How to maintain your company culture in a (post) Covid world?

Published on 21-01-2021

Many employers are confronted with the challenge of a changing company culture due to the consequences of the global pandemic. Travel restrictions to the office force a majority of the employees to work from their homes. The physical office environment is empty, the informal get togethers have been replaced by virtual sessions. All of these changes are impacting our working behavior and the way we communicate and interact with our colleagues.

How can you ensure that the negative effects of our changing working environment can be mitigated as much as possible? Or even better, be used as a strongpoint towards our employees? 

The office is just an empty shell

Let’s first look at the role of our office. The office is just a physical space where the people are making the real difference. Some employers have spent humongous budgets to boost the employee experience. Employees work together, smile together, achieve their objectives and do have spontaneous encounters. That’s exactly what a majority of the employees are simply missing. It can be a great place to display your company culture in a visual way. Focusing too much on the physical role of the office can put the ‘invisible’ part of the company culture under pressure. Is your culture really so attractive and appealing underneath the surface?

With the office playing a less prominent role in the employee experience gives employers a real opportunity to start working on their culture. What is your culture standing for if we take out the physical elements? What are your values that you stand for, are they still relevant, do your employees understand it and most importantly integrate it in their behavior?

It’s something for the long run

Given our experience working with over 800 employers and more than 300.000 candidates, we are seeing that the short term impact has not been that negative at all. Companies have adapted their new routines in hiring and onboarding quite quickly and are able to still foster the employee engagement.

Consulting firm PWC reports that working from home is impacting collaboration and innovation, as well as stress and loneliness amongst employees. Furthermore, they state that the reduced employee involvement weakens the organisational culture.

The real risk can be found in the long term: when the real connection or bond between the employees and the employer are starting to deteriorate. This typically happens after a year when our changed behavior has become the new reality. For security reasons many employees simply stay onboard to safeguard their jobs and to see how things will develop. 

#1 Build a value mix inside out

The time is now to start identifying your key values that are supporting your company culture. We have been experiencing the new way of working for nearly a year now. A good moment to (re) start identifying your key values. It is the best way to look at it from an unbiased perspective and leave your old values behind. Start from scratch and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do people want to work with us?
  • How do we see the relationship between employees and our managers
  • How do employees feel about their work?
  • Which routines do they appreciate the most?

If this exercise is done in the right way, you are truly able to capture the right input. You will see that the office will not be playing any role anymore in your values. A tip that works really well is to include your most important values in the background of your Zoom or TEAMS meeting. This will always lead to surprising conversations.

#2 Create ambassadors in your company 

The positive side now of our new working reality is that our formal relationships have been changed. Everybody is working remote, assistant and CEO. Meaning the static hierarchy based on our organisational charts have become more fluid. The communication to top management is now more open than ever, as the travelling and physical meetings have disappeared. We all have the same working reality. This results in a great environment for increasing transparency in decision making and faster transmission of our values, goals and work habits.

Companies can leverage this momentum to identify and engage the right ambassadors internally and to help establish connection with the key values and company culture. This process should really be focused on listening and understanding what is going on in the company. 

“Leadership is not a title, it’s a behavior.” 

(Robin Sharma)

#3 Focus on positive feedback

With your employees working from their homes and the absence of physical meetings, the real contribution to the company objective key results (OKRs) is not so visible. It’s easy to make a mistake here by establishing controlling behavior by asking too many questions to the employees about their performance. Forget about that, trust your employees and systems. Prioritise for giving positive feedback to your employees and teams instead. This will set the tone for the long term. People will enjoy their work and become more interested in their personal and professional growth.

#4 Generate more meaning from your company objectives

Make your objectives as visible as possible for your co-workers. When employees feel their work has meaning and they are part of a bigger journey, this will increase their engagement and your productivity. Translate how your employees individual roles are relating to the organisational goals and how their input will impact their life and company’s progress. 

A nice example we have been working on is to involve our colleagues in creating a multi-year business plan. In various exercises every co-worker was able to learn about the objectives and development of other teams, hence generating more understanding of the big picture, our 2021 plan. We have summarised our objectives and plans in a one-pager which can be printed in the home office. 

#5 Empathise: listen to help people feel heard

When it comes down to creating a true connection with your employees we all know that most people want to feel understood. As simple as this may seem, reality turns out to be different: we have become more to the point through our online work environment (which is not per se wrong), but we often forget to validate how we are really doing.

Checking in regularly with your colleagues by asking how they are doing instead of telling them they need to improve their performance. First listen carefully and empathise. 

#6 Promote employee wellbeing initiatives aligned with your values

Sitting behind our screens all day long and staying focused at the same time is a fairy tale. When employees work remotely, there is not a signal when to stop working the same way as in the office. This may imply a need to be continuously switched on – since there are no clear boundaries. Connecting your wellbeing strategy to your core values will create a more balanced environment for your employees. Especially when senior leadership is giving the right example. Once again, since we have now more open communication lines than ever before, so this can be implemented easily. 

#7 Use data to gain more insights and target your initiatives

Especially in a remote work environment to keep taking a pulse with your employees. Employees don’t like to be overwhelmed with surveys. They love to share their voice and opinion on how they perceive their work environment from time to time. By conducting a quarterly survey, you can have an overview on which improvements and pain points live amongst your employees.

We are using our own Ambassador Survey to see how our culture is developing over time. For instance after a new lock-down announcement, disappointment may arise and uncertainty. That’s the moment when you can step in as an employer to offer initiatives such as one-to-one walking meetings.

Working from home really gives us the opportunity to take breaks and become more effective in what we are doing. It’s not for nothing that many employees are experiencing an improved work life balance as well. Take a walk, go for a run or take an online yoga session. What works for one colleague does not necessarily work for the other. But, it’s already a start to provide your employees with the inspiration they need as we have written in our previous blog about promoting a culture of wellbeing.

Don’t focus on things you can’t change

It all comes down to establishing connection. Therefore it helps to exclude our former physical office environment in our thinking in order to re-define our core values.  This allows us to become closer to ourselves, to identify our personality and most important what is really driving us everyday. The smiles, the colleagues giggling, the lunch meetings we have together, that’s something we need to wait for and need to pick up on a personal basis. That’s where you come in!

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