We don’t have a “new norm” for work yet. But it’s probably time to build your post-COVID-19 company culture.
Why now? Culture took a backseat to reality since the coronavirus pandemic hit. Most HR leaders and front-line managers did what they could to help employees adapt. Everyone from the CEO to the customer service reps navigated remote work and its challenges. And for the most part, they got the job done!
Now HR will be at the helm, rebuilding or recreating company cultures that are under stress since people have worked in bubbles – remotely, socially distanced or some kind of hybrid.
So here are research-proven keys and best practices to build your post-COVID-19 company culture.
Focus heavily on adaptability
Companies with cultures that are strong, strategically aligned and built with the ability to adapt quickly to dynamic environments – and I think we can all agree that a pandemic is highly dynamic – perform 15% better than those that are less adaptable, according to research out of University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
“Cultural adaptability – which reflects your organization’s ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities – is especially important at this historic moment,” say researchers Jenny Chapman and Francesca Gino in their work published in the Harvard Business Review.
If you had an adaptable culture before the pandemic, great! If you didn’t, it’s time to bake it into the new culture.
Chapman and Gino offer these three best-practices:
- Hold true to the old values with new practices. You’ll want to look for, highlight and share new examples of the post-COVID-19 culture you want. For instance, a pharmaceutical company always had “inclusion” as one of its core values. When it returned to on-site work, they initiated a new norm: If anyone had to attend a meeting remotely, it would be done on Zoom to continue to be more inclusive for everyone.
- Leverage your ideals. The pandemic has created a host of challenges for companies. But in those lie opportunities to do more, do differently and do better. For example, &pizza leaned into its founding philosophy “doing good while being good” by giving its signature gourmet pies free to healthcare workers.
- Promote and hire people who are resilient and adaptable. They’re scrappy. They do what needs to be done, regardless of rank, file and title. They look for positive ways to change, come up with creative ways to make it happen and help execute the plan.
How? Communication and total transparency.
Leaders didn’t leave employees in the dark. Even if it was bad news, they shared it. Many shared the news and their own fears and challenges about it. They stuck to the rare, but revered, cultural pillar: transparent communication.
Can you start right now to build more transparency into your operations and communications? Yes, just by getting employees involved in rebuilding the corporate culture.
Share the leaders’ visions. Then ask for feedback on it, encouraging employees to give you their three biggest cultural priorities. Use the feedback to rebuild, rebrand.
Strive for integrity
In the MIT Sloan study, employees at Culture 500 companies had lots of good things to say about their companies’ integrity in dealing with COVID-19 challenges. They talked positively about compliance with regulations, employee treatment and embodying corporate values.
Integrity will need to be a cornerstone of company culture in the post-COVID-19 workplace. Continue to focus on employees’ wellbeing by balancing work and family responsibilities, protecting their health and safety, and supporting their mental and physical health. Remote or on-site employees will stand behind a company that puts them first.
Rely on structure
Company culture is a luxury, claim research professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Companies can’t expect to lay out a culture and get employees to blindly fall in line with it.
Company leaders will need to create a structure of norms.
You don’t want to tell employees how to act, but you might create guidelines and examples. For instance, share Zoom call etiquette tips – and make sure leaders follow them – to reinforce a collegiality cultural code. Or create a regular cadence of boss-to-employee check-ins to reinforce an accountability cultural code.
Some companies – like Loomly – had the benefit of being a fully remote team before the coronavirus. But even though they’d created a company culture over miles and cultures, they had to build on resiliency, too.
They continued to communicate mostly asynchronously through Slack, manage files with Google Drive, discuss products in GitHub, and collaborate on marketing through the Loomly app. They stuck with weekly one-to-one meetings between managers and employees, monthly all hands team updates and quarterly performance reviews.
“But the final key component of our company culture is the quarterly team events we organize to get together in person and spend some quality time bonding over non-work related topics and activities – think hikes, escape rooms and food tours,” says Loomly CEO Thibaud Clement. “Of course, this has been paused during the pandemic, and we cannot wait to be able to mingle again once it’s become safe.”
That’s the resiliency part: Ensure employees will be part of positive company norms.
Change the wrong culture
Building a post-COVID-19 company culture offers a unique opportunity to kill cultural norms and behaviors that don’t work.
HR leaders want to look at how your organization will operate going forward. New circumstances bring on new expectations.
For instance, if “hours, hours, hours” was the mantra, and you saw the same results from employees who worked when they could, “hard work for great results” may not be a fitting cultural norm any more. Maybe “quality output for great results” fits your company better now.
Another example: If you’re a mostly remote operation now, perhaps personal responsibility and accountability will be more important to your culture. And “move fast and break things” kind of culture isn’t ideal any more.