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How to build Culture through COVID

If anything could destroy your company culture, it was 2020. At first glance, it’s easy to see how the huge shift to remote work, closing the doors and extreme downsizing could demolish any positive culture you’ve worked to build in your business. However, ongoing analysis of 1.4 million employee-written reviews on Glassdoor, tells a very different story of the workplace amidst the 2020 pandemic. 

The truth is, 2020 might have been exactly what your company needed. 

An economic downturn can unravel the social norms that hold your company together. In the process of such an extreme change, it gives an opportunity for your true values to shine. According to the MIT Sloan Review, the average culture and values rating across the Culture 500 companies spiked during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. In fact, April-August 2020 occupies the top five spots in culture and values ratings for the preceding five years.

How is it possible that people were actually happier with their company culture and values in the midst of wide spread lockdown, layoffs, and shift to remote work? Because companies realized the importance of positivity, flexibility, communication, and other values. 

clear communication

What’s Your Most Important Value? 

Above all the research and ratings for these 500 companies, one important theme stood out in the months of the pandemic. Employees of highly rated companies valued honest communication and transparency above anything else. In fact, they were 88% more likely to write positively about leaders’ honesty and transparency (46%). Employees also expressed more positive sentiment about transparency (42%) and communication (35%) in general. In late April 2020, MIT asked over 400 HR leaders an open-ended question about the most meaningful thing their organization did to support the transition to remote work during COVID-19. The top answer?  High-quality communication. In fact, many employees grew to trust their employer for information on the virus rather than government, news outlets, or social media. 

Your employees value their paycheck and their office space, but more than anything they value your honest and transparent communication. However, it’s rare to find “transparency” or “communication” on any list of company values. In an earlier study of the corporate value statements of more than 500 larger companies, only 12% listed transparency or communication among their official corporate values. Perhaps this works most of the time, but during times of crisis, the quality of communication is essential to maintaining your company culture. 

covid company culture

Creating a Virtual Company Culture

Other positive reviews on Glassdoor mentioned values like integrity, positive thinking, compliance with regulation, and fair treatment across employees. 

The top rated companies also did a much better job in addressing issues related to employee welfare. They helped employees balance work with family responsibilities, protected employees’ physical health and safety, and supported their mental well-being. 

With so many companies looking to rebuild in a new, changing, and more virtual world. How do you build a strong virtual company culture in 2021? Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

1. Keep the Communication clear 

Even after the initial crisis is over, understand the value of your communication and keep the transparency as much as possible. 

2. Hire the rebel. 

Look for those who are resilient, adaptable, and creative. You want to be able to leverage differences, and keep going when the world is turned upside down, which might mean you need to hire the positive changes you seek. 

3. Enhance Inclusivity 

Zoom meetings can offer a much-more-level playing field for employees in other locations. Expand meetings to include everyone. Some companies even began offering forums for all employees to listen and share what’s on their minds, answer questions, etc. 

zoom meetings

4. Model Your values. 

Company culture improves when you really show your values. If your company has a philanthropic side or a desire to serve the community. Now is the time to build on those values and model what you believe. 

5. Show Appreciation. 

It’s more important than ever to show your employees you appreciate them. Working through a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Every industry has been affected. Show employee appreciation through creative means with any budget level you have. 

5. Pay attention to employees’ emotional, personal and working experience needs

Allow for opportunities to build relationships through virtual lunches, morning coffee meeting or informal phone calls. Pay attention to employees environments, families, and the overlap of both schooling and working from home. Check in with employees and be flexible along the way. 

6. Keep meetings short. 

Put a cap on virtual meetings to avoid hours of video calls all day long. Shorter meetings ensure greater focus and more effective problem solving. Many companies have set a 15-minute limit on meetings to reduce fatigue throughout the day. 

7. Celebrate

Don’t forget to acknowledge and celebrate things like birthdays, anniversaries, workiversaries, and achievements from your employees. Showing your interest and employee appreciation through these moments can encourage a company culture that cares about its people. 

8. Switch Up Onboarding

You may have new employees who have actually never met the other members of your staff in person. Reinvent your onboarding process. Get to know these new employees and help them to feel like they are a part of the team. This can go a long way to increase employee retention over time. 

Your company culture should be a million critical priority this year. Dig deeper than you have before. Look for creative ways to show your employees appreciation. Live your values and develop deeper company traditions. This is an ongoing process, a positive company culture is not simply “achieved”, it is built every single day and it’s always evolving. If you want to ensure you have a business that continues to thrive through unprecedented time, it begins with the core values at the foundation. Those values will not only help your business to survive but to actually thrive in the face of crisis. 


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