Office birthday cakes, Friday lunches, walking meetings - there have been lots of little things that we have missed about work in the last nine months. In the scheme of things, no one has really put much weight of importance on the loss of these rituals - but the demise of company culture can be a death by a thousand cuts.
There is no doubt that culture is much more difficult to maintain remotely, and for most businesses, there is going to be a pandemic ‘before’ and ‘after’ when it comes to organisational culture.
Culture is built organically when different people of diverse backgrounds and experiences come together and share beliefs and behaviours. When these beliefs, experiences and behaviours dramatically change, as has happened this year, then culture will inevitably change too. Like all things, there is an opportunity presented inside every challenge, and generating new ideas to improve workplace culture as we head into COVID normal is a perfect example.
Employees have missed out on the important everyday connections with each other and with their leaders that are critical to maintaining culture. Without these, culture can't be unaffected. Couple with this changing attitudes and behaviours from employees as they react to the pandemic and the impact gets seen for closer to what it is.
A crisis can naturally cause people to consider their true purpose and why they do what they do. This is a time of transformation for individuals and collectively for businesses.
It may be unrealistic to expect your pre-COVID organisational culture to be maintained, but an evolved culture can be incredibly positive for a business. The critical piece is for organisations to be conscious about what they bring forward into their COVID normal future and what they leave behind. So, as you prepare to guide your teams into COVID normal and a hopefully better year ahead for all, I encourage you to consider the five key elements.
1. Culture pulse check
There is little doubt your organisational culture has been impacted over the past few months, but have you got an accurate read on what is actually going on? What's changed? Of these changes, which are positive and which are negative? A culture re-set is likely going to need to happen as we emerge from working remotely. You need to ensure that teams are bound together by their experience and the shared humanity and connection in facing the crisis together.
2. Revisit strategy
Is your business strategy still valid in a COVID normal world? Are you still serving the right customers or clients the right products or services? This seems obvious, but it's a really important part of evaluating how your business will look next year and in turn, the people and culture that is needed to support your success.
3. Review values
Values are central to culture, and they may have taken a back seat during 2020 given the challenges of working virtually, as there are simply not the same opportunities to reinforce the values as there are when working physically together. Thinking about whether your values are still relevant and still reflect your post-COVID purpose and vision should be something that is addressed early to ensure that they will still continue to advance your organisation and its people into the future.
4. Proactive leadership
It became apparent early on in the pandemic that leaders needed to think differently and expand their capability as they supported their teams through such a challenging time. Connecting with individuals on a personal level has been crucial as people adapted to what was happening around the world. Psychological safety became important, and demonstrating compassion and kindness helped some leaders to develop connections with their people that they may otherwise not have experienced. It will be necessary for leaders to continue to demonstrate these behaviours and to expose their vulnerable side which in turn creates a culture of trust and courage that may not have otherwise existed.
5. Communication and connection
Communication has been the focus of many businesses as their teams struggled to work together remotely and still achieve the required levels of collaboration and cohesion. Strong human connection is essential for all of us to flourish as human beings. Maintaining these connections even as we were physically distanced, was a key factor in maintaining mental health and engagement levels through this period.
We spent more time with loved ones and saw inside people’s homes and got to know more about their lives beyond work. As a result, the personal aspect of our relationships with colleagues was greatly enhanced. Businesses will need to think about how this can be leveraged and maintained as we return to offices, as this deeper sense of connection to others is so beneficial to wellbeing.
Businesses now have a significant opportunity to carry forward the positive cultural attributes that have emerged and reinvigorate the tactile and office-based cultural elements that many have deeply missed.
This doesn't mean we revert to old habits and behaviours, but that we keep the best of our pre and post lockdown environments.
So, as you consider ideas to improve workplace culture, invite leaders and team members to share what they have learnt, what was appreciated, what was difficult and capture all the important behaviours that will serve your business into the future.
Culture change needs to be approached intentionally, and it is naive to think we can move into COVID normal as if nothing happened!
Difficult experiences result in the most positive of growth and change, so grab it with both hands and aim for a culture transformation that will benefit your business for many years to come.