Companies have planned and drilled for disasters, such as extreme weather events, homeland terror, etc., for years. Many businesses even planned for a pandemic. Yet, no one could have predicted the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis or the nuances it would hold. It was with amazing elegance and speed that so many companies relocated their workforces and, as a result, managed to adapt by re-tooling their operating model. The virus touched almost every aspect of life; and, because of that, it’s necessary to know how to redefine workplace culture after any emergency so that our expectations and directions are clear and we’re better prepared for the future.

A Summary of Changes

One of the biggest shifts companies saw during the pandemic was the employee move to remote work. Before the pandemic, just 14 percent of workers did their jobs from home. As the pandemic comes to a close, that rate has more than doubled to 31 percent. Most workers also say that they want to continue with a more hybrid approach to where they work, and businesses are investing in technology options used during the pandemic with the assumption that those options will last for the long term. Companies are recognizing that mobility and choice will be a primary consideration to attract and retain employees. In fact, many enterprises now view the pandemic as a unique opportunity to rethink and reconfigure fundamental aspects of their office and building and construction strategy.

In addition to changing where they worked from, employees also modified how they got tasks done. With no commute and difficulty drawing boundaries at home, many workers put in more work hours, which resulted in some businesses reporting productivity gains, as well as significant cost savings.Businesses started to experiment with more flexible scheduling, including compressed workweeks, hoteling, and workspace rotation. At the same time, remote tools have created new challenges, and companies are trying to figure out how to handle issues such as new regulations, social clubhouses, privacy, Zoom fatigue, and burnout. 

Major Shifts Yield a New Perspective

As companies navigated all the shifts of the COVID-19 crisis, they learned that it’s possible to be incredibly productive even with decentralized setups. Yet, they also became more aware that checking things off a list and contributing to the bottom line alone aren’t enough to keep workers happy. Mental health has become a major consideration as workers and leaders alike begin to see the reality of each other’s lives. Now, 42 percent of employers say their health and wellbeing programs need to change in order to support workers in an agile workplace.

Within this, businesses are starting to look at their culture on a more human level. Healthy culture no longer means just building an environment where everything is efficient and conflicts are rare. It means recognizing that employees are the first and best advocates for a brand and that helping them have a good experience carries over into the customer experience. Many leaders learned from the pandemic that they need to support workers from the ground up, over the entire employee journey. Basic needs in the employee hierarchy pyramid, such as just enjoying or being content on the job, have to be met before leaders can worry about cultivating higher or more refined areas, such as a real sense of belonging or importance. As those needs are met morale, productivity, and engagement usually all improve.

So, after a crisis, define your culture based on whether you’re caring for your people and providing them with a good experience based on the reality of their changing needs and priorities. If you focus only on employee production, you’ll likely miss the mark.

Even though leaders are getting a better sense of how they need to view workplace culture in the post-pandemic world, the fact remains that companies have to deal with a workforce that is more scattered than ever before. This situation creates its own hurdles for achieving a healthy culture, not the least of which is how to communicate well with everyone regardless of where they might be located. 

To be successful at creating happy, unified teams, strive for communication that is more thoughtful and deliberate. Do all you can to ensure that people are understood and accountable. Clear performance measures will help you refine your communication so that everyone stays aligned and achieves based on the goals of the business. It is essential to make sure these performance measures are in place. Think about rewarding not only “what’s” been done, but “how” it’s been done.

To Set Yourself Apart, Take Care of Your People From Bottom to Top and Start to Finish

As the dust settles from the pandemic, from the boardroom to the mailroom, it’s clear that our way of working has changed forever and that the future of work is already here. The changes we saw through or as a result of the crisis will keep going and maybe even accelerate, driven in large part by both technology and the emerging experience economy. As the world recovers in this new reality, how you define your culture will be a major differentiator. Expressing it in terms of the care of your people and their connection to the customer experience will keep you ahead of the game and able to restructure properly no matter what life might throw at your business in years to come.