During these difficult times, there’s constant anxiety on both a personal and professional level. Everyone is on high alert about their own health, as well as their loved ones. For those negatively impacted economically, there’s fear about making rent and paying bills. And for those still working, many are trying to adjust to an office job performed from a kitchen table or the living room sofa. But individual responses to the coronavirus aren’t the only change in the current environment. There’s also pressure on organisations to find ways to adjust. Some companies are considering permanently switching to remote working. Others are planning to reduce business travel. And in a world where face-to-face interaction may be changed permanently, many are asking how to maintain corporate culture during the pandemic.
What corporate culture looks like during the pandemic
Transmitting transparency. Whatever the mission and culture of your organisation, it is key to employee morale to have information. In a time like this when the principal concern for most people is a worldwide medical emergency that is fraught with uncertainty, the last thing they want is additional confusion or ambiguity at the workplace. So whatever your typical communication frequency and visibility, make every effort to maintain it now. Even if it seems as if you’re caught in a state of relative inactivity due to the pandemic, don’t neglect to stay in touch.
Prioritise culture. It can be easy in the midst of all of this for corporate culture during the pandemic to become the forgotten child. If you’re facing dwindling sales, a sudden hiring freeze or trying to manage cybersecurity across home internet access, it can seem a bit precious to worry about the company’s personality or values. And yet, you really must make an effort to continue to do so. If you’re the type of organisation that has free Friday lunches in the office, now might be the time to give everyone a gift card to a restaurant delivery service. If you’ve got an on-site gym, maybe you offer to reimburse an online yoga course.
Tech your culture seriously. The great benefits of technology are showing themselves at the moment as we rely more than ever before on email and instant messaging and video conferencing. But be sure to use technology in a way that still reflects who you are. If your organization is led by Baby Boomers who have been holding meetings in conference rooms from 1995 until March 2020, they are going to need time and support to adjust to a total and abrupt changeover to virtual connection. Everything doesn’t have to move to online workspaces, immediately. You can still email out PowerPoint slides and meeting agendas. (Yes, you can.)
Different generations are reacting to the stress of this environment differently. Your older employees may not have small children underfoot, but they might be struggling to move their entire work routine into a digital space overnight. There’s nothing wrong with taking this opportunity to modernise your way of doing things, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done with as much planning and thoughtfulness as possible.
Maintain culture inside and out. For your employees, try to find ways to show some generosity of spirit, both within the organisation and without. That means being both sensitive to the daily challenges of team members and showing more public awareness of what is going on beyond the four corners of your business. Internally that might look a frank note from the CEO to employees about the challenges of home schooling while remote working. Publicly that could be an official corporate contribution to a worthy cause related to the coronavirus efforts or a special effort tied to a CSR project the organization is already involved with. But part of keeping corporate culture during the pandemic front and center is publicly display it.
You can find ways to keep your corporate culture during the pandemic
Employees will forgive your organization for not making every adjustment to the current environment smoothly. They are mostly looking for reassurance that the company is still there, and maintains the values it always has. It might seem like such a small thing, but your employees joined an organization for what it is, not just what it does. In a time of extreme uncertainty, the more familiarity and stability you can offer, the better.
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.