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How to protect your company’s culture during a crisis

In the last few weeks, companies the world over have been formulating their response to the COVID-19 crisis and testing, implementing and adjusting their business continuity plans.

a fed up employee working from home

In the last few weeks, companies the world over have been formulating their response to the COVID-19 crisis and testing, implementing and adjusting their business continuity plans.

Day-to-day crisis management, safeguarding employees’ health and wellbeing, working from home arrangements and mitigating business impact now all form part of the “new normal”.

However, this shift will inevitably challenge the culture your organisations aspire to create, and many leaders are struggling to keep their companies connected, spirited, purposeful and in a good headspace.

With the technology available today, moving to a digital business world is, in some respect, the “easiest” part of this transition. Adapting behaviourally, culturally and emotionally to this new world is the real challenge.

So, what can you do as a business and as an employer to ensure you protect and keep your organisational culture strong during these unprecedented times?

Here are a few measures that could help you nurture your company’s culture and extend it to those working remotely. Unsurprisingly many of these strategies are about one crucial element – fostering human interactions!

Align your decisions and actions to your company’s purpose and values

Your company’s purpose should be the one constant amongst this ever-changing world and should serve as a practical guide for decision making. Think about it as your strong internal compass as you navigate these uncharted waters.

It is crucial to instil a sense of purpose during periods of uncertainty and during times of isolation and ensure your people feel supported, connected, engaged, and committed to your organisation.

Purpose gives your employees a reason to go to work every day, even if they do so form the safety of their homes.

Every decision your organisation makes (even the tough ones) is an opportunity to reiterate who you are as a business and what you stand for – so don’t treat it lightly.

Similarly, every top-down communication and action from your leaders should be an occasion to show how your purpose is being brought to life.

Addressing the “why” will go a long way in retaining the trust and respect of your people.

Communicate openly, proactively and consistently

Lack of, or poor communication in a time of crisis can cause confusion and damage your company’s culture, and it can also spread fear and hinder your crisis control efforts.

On the other hand, frequent, transparent and proactive communication at every level of the organisation (all employees, departments and teams) can help foster a culture of trust and will keep the dreaded rumours at bay.

Business leaders should be rolling out updates at least once a week (ideally twice) to reassure employees and inform them about the news that impact them. It should also provide visibility on the company’s future outlook and job safety and let your employees know they’re not alone.

Establishing daily huddles to check-in with your team could also be an effective way to not only nurture relationships but to also align on the key priorities and help address any potential hurdles. We wrote another blog on this topic that could also be of interest.

Although the method of communication (phone, videoconference, text, chat) is important, the two most important factors when trying to maintain your culture are the tone you use and ensuring that your actions are matching your words.

Make videoconferencing the primary way of communication

Even if it has the potential to add a layer of technical complexity (especially with poor internet performance), best practice is to always use video for meetings.

It may not be the same as a face to face interaction, but it mimics in-person communication as much as possible.

Communicating via text or phone leaves out all the important non-verbal cues like body language and facial reactions.

It has also been proven that people feel more connected when they can make eye contact with another person – even through video.

video conference on a laptop

Recreate social bonding virtually

Many of the cultural advantages of face-to-face interactions centre around connection and relationship building. Workplace culture is inherently a social construct and not being able to physically interact regularly with colleagues goes against human nature – we are social beings after all.

To maintain your culture in a remote world, the challenge is not as much to recreate business conversations, but more to find ways to recreate the day to day ad-hoc, casual and genuine dialogues. Authentic conversations are crucial for positive morale and mental wellbeing.

As a leader, it is therefore important to create communication opportunities outside of the normal business meetings to enable your employees to have a chat with their colleagues, find out how they are doing, and simply catch up on “news”.

Some organisations have successfully implemented virtual lunches or “happy hours”, virtual pub-quiz or setup discussion groups (recipe ideas, tv recommendations) so that their employees can remain in touch.

A daily photo sharing activity (self, pets, family, gardens, food..) is another great way to give employees a sense of familiarity and see a glimpse into each other’s worlds.

Finally, a Wellness buddy system may be what your business needs to foster cross-team relationships and keep people connected. Why not establish small groups of 3 or 4 people that connect regularly to check on each other?

someone on a video call on a laptop

Don’t forget about Recognition

Your existing recognition programs should not stop because of the conferment. Some would argue that public recognition should actually be heightened in times of isolation and crisis. Why not create a virtual “Thank you mate” program where employees and managers can celebrate wins and give a shout-out to a colleague that has been helpful or delivered great work? Gratitude and being thankful will also help in the current context to keep a positive mindset.

The current pandemic has certainly disrupted and damaged many industries and businesses all over the world, but by implementing a few well-chosen strategies with intention and creativity, progressive organisations can ensure that their culture will remain intact, transition successfully and even thrive in this “new world”.

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