There is no way around it, COVID-19 has disrupted the American workplace. Though cities and states are slowly opening up, more than half of all Americans were (or still are) working from home.
Even prior to COVID-19, most companies struggled with creating a strong, consistent culture. Workplace culture is both a top-down enterprise, and something that is created by all employees of the organization. Undoubtedly, the lack of face-to-face social interaction among coworkers will change how culture is formed.
How can employers ensure their organization is able to maintain and strengthen their desired culture? What will be most important to employees going forward?
Stay consistent in your message
Effective communication is most important during times of disruption such as these. The best leaders will keep their message consistent, reminding their employees why their organization exists and the good that it brings to the world. Employees are infinitely more “bought in” if they feel like their job and their company are doing something worthwhile, so remind them of that!
Set expectations around remote working practices
Leaders must clearly define the tool and platforms employees should use, and maintain consistency in using them. Leaders are also setting the tone when it comes to work-from-home best practices. Scheduling regular check-ins (at reasonable intervals) with your employees is a great way to communicate directly, share challenges and success stories, and lend support. Setting expectations and goals is also crucially important when your team is working remotely, to ensure that employees are hitting their targets and staying motivated.
Encourage employees to take initiative and embrace change
During times of massive disruption, the only “rules” often no longer apply. Instead of digging in your heels and insisting on doing things the “way they have been done,” encourage your employees to take the initiative to be innovative. Ask your employees to brainstorm ways to improve communication, conduct team gatherings in a changing world, and streamline processes. Make sure to take their suggestions and implement those that make sense; in doing so, you will build trust and encourage a democratic and proactive culture.
Focus on your employees’ 4 universal needs
Research shows that employees seek out four universal needs from their leaders: hope, trust, empathy/compassion, and stability.
Hope means fostering excitement over what the future brings. This could be the future of the organization, or the future of an employee’s career. Make sure employees understand that there is something to look forward to!
Trust is something that must be fostered both before and during times of disruption. Trust takes time to build, and employees must believe that your words will be connected with your actions. Don’t betray their trust to cut corners. If your employees already doubt your trustworthiness, your ability to create hope, convey a consistent message, or affect change will be lost.
Empathy refers to our ability to understand the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person. To truly imagine what they are going through in a particular situation. Compassion is when those feelings include the desire to help or take action. Transformational or impactful leaders need empathy in order to show their employees that they care for their needs and achievements. Empathy and compassion allows leaders to better connect with employees (and thus understand their drivers), encourage collaboration, and influence employees’ actions. All very important things during times of disruption.
Stability is absolutely crucial if you want your employees to be engaged. In times of uncertainty, our psychological resources (like resilience or optimism) may be pushed to the limit. This means that precious work time is being diverted to care for our most basic human needs and mental stability. Especially in times of change, it’s important to let your employees know that even though their day-to-day might look different (and might continue to change), they can expect your actions to be consistent, rational, and in their best interest. Stability allows us to more effectively focus on our actual work.
COVID-19 has presented extraordinarily unique challenges for companies across all industries. How leaders are able to manage culture through this time will set the stage for the next 5+ years of their organization. Think of this time as a rare opportunity to adapt, grow, and develop your organizational culture in a time when everything is in the same boat. Hopefully, strong leadership will enable your employees to band together and help your company thrive for many years to come.