As the world continues to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some of the walls that tend to separate personal lives from professional ones have come tumbling down. What originally was hoped to be a short-term adjustment is transitioning into a “new normal,” and traditional workplaces across the country and around the globe have transitioned into more informal arrangements, requiring more innovation, flexibility, and collaboration than ever before. For my part, working from home has offered me greater insight into who my colleagues are and the challenges they face every day—but it has also shown me new examples of their kindness, their empathy, their strength and their support.
As CEO of Infoblox, I have always focused on the importance of company culture, and investing in the type of workplace that people are excited to join and proud to represent. A strong company culture can bring employees together, foster a sense of common purpose, and motivate an entire team to excel. A weak corporate culture—or one that is strong in the wrong ways—depresses morale, lowers productivity, and increases employee turnover, severely damaging a company’s ability to compete in the marketplace. Particularly at times of instability and stress, a positive and supportive culture can help to keep a team focused, optimistic, and effective.
At Infoblox, our resilient and unified culture across our global offices has been our most valuable asset in enabling us to advance through this pandemic — and while the experience has by no means been easy, we have worked to protect that culture, fostering the same kind of collaborative atmosphere as we tackle this new reality. Over the past two months, we have doubled down on three rules that have helped us maintain our culture, even as our employees work remotely:
1. Communication is key
During normal times, we tend to see our coworkers as much as our families, creating bonds and connections that keep us all pulling in the same direction. In the age of social distancing, we have been forced to connect almost entirely via apps like Zoom, Slack and email. These technologies are essential for facilitating formal communication, but they’re not a substitute for regular interactions—and they can sometimes hinder the kinds of informal communication between coworkers that drives a team to work hard for each other.
Leaders hoping to maintain their company’s culture during the pandemic should find opportunities for the kind of relaxed interpersonal communication that builds relationships and creates comfort. At Infoblox, for example, my senior leadership team and I have been holding daily office hours via Zoom, where anyone in the company can stop by for a chat about anything that’s on their mind. We’ve had conversations about everything from the importance of mid-year reviews to company strategy and to how to stay fit and energized when confined in our homes. The time that we’ve spent together— in a setting that’s not dominated by a strict agenda or a pressing deadline—has made us more comfortable colleagues and more committed to each other’s success.
2. A little empathy goes a long way
It is simple for leaders to demand business-as-usual levels of productivity while people work from home—but that also overlooks the ways in which this pandemic has changed people’s lived experiences, and trivializes the challenges that millions of Americans are facing every day.
The reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reshaped people’s lives. Some families are juggling full-time work with full-time childcare or schooling. Others are dealing with a loved one’s illness. Even the most insulated among us face the daily anxieties of staying safe in an uncertain time. Ignoring these additional pressures risks alienating employees at a time when team cohesion is more important than ever. Putting a premium on empathy—and making sure that employees know they are heard, supported, and valued—encourages people to communicate honestly and approach challenges collaboratively, giving an organization a much clearer path to solving problems.
3. Don’t lose sight of what makes your culture unique
In the age of social distancing, the little habits and rituals that make a company’s culture cohesive and special can fall by the wayside in favor of high-priority matters like ensuring cybersecurity, maintaining inventory, or keeping contact with clients and prospective customers. But it’s important for leaders to make a concerted effort to continue these rituals, and to preserve the connective tissue that fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared experience.
At Infoblox, for example, we have long offered weekly in-office yoga sessions for our employees. Even though we are no longer physically in our offices, we continue to practice yoga virtually so that our teams can take a moment to relax, center themselves, and connect with their coworkers. One of our offices instituted a virtual version of “Wine Down Wednesdays” to relax after the workday and keep in touch with friends and teammates. These activities aren’t perfect substitutes for in-person connections, but they do help to remind us what makes our team special, and lets our employees know that this is still the same company they value, and that values them.
There’s no universal prescription for maintaining culture, and every company’s experience is uniquely its own. But if we emphasize communication, access empathy, and lean into the elements that make our office exceptional, we can help to build the kind of atmosphere that supports employees, sustains companies, and helps teams navigate tough challenges together.