Company culture is undeniably crucial to any business, but it’s a difficult concept to define clearly. Because it’s hard to define, it can be even more difficult to consciously steer and manage that culture as it evolves and changes—especially as we’ve all spent more than a year working remotely to keep people safe. The pandemic has changed our society, culture, and work environment in an incredible number of ways, some of which we may already be aware of and others that may yet reveal themselves. Most of all, though, the pandemic has changed how we, as leaders, have to think about our company culture.
As COVID vaccines become more widely distributed and offices begin to tentatively open up with new safety protocols and procedures in place, it’s important to take a moment to think about how you want to define, refine, or strengthen your company culture going forward. What were some of the things that served the company well over the last year? What can you learn from the way that you had to adapt the company culture to the pandemic in order to keep that culture strong? How were you able to maintain relationships that are at the core of your company’s culture? What lessons can we learn from the last year of staying home?
As you consider these questions, you must also think about how you will handle the in-between times. How will you maintain a tight-knit company culture and positive morale as we transition back to the office or to an entirely new mode of doing business? Here is how to keep your company culture strong as we all work our way into the new post-pandemic world.Keep Communication Flowing
At the heart of company culture is communication. It happens in the hallways and around the water cooler in the office. It happens in direct messages, on Slack, and on Zoom when we’re remote. And communication is vital to keep everyone working on the same page, with clear objectives, goals, and expectations.
Regardless of where your employees are working—whether it’s from their kitchen table or at the next desk over—communication is a key component of creating and managing company culture. Regular, clear, concise communication is what makes the business world run, and it should be the core of any return-to-the office plan. After a year of working remotely, most managers and leaders will know how their people work when they have to be away from the office. We should adjust communication and expectations accordingly.
As we begin to transition back to in-office work, it’s important to take a step back and reassess the communication strategy that we’ve used over the last year. Does your current strategy still meet employees where their needs are? Does it still work in the real world? If not, it’s time to rethink and adapt that strategy. Perhaps this means taking a multichannel or hybrid approach where you offer communications on multiple platforms simultaneously so that workers who are remote and those in the office have the same access. Maybe it means offering communications on a single platform that everyone has the same access to. Whatever solution you come up with, it’s vital to keep the playing field level for workers who are in the office and those who are remote.
In addition, it’s essential to expand and rethink how you kept morale high last year. Leaders need to acknowledge that times are still tough and that it’s important to continue to check in on employees, making sure they are supported in the ways they need most. While it’s vital to continue to keep physical distance, we have to remain connected, and it’s up to company leaders to determine the best way to do that.
As we transition back toward the new post-pandemic world, we need to remain flexible, open, and receptive to new approaches and new ways of doing business. As leaders, we need to communicate what we know as well as what we don’t know. In times of strife, our employees expect a leader who is secure and comfortable enough to talk about what they do know but admit when they are flying blind—and even ask for feedback and help. A significant part of company culture comes down to how a leader behaves when times are tough. Your employees look to you to provide guidance to the best of your ability, and that means being open and honest about where things stand, whether you’re talking about company financials or the next protocol to keep employees safe. Keep the communication flowing, and you’ll ensure a strong company culture, no matter what the pandemic throws at us next.Don’t Underestimate the Value of Rituals
Over the last year, we have all lost the ability to connect in the real world, whether we used to meet over a drink to discuss our day or pass each other in the break room. There is value in real-world interaction, and while technology has helped ease the pain of being apart, it doesn’t replace real-world, face-to-face interactions. These interactions were often reinforced when we were in the office, thanks to regular workplace rituals. Whether it was a weekly staff meeting or a monthly event featuring the employee of the month, these rituals helped reinforce company culture.
But just because we’re still remote or even working in a more hybrid world doesn’t mean that we should stop performing or participating in these rituals. They’re a vital part of how company culture is communicated, reinforced, and even passed on. The challenge for workplace leaders is finding a way to keep these traditions alive and inclusive for employees as they transition back to in-office or hybrid work environments. Perhaps it means using the conference room as a hybrid celebration space where both remote workers and those who are in the office can attend. Maybe it means that you go all-in on digital-only celebrations and Zoom happy hours. While there is no one right answer, the means that company leaders choose to use to keep these traditions and rituals in place will be primarily determined by how a company managed through the pandemic and how you want to manage the company culture going forward.
Creating rituals that all employees can participate in, whether they are in the office or remote, is a really important part of creating a strong company culture. It helps people feel like they belong and as if they are part of something greater than themselves. Consider your remote employees and your in-office employees as parts of the whole, rather than two completely separate groups, and you can build rituals that serve both groups and build a sense of camaraderie at the same time.Bring Remote and Real-World Employees Together
While we maintain our safe distance and continue to vaccinate people against COVID-19, it’s essential that leaders think about ways to bring employees together for both the best outcome for the company and to build a sense of community.
For example, putting a team of remote employees together with in-office employees can be a great way to leverage the best minds in the room while offering an opportunity to build relationships across the company. It helps employees invest in one another and make connections they may not otherwise have made.
Once we emerge from these strange days and can safely gather again, it may be worth considering bringing remote and in-office employees together to meet each other in real life. The value of real-world interaction can’t be discounted, as I said before. Still, until it’s safe, leaders need to find ways to create opportunities for remote and on-site employees to interact and work together for the good of the company.The Bottom Line on Post-Pandemic Company Culture
Whether you’re planning to bring your entire staff back to the office, hoping to build a completely remote staff, or looking at a hybrid model for your business, it pays to consider what you want for your company culture going forward. While the pandemic has utterly upended many things in our lives, it has also offered an opportunity for leaders to take a more considered approach to how we work and the company culture we create. It’s important to consider how we communicate with our staff, how we support and celebrate them, and how we ask them to work together. By considering each of these aspects through the lens of the pandemic and how it has collectively changed us, we can help create a better, stronger, and more robust company culture that genuinely can survive anything that is thrown our way.