Managing Workplace Culture During COVID-19 – Takeaways for a Remote Workforce

By Joy Young

Workplace culture is a constant challenge for organizations. Encouraging cultural values and maintaining an environment that embodies those values can be difficult when employers and employees see each other every day, live and in-person. With a global pandemic keeping large portions of the working population at home doing their jobs remotely, the job of fostering culture is harder than ever for corporate leaders and their human resources partners.

Prior to the pandemic, we offered numerous in-office events and activities to encourage collaboration and reinforce our cultural values. Of course, we’ve been forced to change how we engage employees now that we’re all connecting remotely. But that’s not to say we’ve stepped back from our commitment to culture. After all, it’s extremely important. You may have heard the saying, “Culture eats strategy,” and I’ve found this to be true. Without a culture that buys into the organization’s mission and is motivated to collaborate to make that mission reality, success will be extremely difficult to come by. So, while employee engagement is different now, it’s not impossible and following are some tips for managing and maintaining culture that we have learned over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tip #1 Be Transparent

With many workers across the country experiencing job losses or reductions in hours and pay, clear and transparent leadership is extremely important. This pandemic has thrown everyone for a loop; no one has ever done this before. So, company leaders don’t need to have all the answers. But they should share information with employees who may be nervous about how COVID-19 might impact business and ultimately their jobs. Transparency doesn’t mean having a crystal ball, it means talking to employees regularly, telling them the truth as it is in the moment, and sharing plans for the future while knowing and communicating that those plans may – and likely will – change. Some key topics to communication with regularly with team members about are: 

  • Remote working plan
  • Current and future business plans
  • Reminders on how to access certain resources

Tip #2 Be Proactive

It may sound obvious, but we can’t control what happens with COVID-19. We don’t know with certainty when it will be 100% safe to bring our employees back together in one place. We’re not powerless though, and that’s a good thing, because employees are looking to leadership to let them know what to do and how to act. Following are some ideas for ways you can foster as sense of “normalcy” during the pandemic: 

  • Increase the frequency of communications – without the ability to engage in person, employees are spending a lot of time alone in home offices. Regular, frequent communications from leadership and between teams helps to create and sustain a feeling of connectedness.
  • Remote engagement activities are another great way to keep teams together. Be creative! It can be a zoom happy hour to a virtual escape room but maintaining the social connectedness that occurred in the office environment is essential in a remote environment. 

Tip #3 Focusing on Employee Wellbeing is Critical

While occasional work-from-home days were a perk for many prior to the pandemic, the novelty can wear out quickly when it becomes a daily routine. Mandated work-from-home and other new home-based responsibilities created by the pandemic have introduced new stressors for many. As a number of schools across the country are still not allowing students in buildings as a method to prevent the spread of COVID-19, employees in many locations are being asked to perform their jobs while simultaneously assisting their children with remote learning. Others are at home with roommates or parents. Employers can help by addressing employees’ wellbeing through empathetic approaches to work-life balance and by offering programs and services designed to reduce stress. For instance:

  • Make changes to the typical “work day” – at AiCure, we’ve adopted a number of new approaches to help employees manage work-life balance. We’ve created “No Internal Meeting” spaces on calendars, made it possible for employees to work flexible schedules, and we strongly encourage every employee to take regular breaks throughout the day to make time for themselves.
  • Provide resources – We offer employees several programs such as yoga and nutrition counseling, access to EAP as well as a wellness platform that provides access to a wealth of information and resources for staying physically and mentally healthy. 

Managing culture is hard. It’s hard when conditions are perfect and it’s particularly hard now that COVID-19 has moved the workforce out of the office. It is critical to success, however, and by taking a pragmatic approach to building and managing culture while remaining empathetic, transparent and proactive in how we communicate with our employees, leaders can strengthen organizational identity, even when workers can’t be together physically. For more information on AiCure, please visit www.aicure.com.