Can your company culture weather coronavirus?

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Cracks are starting to show in many companies now that the majority of nonessential employees are working remotely — employers need to take this time to reassess their values and corporate culture if they want to stay competitive.

That was the key takeaway from a recent webinar hosted by digital HR platforms Lattice and BambooHR. Both firms noted that their employer clients have been reporting decreasing productivity and engagement in their workers due to the coronavirus pandemic; they suspect that many company cultures aren't strong enough to transcend the office.

“If your company isn’t up front about its culture and values, when it comes time to adapt to a massive internal change, or a global pandemic, the value of culture really matters and shows its worth,” said Andy Przystanski, content marketing manager at Lattice, a people management software firm. “Massive changes will impact engagement and performance — or they can help employees grow and become more close knit.”

The number of full-time employees working from home due to COVID-19 jumped to 66% from 33% within a two week period in March, according to a Gallup poll. Cassie Whitlock, HR director at BambooHR, an HR software company, said this means a high volume of employers are likely discovering workforce inequities. But these issues can be corrected by shifting to a culture where employees feel comfortable giving feedback.

“Having everyone working from home is definitely showing that the playing field was never fair for workers who were already working remotely,” Whitlock said. “To combat this, employers need to be thoughtful about how they communicate with their workforce.”

Whitlock and Przystanski said that remote workers have to be more proactive communicators to collaborate with team members. Much of the technology they use to help remote workers join meetings wasn’t helping, but they both found solutions by talking with their employees during the pandemic.

“Before [coronavirus] we’d set up a camera in the corner of a conference room so remote workers could be in on meetings,” Whitlock said. “The problem was, remote workers weren’t able to see faces clearly, and who was talking, and folks who worked in the office dominated all of the conversations. Now that we use video conferencing software that shows everyone’s faces up close, remote workers have told us that they feel the playing field has been leveled.”

As managers, Whitlock and Przystanski said that being intentional about communicating with employees is vital to establish a culture of transparency. Better communication gives employees the opportunity to connect with managers about their career goals and potential workflow issues.

“Employers need to establish a standard of addressing things quickly,” Whitlock said. “Silence is agreeing with what’s happening; you cannot remain silent if there’s a problem.”

Fifty-two percent of U.S. employees miss having social interactions with their coworkers, according to a Glassdoor survey. Whitlock and Przystanski said employers need to help facilitate social activities if they want to help maintain employee engagement during quarantine. Whitlock likes to host a 10-minute meditation with BambooHR coworkers on Wednesdays, and she makes a point of ending Fridays by video chatting with her team about fun weekend plans.

Przystanski said Lattice got creative with its virtual socializing; the company organized virtual card games, trivia nights and happy hours. Individual teams also participated in a spin-off of the old MTV show “Cribs,” where employees gave their coworkers virtual walking tours of their homes.

“Workplace friendships are important for networking and career growth,” Przystanski said. “That’s why it’s important to maintain those connections, even if we can’t be together in the office right now. It’s not a good idea to send the message to employees that their professional development is not important right now.”

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