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Over the last few months, we have seen a swift movement toward digital relationships within the office. Those who have the ability to work remotely are utilizing technology to create some assemblance of conventional work methods: weekly meetings are now being held over Zoom rather than in a conference room, travel has ceased, and any functions of an office have been moved to the home. To aid distancing efforts of the pandemic, managers have created new plans on how to move forward through the shift and make necessary changes to help employees feel comfortable. This is the most authentic time in business history when companies can decide how they will let their purpose and values shine through on their efforts to lead through a crisis.
Leading through a crisis can mean a lot of different things. For some companies, it means a complete overhaul of previous policies that pave the way for new, more open and inclusive ones. Google and Facebook have extended their work-from-home policies into fall and next year while Twitter went even further extending their policy to “forever.” The utilization of technology has led us to learn that our efforts aren’t necessarily needed in the office as the same amount of work, if not more in some cases, can be done effectively from home. Even with the promise of things opening up soon, there is no way to know for sure that there will not be another spike. Some companies are now leaning toward efforts to create a new in-person office space with new cubicles, cleaning protocols, staggered scheduling, and the end of “water cooler talk” for the foreseeable future. These new efforts may not work for every company to move forward, so managers will need to be creative in the coming months to learn if their office culture can go beyond the office.
Working from home, or really living at work, has been a difficult adjustment for many. Those who have always worked remotely understand the struggle conventional office workers are facing right now. During dial-in meetings miscommunication, background noise, and technical difficulties can get in the way of productivity. As we all move into the same remote boat, we understand how difficult it has been for those working remotely and see the steps we need to take to level the playing field. In addition, there has been a long-time demand for employees to keep work and home lives separate to promote “professionalism.” However, COVID-19 is blurring that line and many managers are seeing it may not be so bad on the other side. Today as each Zoom meeting is held, we get a greater glimpse into our coworker’s authentic lives as their dogs bark and children request playtimes. Aspects of working at home have humbled many, bringing coworkers closer together as we collectively begin to understand that employees are more than numbers, are more than modes to make a profit, they are dynamic individuals with complicated lives. Upper-level management are taking that into consideration with each move they make to support employees inside and out of the office.
Managing methods will continue to change as we maneuver through the pandemic. There is great hope this serves as an awakening to learn to support, drive value, and empower our people. Here are some tips on how to foster a positive work environment through the pandemic:
Opening a dialogue between upper-level management to employees is imperative to fostering a positive work environment. By communicating individuals’ needs, company needs, and anything mutually beneficial, office culture can begin to shape into an inclusive environment. During the time of the pandemic, we’ve seen a great need for support and understanding. Creating conversations surrounding these topics can open the door for a healthy work environment where employees not only feel comfortable but connected to the work they are doing at the company. Setting up a weekly meeting to talk about things going on outside the office could help coworkers through this strange time. Creating a space for a virtual water cooler talk could help bring some remnants of past work activities back. Placing a strong emphasis on open communication can communicate actions that are consistent with values.
Reflect on purpose, values, and vision.
Understand and act on what your business exists for, who it exists for. If this means going back to the drawing board, tweaking some old statements, creating new ones, do it! The nature of business is that it changes over time. This shift in life is a perfect time to reflect on what the company strives to do in a regular climate, but especially a climate when there is so much uncertainty. Functioning during chaos is a perfect time to reiterate where your brand stands on values and vision. If the vision has changed over time, communicate that. If values have remained the same and still have importance on what you do, communicate that. Displaying transparency and honesty are salient efforts that promote a positive shift in culture at this time.
Making sure all team members are able to utilize technology will help create communication away from the office. Setting up email or text chains, as well as video conferences, can help employees feel more connected while being out of the office. Zoom and video chatting services alike allow for presentation mode to share screens and virtual backgrounds to make your background space anything you want it to be. This can help team members effectively display information and even add some humor to the strange situation we are all in together. At this point in time, we have the ability to create an office outside of the office by connecting online.
The shift seems daunting, but as it goes on it will become easier. Focus on fostering supportive environments can move the process along and hopefully place us in a better position than before. Any efforts to communicate, reflect, and use tools can change office culture for the better and create long-lasting impact on businesses.