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Preserving and Re-Evaluating Company Culture Following the Pandemic

Across the country, many businesses are beginning to ask, “What does coming back to the office look like?” While some companies have announced that their employees will be working remotely indefinitely, many others aren’t giving up on the idea of having a physical office and staff who come in on a daily basis.

At the same time, it’s not as simple as going back to the way things were before the pandemic. Workers have developed new preferences and work habits that should be acknowledged and adopted in a way that doesn’t jeopardize or adversely impact a company’s culture.

Remote Work: Then and Now

How to handle remote work policies is at the top of the list for most organizations. Nearly three-quarters of companies (74%) plan to permanently adopt more remote work policies. This is in stark contrast to remote work offerings prior to the pandemic. In 2019, only 7% of private sector workers and 4% of public sector workers had opportunities to work remotely. At the peak of the pandemic though, 62% of all employees in the U.S. workforce were remote.

Even the biggest skeptics of remote work have to acknowledge the positive impact it’s had on many employees. While every worker is different, the shift to remote work has boosted both the productivity and the overall job satisfaction for most people. According to a recent McKinsey study, 80% of workers enjoy working from home and more than two-thirds (69%) say that they are either more productive or as productive as before the pandemic when they were always working in the office.

Tips for Maintaining and Enhancing Your Company Culture

Root your culture in values and ideals – not physical space

For companies that are used to seeing each other every day, it’s understandable that their culture traditionally has been heavily dependent on face-to-face interactions. Shared workspaces, in-person town halls and meetings, joining together in common areas for lunch – all of those can be powerful drivers of comradery and culture, but they shouldn’t be what defines it entirely.

Beyond social interactions, it is important organizations root their culture in values that can transcend a specific physical setting or situation. Questions like “How does our office space enforce our culture?” or “What in-person activities can we do to improve collaboration?” are extremely important ones to ask. However, deeper ones that examine how all policies, activities and benefits are fair and inclusive to everyone should guide your organization’s thinking.

Extend the option to work remotely for all positions where it’s feasible

Prior to the pandemic, many remote work positions existed because of a unique need. For example, an employee wasn’t able to live in the same city as the company but possessed an expertise that wouldn’t be easy to replace in another candidate. It’s easy for bitterness to fester when such narrow parameters for remote work exist. If your company plans to adopt an indefinite remote work policy, ensure that it includes all whose jobs allow for it. Only allowing certain groups can create a feeling of “haves and have nots,” which can be terribly divisive for a company’s culture.

Make employee expectations the same for everyone

Despite the benefits of working remotely for most employees, there also are studies showing how it can make it harder for colleagues to feel connected. Videoconferencing services have helped with this, but it’s hard to replicate the real thing – not to mention, it’s hard to avoid Zoom fatigue .

A 2017 study on remote work shows that many remote workers felt left out and disparaged by their on-site counterparts. It’s reasonable to assume that more people will have a greater appreciation for working remotely once businesses return to their offices, but some of these tendencies may re-emerge.

Regardless of whether employees choose to work remotely or in the office, expectations should be the same for everyone. Clearly articulate employees’ responsibilities and set quantifiable, relevant goals for their positions. It’s also important to specify when people are expected to be at work – whether on site or remote. If it’s okay for remote workers to log on and off as needed, consider if on-site workers should be offered the same flexibility.

Prioritize routine direct communication

One benefit to having everyone in the office is that it allows for more unplanned conversations and interactions. Not everything has to be a scheduled phone call or Teams meeting. Colleagues can have more spontaneous touch-bases around the office. It also allows managers more opportunities to notice if an employee is displaying signs of stress that may not be apparent via email or video calls.

With more employees working in different locations, it’s critical that organizations create ways for employees to interact and share concerns or challenges they may be expressing. Your company’s culture should reinforce that expressing these concerns is OK and important. At the same time, it’s also necessary that managers are adequately trained at seeking and receiving such concerns. This needs to be more than, “Is everything going alright?”. If an employee is showing signs of distress but not asking for help, managers need to be equipped to navigate those conversations in a way that helps the individual open up without feeling pressured.

 

The transition to a new normal is going to be a process for every organization – with a few hiccups along the way to be expected. At the center of it though should be your company’s culture, what opportunities this change presents to improve it and what needs to be done to preserve what your organization has fostered over the years.

Have questions about how to best assist your employees while transitioning to your new work arrangements? We’d love to help!