Transformation of Corporate Culture in the Post-Pandemic Workplace
When many companies across the globe had to suddenly move to remote working, with no timeline as to when, or if, they would be going back to the office, a likely casualty appeared to be that of corporate culture.
How could companies hope to maintain that intangible but powerful aspect of their businesses, when employees were unable to meet face-to-face, enjoy company benefits like onsite gyms, interact with colleagues in open-plan collaborative office designs, and socialise in the company kitchen over a free breakfast or coffee.
The COVID-19 pandemic had tremendous and swift effects on workplace culture. The global lockdown upended the concept of the physical workplace and corporate interactions. Modern collaborative technologies such as videoconferencing, screen-sharing, and smartphone chat groups became the norm, and as a result the philosophy that “it’s just better to do it face-to-face” was quickly redundant. Many people had to shift their mindset that they do not have to be in an office to be effective and that they can get most things done remotely. With this shift, HR and organisation leaders needed to quickly re-evaluate their business model and work out how to maintain corporate culture when interactions were solely online.
According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management in the US, two out of three companies reported keeping employee morale up was a challenge during the pandemic, and one-third said maintaining company culture was difficult. And while employers reported a decrease in morale during the pandemic, many employees were happy to still have a job.
Corporate culture is an important part of why employees choose to work for a company – and what keeps them there for the long-term too. More specifically, it is the essence of what builds the loyalty and trust workers have for their employer and what makes them feel as though they ‘fit’ within a workplace. It is what defines the nature of an organisation and can affect an employee’s happiness, motivation, and ultimately, productivity.
During prosperous times, corporate culture may seem invisible to some, but in moments of crisis, its presence can be seen clearly in the collective behaviours that either help a company pull together and get things done or lead to inertia, confusion, and even mistrust.
Now that the pandemic is beginning to ease and employees are starting to return to the office, many companies have started to assess the impact COVID-19 has had on their own company’s culture.
For some businesses, their culture needs healing after layoffs, furloughs, or closures that drastically changed their workforce, and for other businesses, the impact has not been all that detrimental.
A study by Quartz and Qualtrics found more people said their workplace culture had gotten better in the pandemic than said it had deteriorated. 48% of people say that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, they feel more connected to those in their organisation and 51% say that they now feel more loyal to their organisation.
For those now returning to the workplace, businesses are adapting their work processes or physical environments to account for social distancing needs. Employees are adjusting as they return to the office after months of being apart. Underlying all of this is a fear of COVID-19 in the workplace and the continued uncertainty of how economies will perform, and which situations may change.
Now is the time for business leaders to consider adopting any new processes or tweaking existing ones, with strategies that create a more collaborative, flexible, and inclusive environment that encourages their whole workforce, whether their teams are working in-office or remotely.
Leaders must consider how their culture will help them navigate the new reality and then take advantage of the strengths of their culture to develop new ways to win in the marketplace.
- Agility – The future of work now looks very different
As the pandemic begins to ease, many companies are planning a new workplace model, a combination of remote and on-site working, however, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Work will be regarded as a thing you do, rather than a place you go. Measurement of ‘work’ will increasingly become about outcome rather than the input, regardless of when and where it is done, and whilst natural collaboration, which happens in an office environment, is still an important element, it will demand a more effective use of time rather than duration of time. Hybrid work offers the best of both worlds: structure and sociability, and independence and flexibility.
Organisations have already started to adopt new ways to manage and assess employee performance, give and receive feedback and connect and show appreciation. Many businesses have also adopted and maintained the new way of recruiting and hiring new staff, including virtual interviews and online onboarding.
- Innovation & Digital Transformation
Advanced technology and data integration have been slowly trickling in over the past few years, but technology usage takes on an entirely new meaning in a post-pandemic world. COVID-19 forced true digital transformation for a lot of companies that may have had the product on their to-do lists for years. Technology has been used to keep us connected and productive while working remotely, and technological innovation continues as companies anticipate employees will continue to work remotely for at least some of their working week.
- Leadership Visibility and Approachability
Pre-pandemic, the C-Suite was a somewhat silent entity, only descending from the boardroom when totally necessary. COVID-19 brought with it much employee uncertainty, with employees looking to senior leaders for assurance and guidance. The pandemic forced senior leaders to increase their visibility and approachability and to provide clear communication and transparency. Now, with the added onus on constant communication, leaders are hosting online townhalls – putting a face to the name. This has resulted in a significant change in how people reference and talk about their senior leadership teams. This change has in turn created a more meaningful, authentic relationship between employer and employee.
The COVID-19 crisis has jolted leaders and organisations into action, accelerating trends that were already in play and triggering new ones. It forced many leaders to re-evaluate their businesses, which in turn proved to be the catalyst for innovation and digital technology, pivoting to stay operable, and rethinking how to build a new remote workplace, all of which impact corporate culture. The upside of this was that more companies have now learned agility, innovation and digital transformation, and a visible and approachable leadership team, are ever-important components of good workplace culture.
While reshaping company culture post-pandemic may be a large task for managers and HR professionals, this is a unique opportunity for leaders and managers to connect with and build their teams. Now is the time to reimagine the post-pandemic workplace, and take the learnings, both the good and the bad, to create a better and more cohesive corporate culture.