Culture in the Time of Covid-19
When I began writing this entry on culture in the time of Covid-19, I initially had a doom and gloom outlook on the future of organizational culture. However, through deeper insight and conversations with colleagues and clients, I realized that the pandemic has instead provided an opportunity for companies. This time and the challenges brought with it have provided organizations a cultural diagnostic in and of itself. The measures companies have taken to address Covid-19 put a microscope on culture that exposes things more visibly than ever before. Think about how you have defined your culture and look back at the past year. Is your organization’s definition of culture still reflected in your workforce?
In our model of organizational culture at Collective Insights, culture is an interconnected system of elements that carry the instructions for company growth, development, and day-to-day functioning. Of the six elements, place is a key component of the system, and place has been substantially altered for most of us since March. “Place” is the geography, architecture, aesthetic design, and physical location of your organization that inherently impacts the values and behaviors of people in your workplace. However, our new “workplace” during the pandemic is within the confines of an individual’s home or a transformed space that adheres to the restrictions of Covid-19. It is no longer the shared, in-person location we traditionally identified as the work-“place”. Since organizational culture is an interconnected system of elements, this dramatic shift in place puts significant strain on the five other elements:
- Behaviors – those actions that the company encourages, discourages, accepts, or rejects
- People – the individuals we work with, hire, and retain
- Values – a set of beliefs held by the company that explicitly define expected behaviors for how work is done
- Purpose – the company’s “reason-for-being”
- Stories – those narratives shared and passed down by employees
When nurtured the right way, these elements can align successfully with your strategy to create a powerful combination. Right now, all companies have had to develop strategies to deal with the operational, financial, and human capital (e.g. employee fatigue) strains that have arisen due to the pandemic. In concert, leadership is faced with the stark reality of whether or not their Covid-19 strategy is consistent with the values and purpose of their company culture.
Make a deliberate effort to focus on your company’s purpose and values. Do your current actions and decisions align with your purpose and values?
Consider if leadership decisions and actions, especially in handling the impact of the pandemic, reflect the purpose and values that define your company’s culture. Is your company doing what it says it believes in? Are leadership behaviors, especially in decision making, reflecting what they say their culture stands for?
Have there been actions or decisions that conflict with your organization’s purpose and values?
If so, how can you address these contradictions in leadership behaviors and the impact such actions have had on the “current” culture (i.e. cultural climate) in comparison to the culture the company says it upholds? This is key to prevent lost trust from your employees and customers.
How can leadership avoid making these contradictions in future decisions and actions?
If you cannot avoid these contradictory decisions to keep your business operating, then address each decision with upfront communications that incorporate the language, tone, and spirit of your culture and values.
Show empathy, transparency, and awareness of the conflicts. Bring your customers and employees along the journey with you, to help them see why leadership had to make the difficult decisions they did, and hopefully maintain (or even grow) their trust in your organization along the way.
Leaders should act as “advocates” of your company values and exhibit these in their communications and actions as frequently and consistently as possible.
What is the story being imprinted on the “organizational mind” of your company right now? Is it the narrative you want to be shared and passed down in the coming years?
Write the story taking place right now the way you want it to be remembered. There is no doubt this moment in time, and the way it is handled, will be personally remembered for years to come. This 2020 narrative will be imprinted on the “organizational mind” forever – passed down by current, previous, and potential employees and customers.
How are employees interacting in this new virtual environment? Are new mediums and cadences being put in place, and do they effectively bring your culture and values to life?
Redesign your company’s “socialization process” to take advantage of the current all-virtual environment. Bring employees together from across the organizational hierarchy to talk about the culture, what is going well and not well, so they are able to get to truly know colleagues from across the company. This redesign facilitates exposure to a wider, more varied set of experiences in understanding your company.
Research has shown that culture is more about shared values – making sure all employees believe they share the same organizational culture – than physical artifacts and place. All-remote companies argue that their model is more effective in communicating and facilitating shared values across the organization than in the in-person model, claiming how seldom a coincidental watercooler chat will occur between individuals on another floor or building.
This year and all of the challenges brought with it have put the magnifying glass on leadership action and the culture that is truly being upheld within organizations. Use this time to reflect on your organization and better understand how your culture manifests itself within the workforce. For instance, if your organization claims to foster collaboration and initiatives, and you see ad hoc teams popping up, then your people and their behaviors are reflecting the values defined within your culture. However, if you see aspects of your people, stories and behaviors that do not reflect your organization’s definition of culture, it is time to reevaluate and take serious consideration of if and how your culture is being upheld during this shift in environment and working conditions.
Consider, if the challenge is maintaining your current company culture in this new normal or if the challenge is tweaking, or even reinventing, your culture to meet the new normal. If you are a leader, use the guide above to steer through the evaluation and solutioning process. If you are a current or prospective employee, use this guide to assess the organization’s handling of culture in one of the most challenging times in our history. You decide if their approach aligns with the values, purpose, and stories written on the walls, website, and employee handbook purported by the leadership and company itself.
The New Normal: What is the role of the office?
Most states have started hinting about re-opening to full capacity. Some of them have eased locked down measures so that companies and social events can start functioning like they did in the past. Prior to the pandemic, offices were critical to fostering productivity, instilling company culture, and promoting collaboration between colleagues. However, the pandemic shifted the expectation and attitude of the role of the office and drove companies to conform and adjust to new behaviors. There was an obvious uptick in the remote workforce and some companies, such as Twitter, are urging their employees to continue to work remotely while others are becoming more flexible and allowing the option to come back to the office.
Unfortunately, not all companies are the same and there is not a “one size fits all approach” to coming back to the office. So how can companies take measures to provide a safe working environment for their employees?
The Corporate Culture Transformation
As companies ease their way to opening their offices, leaders need to design and decide different approaches to come back to the office based on their employees’ roles and what is best for the company. There are 3 different models to consider.
- Full Snap Back: 100% Back to the office: In this approach, employees are completely back in the office 5 days a week. Smaller companies (<100 people) are more likely to adopt this approach and typically would work best for roles that require onsite tools and technology.
- Hybrid: 50% In-Office / 50% Remote: In this approach employees may go back to the office 2 days a week and work remotely for 3 days or vice versa. This approach gives the employee the autonomy to decide when to come to the office but also allows some work/life balance.
- Remote: 100% Remote: In this approach, employees are no longer coming to the office and are working from home. With new technologies and collaboration tools, this approach is typically adopted by larger companies (>100 people) where productivity is not impacted.
Regardless of which approach companies take, management teams should conduct a full role analysis to understand which roles are required to come back to the office to minimize business impact.
Managing the New Culture of Working
Incorporating a new way of working is likely to go awry without employee buy-in. It is crucial for leaders to manage employee expectations, demonstrate empathy and flexibility and create new processes on how work is completed. This new way of working will present a change management challenge and leaders need to be prepared on how to address concerns, communicate the new company’s vision and strategy, and put employee safety first. Leaders can use this as an opportunity to strengthen their culture and increase employee engagement and morale.
We have talked about the potential new role of the office and how to manage a new culture of working but what are some tactical measures companies can take as they open up their offices?
- Prioritize what roles need to come back to the office and when
- Leverage tools and technology for roles that can work remotely
- Provide safety and guidelines for roles that need to be onsite
- Communicate the shared vision of the company
- Be creative and create new processes on how work is completed
Navigating the post-pandemic world is going to be an adjustment and business challenge for most companies. To maintain operations and to minimize business impact, companies and management teams need to consider what approach is best and remain flexible. They need to remain agile and nimble as they adapt to the new normal. If your company is going back to the office, visit our website to learn how Collective Insights can help your business through any change management or culture transformation to get you back on the right foot.