Your post-virus culture cannot be one-size-fits-all

Virtual get-togethers could be one way to maintain culture as organisations return to 'normal'
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As organisations consider how their workforces will operate and collaborate in the longer term, managers need to be mindful that change affects everyone differently, and be open about the process of transformation ahead, say Matthew Garrett and Eman Al-Hillawi.

Covid-19 has forced many organisations to rapidly transform their ways of working. While the last few months have been focused on keeping up business continuity in the short-term, attention now needs to turn to ensuring an organisation’s long-term success.

As we approach the much talked-about ‘new normal’ in working practices, businesses need to take the opportunity to rebuild their company culture in order to retain and attract talent going forward – this will have the added benefit of optimising their commercial performance.

The last six months has raised many challenges for business leaders, with the pandemic changing the way people work, the physical set up of offices and, in some cases, the services that businesses can offer.

However, they now have the chance to utilise the lessons learned from the coronavirus outbreak and use them to drive positive transformation going forwards. From updating working policies and management styles, to overhauling their company culture, companies should embrace the changes that have worked well during the crisis while adopting an attitude of continuous improvement.

Change affects people differently

The requirement to work from home has had a clear impact on the UK workforce; no longer having to commute and travel to client meetings has helped to improve employees’ work-life balance and proved that people do not need to be in the office five days a week to fulfil their roles.

However, companies should recognise that the changes will not have been positive for everyone. Many employees will have had to deal with being furloughed and worries about job security, while concerns over elderly family members and balancing work and childcare commitments will have left many yearning for a time long before Covid-19.

With this in mind, employers must take all views and opinions into account before making any long-term changes to working practices. While many will be happy to continue to work flexibly moving forwards, there will be others who are desperate to get back to the office and regain some structure within their working week.

Empathy and communication

In order to ensure that any proposed changes are long-lasting, it is vital that business leaders take the time to develop a comprehensive communications plan at the earliest possible opportunity.

The events of the last few months have highlighted the benefits of a more empathetic and flexible approach to business management and this should continue wherever possible. This may include rethinking traditional management styles.

For example, while managers previously may have had total oversight over their team within a physical office environment, remote working has required leaders to place greater trust in the workforce and adopt new ways of communicating.

Managers must keep communication open with each team member and develop strategies that work for both individuals and the wider business.

For example, some employees may prefer to pick up the phone, while others might prefer the face-to-face communication that video enables. Ultimately, it will be about finding a balance that allows for regular check-ins, without anyone feeling inundated by constant messaging through multiple channels.

Managing expectations

The communications plan should reflect the needs of each employee and the channels needed in order to get people on board with change. Change can be incredibly personal to individuals and often raises insecurities in the early stages; for this reason, it is imperative that every person feels that they are being listened to and considered.

Similarly, business leaders must manage employee expectations from the very start of the process. For instance, promising benefits which cannot be delivered will only cause difficulties further on in the process, and negatively impact company culture.

By taking charge of the messaging around any alterations in working practices, business leaders can stay in control and ensure that communication is respectful, honest and consistent. It will be far easier to keep the workforce’s trust if they are aware of why the changes are happening and what the expected outcome is.

Once the pandemic comes to an end, it is likely that flexible working will become the norm for many businesses, however this should not come at the expense of company culture.

Keep people at the centre

If the team used to enjoy regular social events prior to the coronavirus outbreak, could virtual events take their place for the time being, enabling the team to communicate outside of the work setting? Likewise, managers should continue to encourage regular group check-ins to ensure that the entire team has an oversight of what is on the agenda, no matter where they are working.

As the current working arrangements become more normalised, companies may find that reverting to old working arrangements, including crowded offices and long commutes, may no longer be practical or attractive.

By keeping people at the centre of cultural change and fostering a collaborative environment, companies can ensure that any changes they make are for the better.

Furthermore, through clear and open communication, companies can ensure that the process of transformation is smooth and long lasting.

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About Matthew Garrett and Eman Al-Hillawi

Matthew Garrett is a programme manager and Eman Al-Hillawi is a principal consultant and co-founder at business change consultancy Entec Si
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