Culture – The Soul of the Digital Village

Kerri Lawrence | October 2, 2020

For quite some time now we have been engaged in an epic hunger games style race as tribes sprinted through waterfalls, arriving separately at multiple destinations at varying times on their way to a predetermined transformational finish line. We revelled in the excitement of these new ways of working and felt empowered to achieve our own tribe’s goals. We wrote on walls, we made lists, we collaborated, we coached and then COVID happened and we were sent home.

We entered the digital village, moving our lists to the cloud, and holding virtual tribal councils as we continued plotting the course to our own destination remotely. Dress became more casual and the interruptions on virtual meetings from snoring dogs, leaping cats or kids climbing on your lap almost became de rigueur.

However, as the days wore on, our work masks were stripped away. Working from home lifted the veil on our whole selves and we were no longer only daytime tribal warriors committed to the organisational cause. Now, we had competing demands on our time, from pets, kids and partners, all while our sense of isolation grew, both personally and professionally, as our world shrunk to our computer screens and family bubbles. In a study conducted by UNSW, over 50 percent of participants self-reported an increased level of depression, anxiety and stress1 after the first lockdown, and there are worrying mental health concerns2 associated with the subsequent lockdowns.

These serious and significant impacts on our mental health have highlighted the need for leaders to develop and implement new ways of working that recognise both the need to foster connectivity and a sense of purpose for their employees, as well as an understanding that they live in a rich and diverse eco system where the boundaries between work and home are blending.

In my last article introducing the Digital Village, I advocated for developing new rhythms, embracing the opportunity to redefine our ways of working and creating a new organisational heartbeat for the digital village. The challenge now, is to ensure the organisation's soul, its culture, continues to thrive in our digital village, one which is able to support and promote positive mental health.

For decades, organisational culture has been deeply rooted in relationship development, which comes naturally when you share an office space and communal kitchen, providing the backdrop to casual conversation, idea sharing and workplace gossip, often a source of keen intelligence. However, these traditional avenues are either no longer available or significantly reduced, albeit for some, this may be a good thing. At least you have only yourself to blame if the dishwasher isn't put on and the microwave not cleaned out!

So how can those intangible attributes that make your organisation unique be developed when the tangible cues that we relied on are themselves being redefined? The answer lies in creating authentic organisational values to provide the foundation for cultures that are inclusive, empowered and which help your team achieve organisational and personal goals.

Most organisations have a value and vision statement, a carefully curated and word smithed statement that pays close attention to the right style and the correct colour of font to personify the company ethos. Sadly, all too often these are two-dimensional, existing only in company livery or as posters on a wall.

Authentic organisational values permeate throughout the organisation in a practical and demonstrable way from the CEO across all layers of management and beyond. Authentic organisational values grounded in accountability and responsibility, build trust which is critical in an environment which can at times feel isolating.  With the loss and isolation COVID has brought, a sense of place and connection has never been more important for us all.

Successful leaders will build their team's connectivity and culture by embodying their organisational values in an authentic way, enabling their people to thrive and their organisations flourish. Successful leaders will create a digital village that has at its heart work practices that are aligned to the rhythm of a virtual day, and in its soul, a culture that is underpinned by authentic values.

Kerri Lawrence





1. Acute mental health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, Newby, O'Moore, Tang, Christensen, Faasse, July 2020

2. Mental Health Ramifications of COVID-19: The Australian context, Black Dog Institute, UNSW Sydney

Image source: Envato