Illustration of employee working in a hybrid work environment.

Rebuilding your organization’s culture in a post-COVID society

January 09, 2023

Rebuilding your organization’s culture in a post-COVID society

Synopsis
3 Minute Read

At the onset of COVID, employers who were forced to adopt a full-time remote work model were, understandably, concerned that their organizational culture would dissipate. Now, in a post-COVID society, it’s clear that there’s no viable path to return to the old ways — most employees will expect or demand a hybrid work option.

Rebuilding and preserving a positive corporate culture will require you to solicit the input of your team, re-think the nature of your workplace, scrutinize what tasks need to happen in person, and build hybrid work policies and processes that are both transparent and fair.

Leader, Consulting – Organizational Renewal

In March of 2020, the world of “normal” work shuddered to a stop. We had to adapt to a massive and unprecedented workplace culture shift without the luxury of having time to plan the nature or pace of the transition. Employers who had the luxury of sending their team to work full-time from home had to trust their staff would continue to be productive — and their staff needed to find new and creative ways to shoehorn work into their home life.

It may be hard to remember now, but that forced adaptation went pretty well for many of us. While many people struggled with remote work — including those with small children or roommates, or in-home workspaces that were too small — many relished the opportunity to work from home, with no commuting and sartorial freedom. And the work continued to get done!

For the most part, trust blossomed in the first year of the pandemic as people took care of each other. But that atmosphere of trust was, in many respects, short-lived. Pandemic fatigue set in by the second year, and much of the goodwill between organizations and personnel evaporated as resignations shot upward and employers attempted to right the ship. Some employers began to take their organizational productivity for granted, leaving their people feeling unrecognized and underappreciated.

Concerns about culture in the “new normal”

It’s clear there will be no putting the genie back in the bottle; most workers have fiercely resisted a return to the past. Today, the vast majority of Canadian employers who can offer a hybrid work arrangement are doing so, and very few have mandated a full-time return to the office.

In this post-pandemic environment, many employers are concerned that the culture of their organization is at risk. They worry, understandably, that without physical contact, culture starts to dwindle away.

While few would contest that in-person contact is valuable and even, in some instances, irreplaceable, the pandemic made very clear that many long-standing assumptions about the nature of work and collaboration were invalid. It was and remains possible for remote work to be productive — and for some, such as those with a disability, it levels the playing field and becomes more inclusive. Interacting online with team members across time zones also opened up new possibilities and relationships.

In many cases, talented senior people have options and employers are showing them lots of flexibility. Most of the people experiencing pressure to return to the office are those in mid-level or junior roles. Employers may have wasted an opportunity to foster a healthier relationship between workers and bosses.

And therein lies the question: How can employers rebuild a successful work culture?

Building a healthy and stable culture

One obvious first step is to look back to the early days of COVID to recapture the spirit of collaboration and mutual interest. At that time, there was a real conversation; now, we seem to have forgotten how to do that.

Another is to accept that future challenges will require further adaptations, and now’s the time to evaluate the work that needs to be done — to assess the state of your people, and to reignite a meaningful conversation. There is value in building and sustaining culture by being together. But when is it important, and when is it not?

We have seen a business owner acquire another company pre-COVID and integrated it smoothly into his existing business. But in the second year, he began to feel that the company’s culture was slipping. He asked people to come back to work in the center of the city a couple of times a week. He conducted a dialogue with his employees before implementing the changes, maintaining sensitivity and an understanding of what matters and what does not.

Now, he ensures that when his employees do come into the office, there’s always something meaningful to do on those in-person days. It might be getting together for coffee at the end of the day or gathering everyone for their input on the budget. He takes responsibility for making sure that the time spent in the office is worthwhile. And the workspace has been redesigned to be conducive to the new ways of working — something to enjoy, rather than avoid.

Cultural norms were shifting long before COVID. This is not just an issue of engagement. Culture is comprised of how work gets done — systems, processes, how people talk, and what kind of environment you work in. The old command and control style of management has been on the way out for a long time, but in some cases, it may have crept back in post-COVID, as management became desperate to lure people back to the office.

Modern knowledge workers need to understand the “why” behind decisions. People who believe they’re working very well without putting themselves through the trouble and expense of commuting, dressing up, and buying food at the office remain to be convinced that they need to return to the old way of doing things. The challenge is to harness their hearts and minds to do so willingly, and only as needed. And in many cases, they will have valuable ideas of their own about how to improve workflow and outcomes.

A return to the trust that arose spontaneously in the early days of COVID is the way to solve this issue. Organizations whose management team is willing to be open, transparent, and communicative, and to express appreciation when people deliver results, will be the most successful.

How MNP can help

Smaller businesses don’t often have the expertise in house to design new ways of working — and even larger ones hire experts to bring design thinking to the table. Here at MNP, we advise countless organizations on EDI, accessibility, and new ways of thinking about the workplace. We help with consultations, surveys, measuring culture, and designing solutions that fit the organization.

There’s no “one size fits all” solution. Culture is everything. And the solutions lie in voluntary compliance, based on mutual respect.

Contact us

To learn more about how MNP can help your organization, contact Mary Larson, MBA, ICD.D.

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