Reboot your company culture for the socially distanced workplace

Woman returning to office
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For the return to the workplace to be successful it will be vital for businesses to fine tune their cultures. Getting it right means retaining your best people, writes Phil Chambers. But getting it wrong could see them seeking employment elsewhere.

As the government eases the UK’s lockdown restrictions, many employees have started returning to work. Even those who can work from home will now be contemplating what a return to the office might look like. But suggested safety measures are set to result in some drastic changes, leaving leaders with a new predicament: how will they reinvigorate and sustain that workplace culture?

Proposed rules include the end of hot-desking, no use of canteens, staggered shifts, and two-metre distancing enforced with floor tape. Employees will be advised to avoid sharing pens and to steer clear of face-to-face meetings. Things we once considered a fundamental part of the workplace environment – water cooler chats, tea rounds, birthday cakes – will, temporarily at least, be a thing of the past. Just the idea of a colleague blowing out candles and then sharing the cake round is enough now to make us shudder.

A recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce revealed that most firms believe they would be able to restart business and return to the office with just three weeks’ notice. But will employees be so eager to return with such strict limitations in place? And what can employers do to ensure a safe and positive atmosphere for everyone to return to?

Maintain channels of connection

One of the positive trends to emerge from lockdown is a greater emphasis on connectedness. Organisations have introduced a plethora of online initiatives to bring people together. For example, one of our customers set up a company radio station. Our global Peakon team participated in a 26-hour global Zoom marathon to raise money in aid of the Global FoodBanking Network. 

It’s been heartening to see camaraderie among employees during challenging times, and it’s important that employers continue to encourage this when we return to the workplace. There will likely be a transition period, with just a limited number of people permitted to return. During this time, employers will need to be careful to communicate regularly and clearly to those both in the workplace and those still working at home. They must continue to host online meetings and events, dial in remote workers, and use messaging apps. We’re fortunate that technology allows us to stay connected when we’re apart. Employers should continue to embrace this as the office gradually reopens to prevent communication waning.

Company values fit for a new world of work

A company’s character is built on its values, beliefs, attitudes, and the relationships colleagues share. Over the past few months, organisations have gone through a huge transition together. Some employees will just want to go back to the “normal” they know, but others will want to change upon reflection over the experience and what it has taught them.

There’s also an opportunity here for organisations to strengthen their long-term relationship with employees and reinforce mutual trust”

As attitudes and approaches to work are likely to have changed, it will be worthwhile taking a fresh look at company values to ensure they reflect the new reality. Business leaders should ask employees for their feedback on the experience and what they learnt from working through this crisis. They may find common themes crop up in which case organisations should consider finding a way to enshrine these in their values. They will also need to adapt and bring the new ways of working into life for their employees. There is no going back to “business as usual” – we’ve already entered the “unusual business” that will shape the new world of work order.

Two-way communication is key

These have been, and will continue to be, uncertain times for all businesses. Employees will look to their leaders for guidance and reassurance on how their company will keep them safe, and for plans on business continuity.

The importance of clear communication at this time cannot be overstated. Employees will be cognisant of the risks of returning to the workplace and employers should give them as much information as possible. They must also keep lines of communication open, and commit to addressing employees’ concerns quickly. This will be key to maintaining employee confidence and a positive workplace environment.

There’s also an opportunity here for organisations to strengthen their long-term relationship with employees and reinforce mutual trust. By communicating frequently, in an open, transparent and timely manner, employers can demonstrate the care and respect they have for their people. This is the time to overcommunicate to show your employees that you are responsive, responsible, proactive and invested.

Covid-19 has already turned the world of work on its head. And economic recovery is likely to take time, with many businesses fighting for survival. Against this difficult backdrop, fine tuning your company culture is key. It could mean the difference between retaining your best people, or them seeking employment elsewhere.

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Phil Chambers

About Phil Chambers

Phil Chambers is CEO and co-founder, Peakon
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