Company culture is the bedrock of an organisation. It holds people together, provides cohesion in our teams and ultimately keeps people motivated to deliver at work.
In the face of all the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and with employees forced to work remotely, we relied on this cultural framework more than ever.
It is worth remembering how unsettling the sudden shift to remote working was for many people. As the pandemic arrived in early 2020, lots of people were immersed (often overnight) into a world of remote working for which they were unprepared.
We are only beginning to understand the myriad of issues this created for organisations. The isolation of remote working, compounded perhaps by local lockdown rules, has created mental health and wellbeing concerns for some employees. Others faced the difficulty of balancing caring responsibilities in the home alongside responsibilities at work; a burden that studies have shown is falling disproportionately on women, with significant implications for the post-COVID economy.
The above examples all linger on in an environment of fatigue that some companies have fallen victim to during the pandemic, as employees work long hours and tire of days filled with Zoom or Teams meetings.
Fostering company culture remotely
If left unchecked, these problems can spiral out of control and create a culture that excludes, rather than includes everyone in the workforce.
The businesses that have succeeded this year, and will continue to do so into 2021, have focused on ensuring employees stay happy, healthy and productive. For many firms this has meant a really inspiring effort to continue the company social calendar – we have all seen the fabulous array of virtual events dreamt up over the last year including quizzes, inspiring talks, and even the odd wine tasting!
Mental health is a critical part of this picture. Organisations have to encourage their employees to still take time off, perhaps by providing seminars on stress management or meditation; it can even be as simple as having internal company messaging on the importance of a work-life balance. The mantra has to be to encourage employees to find time for themselves whenever they can.
It is also important to make the (albeit virtual) working environment as supportive for the needs of all workers as possible. Flexible working practices can help workers more effectively balance responsibilities like childcare alongside work – delivering on their responsibilities at hours that suit them. Equally, simple steps like spreading out Zoom meetings, and keeping them brief, can reduce fatigue and boost productivity.
2021 and post-COVID
In the new year we are likely to see more flexibility and hybridity of the remote workforce. The pandemic has taught us all that we can still collaborate and be productive remotely. For global companies in particular, it has brought the global workforce closer together. Meetings are now truly global, with people now able to spread out their time and have regular facetime with those not in your location.
It will be important for businesses to not simply push people back into the in-person environment. Company events and meetings in 2021 will likely take on a more hybrid form, operating in a balance that offers both virtual and in-person options – dependent on the needs of the employee.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the pandemic will be one of innovation in company culture. It has driven a huge acceleration in the creation of virtual engagement and collaboration tools, and crucially, familiarity in these virtual tools amongst the workforce. More than that, we have lived through a period of unbridled creativity, a year when people have delved deeper and fought harder to build a company culture that works for everyone. All of which will be essential foundations for business success in the post-COVID-19 era.
About the author
Meredith is an experienced Human Resources executive and attorney who is leading the HR organization at Ensono, formerly Acxiom IT. She directs a team responsible for driving company culture, recruitment, benefits and employee compensation. Meredith previously held executive positions with Furniture Brands International and Savvis Inc. Meredith received a BA from the University of Central Oklahoma and holds a Doctor of Law (JD) degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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