6 min read

6 min read

23 Nov 2020

23 Nov 2020

23 Nov 2020

Creating a COVID culture

Creating a COVID culture

Creating a COVID culture

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Carolyne Burns

Carolyne Burns

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By now we know we are in this for the long haul. The Coronavirus has upended the business world as we all wait impatiently for a vaccine. Who knows how long we will wait before we all feel secure again – if we ever will – but we need to continue to build on the culture a strong enterprise must create. And especially in these strange times, the effort we put in to hold on to our business culture and the connections they bring will be of benefit to all of us.

When we think about culture in a business it is one of the most important but hard to pin down qualities. But in terms of how culture is created, the pathway is clear: first the individual, then outwards to the business and then finally the role of the business in the community. That doesn’t change no matter how many people are in your office or working from home.

Culture is usually described as “the way we work”. If your company has a strong culture, then you already know the issues you need to consider and your challenge is to find the best ways to build on to that culture during a time when it’s not always physically possible to gather everyone together.

As so often happens, the HR department has a major role in ensuring the best qualities of the business are maintained and grow in these difficult times.

Here are a number of things that we have heard businesses do to create a feeling of caring, connection for the individual, the team and the community at large.

Looking after people

Probably the best thing a new hire can have is a written document that explains all of the attributes and attitudes that your company values. What are your expectations about behaviour, how is performance measured, what ideas do you have to create a feeling of security within the team environment?

Simon Sinek talks about the difference between businesses that give their employees opportunities to be human – to learn, to make mistakes, to be vulnerable – and businesses that don’t support the individual. Which business would have a better culture?

You want people who can ask advice without fear of scorn, or who might need a bit of help or space because we all know the importance of connection and communication in a safe environment.

During COVID-19, for those who are working remotely HR needs to find a way to have a no-pressure way of checking on a teammate’s mentality. Are they fine? Do they want to talk, are they in difficulties? Especially for new hires, who will probably feel a little vulnerable, it is important you give them a feeling of caring concern right from the start.

The power of teamwork

We all know that it’s fun working in a great team, with everyone knowing the role they each play and all driving to a common goal. During COVID-19 we need to find ways to recreate that feeling remotely, to make sure that each team member is linked in a communications loop with everyone else and that as we all work independently, we also have ways of gathering together, to share ideas, experiences and just to chat and chew the fat.

The role of leadership is always one of the real keys to creating a strong culture, and never more so than now. Your team leaders need to be empathetic and understanding of everyone. Especially those team members who are looking after children and doing their best for them as they spend more time at home; giving them support is critical.

Because culture is best reflected in the behaviours of leadership, when those behaviours aren’t so visible, the correct way of behaving has to be reinforced. That’s why team meetings that discuss issues of behaviour and determining the right way and the wrong way to operate will be very important.

Similarly, the best way to get the strongest connections is to encourage people to collaborate – giving your team all the information they need to solve a particular problem will help the team take the right decisions and actions.

The Common Good

A company’s spirit or esprit de corps is all wrapped up in the culture it has created. Taking up a community cause that the whole business believes can have tremendous impact on how the company feels about itself. Many businesses have worked with front line care givers to help with supplies and building infrastructure. It’s uplifting for a business to focus on one particular charity and work towards making things a little better, one person at a time. 

There is also an extra benefit to this corporate kindness: prospective employees will take note of the way you behave and will want to work with the business that best reflects their own concerns.

Ideas we like (the Zoom Room)

Creating culture in COVID-19 is an enterprise wide task, but as with all of these things the HR department will have a very large say in how it works (or not). Here are some ideas that we like, that might be appropriate for your business.

They all require a commitment from each team member, and somebody needs to lead the program, whatever that program consists of. You might consider some of these ideas that we know can create a buzz, give people a feeling of community and of course individually makes them feel valued as team members and people.

  • Leadership forums. Called “Ask Me Anythings”, the idea is any issues or concerns are addressed in a straightforward way by the appropriate manager.

  • RUOK? For some businesses the idea of individual wellness is underlined by a simple emoji based system – which self ranks how each person is feeling on a particular day. It can go from “Feeling Great” down to “Feeling Fragile”, or any non-pejorative descriptor short of “I feel like killing someone”. The idea being that when you contact that person, the team leader will know how that team member is feeling and can respond empathically as needed.

  • Kids Time. For those businesses with working mums and dads who are looking after their children at home, this is a very stressful time. Some companies hold virtual classes or have some combined play period with all the kids zooming in – to give the carers a break.

  • Lunch mates. There is a neat way of catching up with everyone, and it can be co-ordinated to cover business issues or simply be another way of getting people to talk.

  • Book Clubs and Movie Clubs. Because COVID-19 is robbing us of shared experiences, we need to look to opportunities to interact and to talk about things that may not be about work. Watching the same movie or reading the same book and talking about it is one way of creating that kind of work harmony.

  • Trivia nights. They are easy to create online and are always a fun way for people to get together from a distance.

  • Health Challenges. Maybe there is a need for the group to lose some weight after comfort eating their way through winter? This way you can reset the balance and it’s a challenge that can really make a difference.

  • Dance Breaks. Why not stop what you’re all doing and have a little boogie time?

Culture doesn’t die in a pandemic unless we let it. By focusing upon what is always important in business: matching a winning strategy with a strong culture – we will go a long way to building better and stronger businesses for the world we will find after all this is over. And won’t that be good?

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