It’s a crazy thing to ask a CEO – is your culture pandemic proof or ready for a pandemic? No one could have foreseen the stunning shifts that have been needed in our workplaces over the last few weeks. There was an article in Fast Company magazine that featured a funny video of a woman advising herself at the beginning of 2020 on her reality of living in April, 2020 without telling her she would be living in a pandemic. I wish my older self would have warned me that I would certainly need to stock up on toilet paper, canned goods, masks, gloves and of course puzzles and coloring posters (my new hobby).
I know many leaders would have wished that their older selves would have prepared them to move hundreds if not thousands of employees to work from home – for them to have the technology to do so; to sort out how to care for their kids when parents are self-educating; to dive in deeply on what boundaries to put in place so they aren’t working 24/7; to work solo, in isolation; to reset expectations because the delivery of work has indeed changed; and to handle the avalanche of emotions of their teams – putting them on the road for the culture to be pandemic proof (or at least potentially so).
I’ve noticed that workplace cultures have now become more transparent – warts and all – since people are working at home. Workplace cultures are living an extreme stress test. How is your organization doing?
For example, one workplace could pride itself on being a culture that fosters diversity, integrity, curiosity, sincerity, ownership and responsibility. Once COVID-19 hit their workplace they didn’t shut down, they kept the company going even though employees felt they were being put at risk. Employees were scared to come to work. The company kept saying they were doing what they could to manage the situation however their actions spoke volumes. The offices were not deep cleaned and people were not encouraged to stay home. While these decisions are controversial, the impact is not, especially in a post COVID-19 culture.
When a company promotes their culture as being in alignment with their values, the expression of those values has to come out. The funny thing about culture is that what you say your culture is, is meaningless unless you take actions that facilitate you being in alignment with what you have in writing. Your culture is demonstrated by actions.
One Human Resource leader told me that his company was extremely reticent to have employees work from home. This was controversial since employees really were asking for flexible schedules. He revealed that now in the work from home environment, it’s stunning to see how jobs that senior leadership were not in support of working from home are now completely sustainable.
Culture moves with you. It’s not simply in the office building, it’s in the integrity of the people you hire and the actions they take. One leader said to me that you’ll begin to see in the post COVID-19 culture era, employees begin to leave companies that were not supportive or provided environments of trust, respect and safety during this time.
Here’s what people will remember post COVID-19:
- The actions you’ve taken and the culture you have strived long and hard to maintain with flexibility.
- Which leaders facilitated real and meaningful conversations – allowing people to talk about how they feel without the danger of feeling that they will be furloughed if they simply admitted that they are feeling stress and anxiety.
- Companies whose leadership took reductions in pay to ensure they furloughed less people.
- Leaders who moved quickly, decisively with precision who created new playbooks and reprioritized.
- Leaders who put people first because they knew that taking care of their people does actually create a more successful and productive workplace.
- Leaders that were positive and supportive.
- Leaders who took ownership and did whatever they could to make you feel safe.
- People who were their word – when they said something they actually did it.
Was anyone ready for a pandemic – no, not completely. Post COVID-19 culture, can your culture survive through a pandemic? That depends upon the actions of every leader. It’s something to think about now, today, since employees are living “in” your culture even though they are working from home. Consider this, what would you want that would create an environment for your people to feel and experience trust, respect and safety? That is what keeps people engaged and thriving, even through a pandemic.
Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect.
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