We all know that building the foundation for a positive and open workplace culture isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. It takes time, intentionality, trial and error and so much more. And while working from home hasn’t completely derailed our efforts at building our culture, it has definitely taken them in a new direction. There is one thing I can say with certainty — no matter how great your culture was before the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not going to be the same after. Here are five things business leaders should do now to start rebuilding and reshaping post-pandemic workplace cultures.
Now’s a good time to take a long, hard look at what your workplace culture looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning to a different physical workplace presents a good opportunity to implement (some) needed changes.
What would you want to change? What was working the best? Will that still work? While it’s fresh in their minds, engage employees in a culture survey and see what they think. If your company doesn’t already have a system in place to do so, you can always create your own with SurveyMonkey or a similar service.
Give Employees a Real Voice
When employees have the freedom and ability to express their feelings and concerns, they feel respected and valued. Implementing systems now to encourage that freedom will build much-needed loyalty and trust for the future. For instance, even if you have an “open-door” policy or a reporting hotline in place, if your company is still investigating harassment or discrimination incidents internally, your employees more than likely aren’t comfortable reporting incidents at all.
Instead, consider using an unbiased third party that your employees will trust for the reporting, investigating and resolving of incidents. This shows employees you want them to speak up if something happens to them, you want bad behavior to stop, you care about their well-being and safety and you are committed to providing an open workplace culture where all voices are heard.
There’s enough uncertainty going around. Communicating with employees, transparency and truthfulness now will pay dividends in the future if employee expectations are well-managed. Food for thought: According to a study by Kelton Global for Slack, 55 percent of business owners described their organization as “very transparent,” but only 18 percent of their employees would agree.
Be Engaging and Responsive
We are all aware of the challenges concerning employee engagement while working from home. For our purposes here, the more engaged and less isolated your employees are now, the easier and more successfully they will transition back to a physical workplace. Recreate the watercooler! To quote the authors of “A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers”: “One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office.”
Showing (and encouraging) empathy now will build loyalty and trust for the future. This juggling act is not easy for working parents. And while I’m not discounting the supreme efforts of working fathers, “sheltering in place” is especially hard for some working mothers. While certainly not always the case, many women are bearing the brunt of housework, schooling their children and making meals and are still expected to keep up with their day job. To make matters worse, they often aren’t receiving equal pay to their male counterparts.
We don’t yet know the full long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We aren’t the same companies now as we were before the outbreak, and we won’t be the same after. But how we treat employees now and how we plan for our companies’ future selves will help get us where we need to be faster.