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Despite the economic havoc COVID-19 caused, the work culture of some companies has stayed solid. But amid big changes and continuing uncertainties, that foundational element of business is an ongoing concern for many heading into 2021.
The massive shift to remote work on a regular basis dramatically changed how companies interact internally, and some have adjusted better than others.
Work relationships, processes and production are vulnerable to slippage, so businesses with remote workforces must deal with the challenge of preventing their culture from fraying while at the same time making it stronger, says Mark McClain (www.markmcclain.me), CEO and co-founder of SailPoint and the ForbesBooks author of Joy and Success at Work: Building Organizations that Don’t Suck (the Life Out of People).
“Crisis doesn’t build character; it reveals character and it reveals culture,” McClain says. “As leaders, we have to determine how our culture works from home and works from anywhere.
“The pandemic has introduced significant challenges around how we work together, and how to keep teamwork and company culture intact. The events of 2020 have given business leaders a critical opportunity to step back and take a hard look at all aspects of their business, starting with their culture.”
McClain offers five ways business leaders can keep their culture alive and make it stronger as the pandemic puts them to a prolonged test:
Lead with intention. Hybrid workforces – some working from home, others from the office – have been implemented and could be the new normal for many companies post-COVID. Keeping everyone on the same page requires clarity of message from the top, and a detailed review of how success is defined in these different times. “This pandemic has made it crystal clear that operating in unity does not require us to physically be near one another, but it does require us to be clear about our culture and our shared business goals,” McClain says. “Leaders and managers need to be more intentional about how they structure meetings involving remote workers and those in an office.”
Don’t micromanage. “There can be a tendency to micromanage when everybody’s working from home,” McClain says. “But then what kind of culture do you have without self-starters and people whom you trust? Never micromanage a competent professional. Treat them like adults. To have them working hard and confidently in pressure times, they don’t need managers on top of them or constantly checking on them.”
Embrace your core values. “This is where a solid culture starts,” McClain says, “and in crisis times, core values gain meaning if you emphasize them to the team. There’s pride in everyone pulling in the same direction and being proud of what they’ve accomplished based on those values. Repeated from time to time, core values serve to encourage and strengthen.”
Provide a forum for expression. “The pandemic far transcends the workplace into the home,” McClain says. “People have been experiencing many emotions. As a leader, if you haven’t done so already, reach out to your people individually or in groups and let them get out their feelings about this difficult year and anything they want to discuss. When the workforce knows everyone, including their leaders, truly care, your culture is stronger.”
Host virtual socials. People in a good work culture get along well, and as the pandemic spirals into months and months, people miss seeing each other in person. “Loneliness is a factor, even for the busiest person,” McClain says. “Set aside some virtual team happy-hour meetings just for fun and non-work conversation, no-pressure contests, music, etc.”
“Each company has a unique culture, a reason why people like working there and why it’s successful,” McClain says. “The best companies are very intentional about their culture, and it’s more important than ever.”