The global crisis spawned by COVID-19 forced companies to think differently about their work environment and company culture. Many businesses were either forced to shut down or totally revamp their policies to accommodate a remote workforce. This unprecedented event made individuals and organizations pause and reflect on what they value about their company’s culture and why.
Some companies have weathered the storm and arrived at a point of divergence: making the conscious choice to examine and re-align their company culture in the wake of this crisis vs. returning to the status quo.
For leaders who want to come out of the pandemic stronger than before, rebuilding company culture is critical. A strong, positive company culture helps employees feel connected, improves morale and retention, and ultimately can boost productivity. Culture is partially organic; it’s the way people in an organization interact with each other and the norms of behavior and values they believe in. However, executives and managers have an important role to play in shaping culture through the policies, practices, and beliefs they uphold.
In a post-pandemic world, companies should aim to build a work environment and culture where all employees are engaged in their work—however much the past year may have changed it. Here, we examine a few strategies for improving culture post-COVID.
Support Employees, Wherever They Are
The reality now is that many organizations are transitioning permanently to a hybrid work environment, where on any given day, some people will be working remotely and others will be in the office. This flexible hybrid model aligns with what most employees want. Though you’ve probably heard that many employees want to continue working remotely full time, the reality is a bit different. A McKinsey survey found that just 11% of employees want to work remotely, 37% want to work on-site, and the majority—52%—prefer a hybrid working model, with some time in the office and some time at home.
If you as an executive worry how hybrid work models may affect company culture, consider that some employees are prepared to walk away if their employer mandates a full-time return to the office. The same McKinsey survey mentioned above found that about 30% of employees were likely to switch jobs if they have to be fully on-site. Even if these employees stayed, consider how morale—and culture—might suffer if they feel like they’re being corralled back into the office. Moreover, it’s completely possible to develop a strong culture with hybrid work teams.
In this hybrid model, it’s important to ensure that all employees feel a sense of belonging, no matter where they are. In an environment where some people may be in the office more than others, don’t allow an informal, two-class system to develop where the more remote workers feel out of the loop or like they’re missing out on the best projects and important offline conversations. All employees should receive the same level of communication and attention from managers, whether they’re on-site one day a week or four.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for managers to schedule regular check-ins with employees, and to hold regular team meetings. These can be weekly 30-minute virtual sessions, where each person update everyone with their progress, talks about what they are currently working on, and their next steps. (Keep online meetings short—Zoom fatigue is real.) Of course, you should also create a Slack, Discord server, or other team chat if you haven’t already. Finally, managers can help all team members feel connected by making an effort to put remote and on-site workers together on project teams.
It’s also important to ensure remote workers feel like they have same resources that they would enjoy in the office—or at least, like they haven’t been forgotten. If an on-site employee would simply walk over to the IT support desk if they had a computer problem, what should employees do in a similar situation when they’re at home? Create a process—for example, an IT support ticketing system—and communicate it. If you provided free lunch to employees at the office, would it be possible to provide the same to remote workers via Uber Eats, DoorDash, or a similar service? Physical resources and amenities like these can be important in helping remote workers feel supported and valued as opposed to adrift at sea, on their own.
Use In-Office Time Wisely
In addition, you may have to rethink what work looks like when employees come in to the office. Managers should optimize their teams’ precious on-site time by prioritizing work that demands collaboration, brainstorming, or back-and-forth conversation. Obviously, days when all team members are in the office are perfect for longer, in-person meetings.
However, managers should also ensure their teams have time for casual conversations and impromptu discussions—those informal points of connection that aren’t possible when people work remotely. Reject the temptation to schedule back-to-back meetings all day.
Create a Task Force
If you’re not sure of the way forward when it comes to culture in a hybrid work environment, you’re not alone—it can be incredibly difficult. This is why forming a culture task force can be a great idea. The task force should include fully remote, fully on-site, and hybrid remote/on-site employees (or whatever mix best represents your employees) and should work in concert with HR to voice employees’ needs, help develop policies, or even plan fun events to bring everyone together.