A strong company culture includes many essential elements, but a focus on people is one of the most important. Your employees need to feel that the company respects them.
Right now, during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, this fact is arguably more important than ever. Everyone is struggling to some degree right now. If you run an organization or manage a team, one of your core responsibilities is to support your people.
Of course, promoting and sustaining this type of company culture can feel challenging when many (if not all) of your employees might be working from home. Additionally, even if your employees return to the office in the coming weeks and months, the lingering effects of a crisis may still impact their performance.
While every company is different, the following tips can help you cultivate a positive culture both now, and in the near future, when normal operations resume.
Play the Role
You need to strike a delicate balance when you manage a team. On the one hand, your approach to leadership needs to be authentic. Your employees simply won’t take you seriously if they feel your behavior is fundamentally dishonest or fake.
On the other hand, leading a team does involve being an actor at times—for instance, if you must make a difficult decision, you may not want to broadcast all the options you weighed, the downsides and upsides of each, the stress you felt while deliberating, and so on. Rather, once you decide what to do, you act confidently, regardless if you have lingering doubts.
Right now, it may be most important for you to play the role of a coach, no matter how you may be feeling personally. There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on your own mental and emotional health, not to mention your company’s bottom line. However, whenever you’re interacting with your team members, you need to be the voice of calm and reason—your actions should communicate realistic optimism. It’s your responsibility to keep morale high.
Modify the Basics
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that cultivating a positive culture right now is completely different than before. The truth is, many of the basic steps you would usually take to boost employee engagement and help your workers feel valued will still be effective now. Things like good communication, reasonable transparency, access to training, and meaningful work are still important.
For example, one of the most basic ways leaders can foster employee engagement is by promoting a more social, collegial environment at work through get-togethers and fun events.
You can still organize such events in some form during the pandemic. A “virtual” happy hour is actually more convenient and inexpensive than a typical night at the bar—use an application like Zoom or Skype to host the party. Thanks to such video chat apps as House Party, planning an office trivia nights is extremely easy as well.
Odds are good your workers crave a sense of normalcy right now. Provide it.
Keep People Accountable, But Provide Support
All team leaders need to understand that employees may not be delivering their strongest performance these days. Some of your employees may be caring for children or a sick family member while working from home, or they may have gotten sick themselves. Those who are physically healthy must still manage the anxiety that’s so prevalent right now.
That said, once again, it’s also important to remember that making people feel “normal” is key right now. This idea applies to the expectations you set for your team. Yes, you should keep in mind that they’re stressed and may not be able to perform as impressively as they did previously. At the same time, you also need to make sure they know you still expect them to do their jobs and take their work seriously. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you hold people to reasonable standards, they may feel more engaged, because they see that their job matters.
Remember to be as specific as possible when communicating expectations. People want to know up-front how they will be assessed—they want to know exactly what constitutes a “good” job.
Setting expectations is the first step; the second is to give people the tools they need to meet these standards. For example, you need to provide the right technologies, which means access to applications like Slack, Zoom, and project management tools, if necessary. Consider other technology requirements as well:
- Do people have access to fast, reliable Internet at home?
- Do you have a virtual phone system so your staff can connect with clients?
- Do people know how to use the technologies you’ve provided?
- Have you developed protocols and policies for the best use of these technologies?
These are just a few tech-related questions you might want to ask yourself.
Good communication is another aspect of support that’s critical right now. You may want to establish a regular, one-on-one check-in schedule with your team. This can help remote workers feel less alone and reinforce that sense of accountability that’s sometimes lost when people work from home.
The good news is that it’s totally possible to maintain a people-centric culture with distributed, remote teams—you just have to provide the right tools, get creative with virtual events, prioritize communication, and lead with a sense of realistic optimism.