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28 days ago by Helen Doughty

Company Culture, Pandemic Style

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Management consultancy firm Bain & Company have stated that a crisis – any crisis – always tests company culture. Difficult choices in stressful situations bring to the fore the true nature of a business. Unsurprising then, that preserving company culture has been one of the greatest challenges for businesses levelled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Investment in office furnishings, in flexible working hours, benefits and rewards have had diminishing importance over the past weeks compared to the impact of the values which underpin how a company works and consequently treats its employees.

With staff laid off, furloughed, under threat of redundancy and/or sent to work from home, the ability to deliver a consistent message and to treat everyone consistently has come under pressure. Moreover, as the country now comes out of lockdown and companies take decisions on how to employ or re-employ staff and how to incorporate social distancing into what they do, maintaining a values driven and consistent workplace will still be problematic.

According to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of Basecamp and authors of the New York Times bestseller ‘ReWork’, “You don’t need everyone physically together to create a strong culture. The best cultures derive from actions people actually take.” This is a good guiding principle for the pandemic world. Your business might not be together, but it still has a culture which can be experienced by your employees and perpetuated by them. Put simply, the feelings which underly what they do are now as important, if not more important than the work itself.

The FVP

Company culture has often been embodied by the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) – a bringing together of everything that an employee can expect from being with a company – from remuneration to how they are treated on a daily basis. As lockdown lifts, companies would do well to consider their Furlough Value Proposition. What can furloughed employees expect over the next weeks and months? What support and communication will they receive? Is there a route map to share with them which will bring them back into the organisation? While they’re not at work, what is the business doing to ensure they still feel part of their team? Getting this right could be critical to retaining good employees as more immediate opportunities may emerge for them with other organisations.

Communications

In the past weeks video conferencing has become part of every day life. It’s great to be able to bring everyone together on screen, but does this suit every message you need to put out there? One business decided to use a joint video call to inform a group of employees they would be made redundant – terrible for those involved, but also generating a negative feeling among those remaining. The method may have been efficient but it did nothing to build trust in the ongoing business.

Back for Good

In America, a survey run by Have Her Back Consulting found that rather than wanting things to return to normal, employees want things to get back to better than normal. The experience of lockdown has raised awareness of issues around working from home, childcare and more. On returning, employees would appreciate more support and understanding from their employers in these areas. What better way to demonstrate a positive company culture than to show what the business has learned during this time?

CSR

As companies have had to concentrate on their own survival the question has arisen of what what will happen to the Corporate Social Responsibility agenda. Head of sustainable finance at Goldman Sachs, John Goldstein, has described the pandemic as a “stress test” for CSR, commenting that “the stuff that was being done more for appearances or a label is getting constructively rationalised.” In the emerging new business world CSR activities will need to be financially sound and will have more benefit if they include the workforce directly. Look at it another way, all those initiatives which united remote employees in charitable activities (sponsored treadmill walks etc) may be precisely the kind of thing that works in the new normal compared to a general business headline sponsorship.

Intentions and consistency

From the first day the pandemic affected their business employers have been under pressure to demonstrate their intentions and to be consistent in how they pursue those intentions. Whatever the central idea has been - to keep the business going, to look after employees, to help others survive and deal with the virus – everything that follows has been marked against that intention. The current and ongoing situation is both a challenge and opportunity for businesses to reflect on their purpose and values and ask whether everything they do – and everything their employees do – reflect that purpose and those values. Get that right and your company culture will not just survive but will lead your business forward in the months ahead.