Has the Pandemic Changed Work Culture?

4 minute read

Through the past few months, organizations have faced a variety of challenges. From the abrupt shift of employees working remotely, to the continued uncertainty created by the pandemic, leadership has been repeatedly been tested to adapt to the changing demands.
How has company culture fared during this time?
According to a new global study by Quartz and Qualtrics, surprisingly, culture has not taken too much of a hit. In fact, there were more people who stated that their workplace culture had actually gotten better rather than worse. In a survey taken by 2,100 workers, 37 percent said that their workplace culture improved, compared to just 15 percent who stated that it had deteriorated. 
Interestingly, 70 percent of workers who stated that their company had a good culture before the crisis were more likely to say it had improved. This could be because the organizations who were already focused on creating a positive work environment continued to focus on this aspect, and were best equipped with the right values to guide their policies and communication. This “suggests that having a robust culture sees companies through the bad times, while adversity further destabilizes shaky foundations.”
Although having a distributed workforce has created challenges for organizations in keeping employees feeling connected, many reported that, “positive attributes like supportiveness and kindness had increased... Potential reasons for this may be because organizations have tried to lead with empathy and flexibility, which in turn has had a positive impact on work culture. Like we discussed previously, video calls have provided a window into the personal lives of our colleagues, creating deeper connections. Other research suggests that the pandemic has changed what it means to behave ‘professionally’,” encouraging us to bring our authentic selves to work. 
Regardless of how you feel your organization is doing currently, if you are curious how you can build or maintain good work culture, here are a few tips:

  1. Create and communicate ways that your organization is living its valuesBeyond providing ways for your employees to connect and still have informal interactions, there are ways to change processes to also embody your workplace culture. First, ensure you have sufficiently established organizational core values and clearly communicate them to your team. This will allow all employees to feel as if they are on the same page with corresponding expectations. For example, one pharmaceutical company realized that their core value of inclusivity could be better incorporated by instituting a new meeting norm: if one person had to attend a meeting remotely, everyone would meet remotely. Consider how your organization or team could adjust or institute new policies that better reflect your core values. 
  2. Redefine how work is doneIdentify what kinds of tasks and processes require collaboration and meetings. This can then inform your work transition plan on whether none, some, or all of your employees will need to return on site. For some, returning to the office is a boon to their productivity, whereas for others, they will simply be spending more effort to commute into a new space to self-isolate and then commute home. A variety of options exist for those returning to work, whether certain teams come in on certain days, or certain employees come in all or half of the time, or maybe none at all. Importantly, you must consider your employees’ preferences along with safety and feasibility. “To maintain productivity, collaboration, and learning and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse. In-office video conferencing can no longer involve a group of people staring at one another around a table while others watch from a screen on the side, without being able to participate effectively.”
  3. Embrace adaptation and modificationsStrong work culture isn’t always effective or productive if it’s too inflexible. Instead, consider your work’s culture as a “tool kit” with a variety of resources to complete projects. “Tool kits also change somewhat over time. This is because we all are exposed to various cultural tool kits through other aspects of our lives — such as volunteer activities, sports teams, or even our home lives...Now may be an opportune time to actively notice when your organization’s cultural tool kit is being flexed or extended.” If you are finding that unwelcome changes or shifts are occurring that undermine your core values, consider how you can counter these with alternatives that are more culturally aligned.

This work was funded by Viewpoint Foundation.