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Culture in the Time of Imposed Telework

by | Mar 16, 2020 | What We Think

How to Make Your Culture Work for You through the Current Crisis

How are leaders maintaining organizational culture while everyone is unexpectedly working remotely? Recommendations focused on the tactical implementation of teleworking are exploding. How, though, does an organization continue to nurture the culture that is at the core of the business?

Leaders must focus on two main components – maintaining regular business functions and established operating rhythms as well as acknowledging that during crises, consideration for employees as individuals must be taken into account.

Some recommendations for maintaining organizational culture include:

  • Take time as a team to define what working remotely looks like. Outline expectations, address hesitations, and give your employees a chance to voice what they are thinking. Establish a sense of cohesion even when employees are not in the workplace.
  • Allow time for chit chat at the beginning or end of virtual meetings. This will create a sense of belonging and cultivate a resemblance to the in-person workplace environment.
  • Make it fun. Propose a contest to see who has the best home office or the funniest decorations in their home. Have employees post pictures on a secure intranet site, or share the best finds for binging on Netflix.
  • Keep all communication lines open and be intentional about communication. Leaders should initiate and actively seek communication. Email, text messages, Slack – allow people to use their preferred methods of communication and keep connectivity at a maximum.
  • Maintain your normal business rhythms as much as possible. All employees, if able, should be present on video at regularly scheduled meetings. Scheduled team lunches should remain on the calendar – just do them virtually!
  • Advocate for personal-professional separation. It can be hard to separate work from personal life, especially when you’re teleworking. Honor the end of the workday and urge your employees to do the same.

Exceptional circumstances require different responses at the individual level too. Individuals will confront different challenges, and working with employees to tackle their personal circumstances without worrying about any repercussions on their jobs is key to keeping your team engaged. As a bonus, this behavior also drives longer-term loyalty.

  • Be upfront about communication. Tell all your employees that they can raise any concerns with you. Make it easy for your employees to be forthright and honest about any personal changes that could affect their ability to do their job, and encourage them to work with the leaders to find a solution.
  • Create a safe platform for employees to anonymously post questions. Someone who is too afraid to approach you in person will be grateful for the safe space.
  • Relax policies and adjust guidelines. Employees who have to look after a sick relative or friend, have kids who can no longer go to school or daycare, or who are sick themselves, may no longer be able to work the same hours. Empathy, understanding, and a willingness to be flexible go a long way. Helping employees to feel valued and be heard are always important, and never more so than in these circumstances.
  • Update, update, update. This outbreak is constantly evolving. As information is updated, company policies might need to be modified. Keep your employees informed about any updates and do whatever you can to mitigate risk to the business and your employees.
  • Share, anonymously. With permission, share individuals’ circumstances and how you helped them make accommodations. This could help other employees in similar situations who either don’t know what to do or are reluctant to approach you.

We are dealing with an unprecedented situation that calls for exceptional measures and flexibility. Change is hard, and when it is thrust upon us, empathy, action, and creativity in solutioning are particularly helpful. Leadership drives behavior. Your thoughtful actions are likely to set the tone for the ways your employees behave towards you, the organization, and each other. Your organization might end up even stronger than before.

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