COVID-19 has had a significant impact on what the working day looks like for many Australians, and for people across the globe with offices left empty, zoom meetings commonplace, and work-related social events off the table for the majority of the year. Shifting from office spaces being the epicenter of organizational activity to a network of work from home employees has been a difficult transition for some, with team members missing out on the vital social component of office life.
Even as restrictions eased within individual states, travel bans made is difficult for teams to come together and celebrate after the year that was 2020. With such social events making up the heart of many organizations cultural calendar, we explore how to maintain a positive corporate culture when getting together for some good old-fashioned bonding just isn’t possible.
Whilst the pandemic situation continues to improve here in Australia, there is no doubt that the habits established over the past year will shape the future of business operations. Remote working and flexible arrangements will become more conventional, and as a result organizational leaders will have to think innovatively about how they create a cohesive group and bond their team together with a collective culture.
The first step is to change the way we approach corporate culture and its management. Sadly, for many teams ‘culture’ is often set and forget, with a list of company values posted on the wall not to be mentioned again until the annual meeting. However, as people and companies are ever-evolving, so should be corporate culture. The most powerful and everlasting cultures are ones which are fully embraced by employees in their everyday actions, and one that guides the direction of leadership in their decision making.
However, embracing this culture isn’t just up to the employees themselves. It is the responsibility of management and leaders within the organization to ensure the culture is developed in a collaborative way so that it is a true reflection of the team and create opportunities to solidify these shared beliefs.
So how can this be achieved with all the barriers that are in place because of the pandemic? Well, it all begins by taking every chance to show your employees that the organization is sticking by their values even when things get tough. People look to leaders and take cues about the company culture based upon their actions and choices. Therefore, leaders should actively seek way to display to employees that their core values remain unshaken despite change, leading the way for employees to do the same.
This could come in many forms depending on what the team’s values are, but could mean offering additional support resources for employees, engaging in corporate social responsibility through donation or volunteering, or even something as simple as actively seeking feedback from employees and asking how they feel the company can better uphold their values.
The concept of a collaboratively developed culture that centers around employee input and feedback is key and will help leaders in maintaining it despite disruptions to the workplace. Corporate culture is often described as a competitive advantage, but only if it is unique and irreplicable. By bringing your team together to help shape your culture you get an individuality that cannot be duplicated, because it is a unique blend of everyone that makes up the organization.
Once this culture is developed, it will grow and evolve as the business does. However, leaders do have a significant influence over how it is managed, and this is achieved through managing the behaviors that shape culture, rather than the culture itself. Validating positive actions and discouraging negative ones is an important part of this, which has been made increasingly difficult throughout the pandemic due to the distance between leaders and their team.
This is where communication comes in. Though we cannot be together in person there is ample opportunity for increased communication between team members, and this provides the perfect platform to discuss culture. Corporate culture is more effective when it is discussed openly and on a regular basis, and this is something leaders can do well despite the pandemic. This means being willing to discuss when the company gets it right, as well as when they get it wrong.
Remaining connected with employees through frequent and meaningful communication will minimize any erosion of corporate culture. By opening the door for a two-way conversation companies can continue to recognize employees who live up to their values whilst addressing any concerns that are present.
In lieu of the spontaneous social moments that can happen in a shared environment, organizational leaders must help facilitate social experiences despite a disrupted workplace. This could mean a weekly team meeting where there wasn’t one, with a focus on sharing personal stories rather than work updates, or it could mean hosting zoom happy hours on a Friday afternoon for those who wish to join.
There may also be requirements to address employees needs in a different way. While a teams physical and mental health should always be of importance to managers and leaders, more emphasis should be placed on this when undergoing significant change. The pandemic took a toll on many people and the way in which each person recharges and recovers will vary, but how can we expect employees to make the best choices when they are not feeling their best. Organization’s may approach this in different ways depending on their preference and capabilities, but there is plenty of ways that they can help.
This can mean being more understanding when it comes to the personal struggles team members may be facing. By leaders communicating that there is flexibility in these unprecedented times employees will feel more comfortable in acknowledging their needs and asking for help is desired. Management should also try implementing new patterns and processes that better suit the new environment, for example avoiding zoom fatigue by keeping meetings short and sharp at 15 minutes max.
It Is important to remember that while the way we manage corporate culture may look a little different as a result of the pandemic, it is no excuse not to invest time and energy maintaining it. In-fact, research found that across Culture 500 companies (those who live and breathe their corporate culture), average culture ratings actually went up in March and April right when the pandemic hit. The most notable change was an increase in comments around communication and integrity, specifically positive praise for leaders who engaged in honest and transparent communication in the wake of the pandemic. So let’s take a cue from the best of the best, and strive to excel in difficult times by taking a step back and really thinking about how our organizations can create and fuel a culture that guides, inspires, and supports our teams.