now. Let’s change that. We know the problem. We know it is dire. Is there a way to disrupt corporate culture to include the new normal of WFH? The business visionaries of the future successful firms will be the ones that solve for culture.

Christian D. Malesic, MBA, CAE, CMP, IOM is the President/CEO of the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce (SVC Chamber). He provides insight on nonprofit management, executive decision-making, business operations, personal finance, marketing, construction issues, and occasionally, on political philosophy / history. To see more by Christian, visit or to receive notice of the newest articles written by Christian, follow him on Parler @CDMalesic or on Twitter @CDMalesic.

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