How coronavirus is forcing companies to rethink their culture

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Fostering a sense of community at work has become more essential than ever before, as companies have shifted to remote work and are responding to the stresses and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can’t ignore how many people are suffering during this crisis. While we’re in this together, it leaves a little bit of trauma,” says Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, an employee experience software company. “Transparency has to get better, and it's not just transparency of the numbers and the strategy, but transparency about our humanness.”

Company leadership and HR managers can use this pandemic to their advantage, by considering how their workplace culture can best serve the needs and demands of their workforce, Albrecht says.

“I like to think that what works for the employees will work for the business,” he says. “That's a voice you should listen to. I would poll them, I would survey them, I would call them directly and just listen to them for a half hour. I've learned so much from doing that.”

See also: Limeade reaches gender parity goal, doubles down on diversity and inclusion, CEO says

In a recent interview, Albrecht shared his predictions for what will change about workplace culture because of coronavirus, and how employers can build their community while working remotely.

How has coronavirus forced companies to rethink their workplace culture?

This has been a real chance to rethink a lot about work, certainly starting with safety, but also with things like flexibility, trusting employees, and being inclusive of remote distributed workforces who are often the frontline of your business.

Communication is being radically rethought. As a CEO, there's a responsibility to be more transparent than they might have felt comfortable with in the past and sharing things that communicate humanity while using apps and virtual communication methods. Companies are also rethinking the role of real estate — we like to think of real estate as a place to come together and collaborate and get to know each other and share stories, so I expect to have more of that, but less people sitting in endless rows of cubicles.

Employers are also doubling down on emotional health and using this as an opportunity to ask, what we do appreciate in work and in life and help people learn optimism in ways that they haven't before.

What are some ways employers can encourage teamwork and company values when their workforce is remote?

Our belief is that showing care for people has great business results and outcomes. So we know that when people perceive care, they're 10 times more likely to recommend that company as a great place to work and four times less likely be stressed and feel burned out. To me, one of the best ways to show care is to get to know someone and listen to their life story. At Limeade, we’ve started an Ask me Anything where we rotate through our leadership team and any employee can dial in and ask questions. Getting to know people’s backstories shows that you care about their life and not just their productivity.

Rethink what's good for employees individually and focus on what their teams need, what their peers need. We’ve seen a huge increase in employee resource groups and some of the sharing and support has been really great and really open. We’ve also launched something called “Weekend Challenges” where people can share things like healthy recipes or pictures of their pets and other fun things that humanize work. When you're sitting by yourself in a home office all day, it's fun to do that to feel you're not alone.

Looking ahead, how can companies adapt their culture to adjust to this “new normal” as we plan to return to work?

Leaders need to model gratitude and optimism. A very critical role of leaders in times like this is to show that we're human and we're real and we have problems like anyone else, but we've learned skills and we can bounce back and be positive to face what’s ahead.

I think having resources and making them more visible is really important. A lot of companies invest thousands and thousands of dollars on employee benefits and resources for people that are fundamentally under-utilized and underused. Make it OK to talk about things like emotional health tools or EAPs or counseling services or coaching. It requires people to be real in ways that probably feel uncomfortable.

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