The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our world in ways that many of us couldn’t have predicted.
The direct health implications aside, businesses have had to react swiftly in order to continue to operate responsibly and to mitigate potential damage. While some of these changes have been superficial, designed to help us weather the storm, there have also been alterations to our businesses on a cultural level.
This is not an insignificant issue. Adopting the right cultural attributes can help define our businesses as inspiring, innovative workplaces. As entrepreneurs have been forced to make way for change, it’s worth assessing how these changes can be approached in a way that not only helps their business to survive the coronavirus but to thrive in the future beyond.
Let’s take a look at some of the key areas of work culture that have been affected by COVID-19, what alterations have been common, and the impact these alterations can have. Which new cultural aspects should become a deeper part of your business landscape?
The move away from physical office spaces has been a significant business cultural change. While many companies may pride themselves on a strong sense of team spirit that is cultivated by a close-knit working environment, the need for social distancing has seen a shift to remote practices — a shakeup in their fundamental working culture. It’s worth examining exactly how remote operations alter company culture, and what positive effects can result from this change.
Though physical workspaces certainly promote close collaboration, this also presents limitations: your business is only accessible to those who journey to the office each day or to those willing to relocate. Adopting a culture that embraces remote work practices allows companies to open their hiring pool to candidates from across the globe. Diversity is one of the core elements that makes for a strong organizational culture. Remote operations attract a wider range of talent with diverse ideas that encourage innovation. This can have a positive cyclical effect, influencing the overall direction of the company.
That’s not to say that remote working is without challenges. Elements of the physical working culture can help your business generate success; customers and investors are able to visit your company so they can engage with your culture first-hand and get a sense of how your working practices reflect your place in the industry. Moving beyond COVID-19, those continuing to embrace remote practices will need to explore how these benefits can be replicated virtually by inviting clients and investors to Zoom calls or by providing an open chat space on tools such as Slack.
Perhaps the stand out cultural shift for businesses in the face of COVID-19 is a renewed focus on health and safety. Your company has an ethical obligation to keep employees and customers safe and to avoid practices that put either at risk. However, making overt efforts to make wellness an integral part of business culture demonstrates that leaders value employee welfare over profit.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to illustrate this for many employees and customers. People are noticing how business leaders reacted. Were they swift in limiting in-person activities after the risks associated with gathering in public spaces were revealed? Did they have to be ordered by the government to change their practices? How much support did they volunteer to clients and staff to limit the negative impact? The wellness considerations that leaders adopt into company culture send a clear message which affects the client and staff relationships they rely upon.
Making sanitary working practices a priority is certainly a must, but introducing a robust corporate wellness program can be beneficial to the entire company. Provide employees with access to resources that improve not only their physical but also their mental health. These can include things like counseling services and discounted gym memberships. Provide healthy alternatives to junk food vending machines and keep an open dialogue so staff can discuss wellness needs. Keeping a health-conscious culture will not only help to reduce absenteeism but can strengthen leaders’ connection to their employees in ways that may also reduce turnover.
Responding to a crisis is rarely easy. While there are certain issues we can predict, we don’t always know how this is likely to affect our working practices. What is clear is that companies that adopt a culture that embraces flexibility are well-positioned to adapt to the new reality of the world we live in.
Business leaders must first examine what types of flexibility are valued by employees, appreciated by customers, and are sustainable in the interests of the business. Are you able to implement flexible working hours and adjust working practices to allow employees a health work/life balance? Adopt a training approach that allows for redeployment of resources to areas they’re needed at challenging times. Each of these practices can make a positive difference in the overall business culture. When unexpected change occurs, the effect may not be as turbulent.
Remember that prioritizing company culture is most effective when applied to every aspect of the business. Be agile from top to bottom. Leaders should be flexible in their own activities and be transparent about how this flexibility is applied throughout the company. Be honest about how this affects the business and have open dialogue about the challenges this can also represent.
Companies have been forced to make changes as a result of COVID-19, some of which have been fundamental cultural changes. However, while crises can be challenging, they can also lead us to examine what can be adapted in the long term to make our businesses better for everyone involved. Business leaders need to be committed to implementing these new practices at all levels to make them effective additions to the wider workplace culture.