COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we work this year. From offices closing at the start of the pandemic, to more recently, workplaces reopening with help from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) guidance on return-to-work, we’ve seen it all! During this uncertainty, employers have had to start planning way ahead to bring employees back to work, implement safe return-to-work processes, and much more. While these types of considerations have been top priority, we also want to highlight the importance of improving organizational culture during this hectic time.
What Is Organizational Culture?
We’ve discussed organizational culture in a previous post, but we’d like to refresh your memory. Organizational culture is the collection of values, expectations and practices that guide employers and employees in the workplace. Culture isn’t an organization's goals; it’s demonstrated through consistent behaviors that become unconscious and invisible over time. Organizational culture affects performance, communication, how employees identify with their company and so much more! Ineffective culture can hinder leadership, lead to disengaged employees, high turnover, and even lower profits. Strong and effective organizational culture leads to employees who are proud of their work, improved performance and profits.
How Has COVID-19 Changed Organizational Culture?
One key component of organizational culture that has shifted during the pandemic is employee recognition. When employees are working on-site, workplace recognition rituals are common (e.g. supervisors bringing their employees donuts, or even an employee receiving an “Employee of the Month” award). Now, many employees are still working from home (and even if they aren’t, the workplace has shifted dramatically with masks, social distancing and dividers), which means these common workplace recognition rituals no longer exist.
Another aspect of organizational culture that has drastically changed is the loss of a sense of community and employees feeling isolated. Employees have had to adjust from seeing their coworkers five days a week to working from home, which can create feelings of loneliness. Before, employees could engage with their coworkers without even thinking about it, which boosted morale and workplace ambiance. Now, the challenge is that communication is limited to virtual interactions.
The pandemic undoubtedly brought about ambiguity, doubt, fear and has caused an underlying stress in everyone. These feelings of uncertainty and stress can cause lowered employee engagement, dissatisfaction and in extreme cases, burnout. If employees don’t feel engaged and committed to the work they’re doing, they won’t be as productive. If employees aren’t as productive, it costs a company’s bottom line.
How To Improve Organizational Culture
We’ve covered how COVID-19 has changed organizational culture, now let’s discuss ways to improve it! These tips are especially relevant for managers and supervisors, because leading by example through a top-down approach from leadership sets the tone for the rest of the organization.
1. Find Innovative Ways To Recognize Employees
Employees who feel inspired, motivated and recognized for a job well done are more inclined to do more and find their work less stressful, in turn, increasing their wellbeing.
Working remotely presents challenges, however it also presents an opportunity for employers to find innovative ways to recognize their employees. Some examples include starting a team meeting by recognizing an employee who did a great job on a task and recognizing employees in creative ways (such as sending them a note through the mail or getting a delivery service to bring them lunch). It’s also important to ensure that when an employee is recognized, it’s specific and thoughtful, instead of just throwing out a general “thank you.”
2. Encourage Inclusion And Team Bonding
Adjusting to working from home can leave employees feeling secluded and makes team bonding difficult. It’s more important now than ever before to maintain a sense of connection and camaraderie between employees. Here are some ideas to get creative and encourage team bonding:
- Plan a virtual lunch or happy hour with your team.
- Choose one day a week to dress-up (e.g. Fashion Fridays).
- Celebrate holidays like Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day by creating crafts.
- Encourage your team to change their conference call backgrounds into something fun!
- Round up views of your team’s desks and workspaces. Bonus points if they feature a pet! Check out some of our employees’ workspaces below!
3. Re-Engage Employees
Finding ways to increase employee engagement is a top priority for employers, since many employees are disengaged and not as satisfied during this time. Employers should leverage digital communication for remote workers, so they feel engaged in their organization. They can do so by utilizing video calls to reinforce team goals and have one-on-one discussions about performance improvement. Demonstrating soft skills is also crucial, specifically by showing empathy towards employees’ circumstances and issues. This could include reiterating to employees that they can take leave or provide them with accommodations if necessary.
We understand that this year has been challenging for both employees and employers. We hope that the guidance from this post helps shift organizational culture in a positive direction with supervisors and employers taking actionable steps towards creating a change, making sure employees are satisfied!