The post-pandemic work world remains in flux. Even as normality isn’t yet within our grasp, entering the second year of this crisis heralds a completely new dilemma: How do you ensure you don’t have a fractured company culture?
When some employees begin to come back into offices, and others continue working from home, many leaders are wondering how such an arrangement will play out long-term.
As a leader, these are questions that have often kept me up at night for the past year. Since launching my business 15 years ago, building a strong company culture—where teams feel both challenged and fulfilled—has been at the core of all my decision-making. And I know I’m far from alone in this endeavor.
It’s normal to worry how all of these constant changes will affect corporate culture. But I also know that one of the undercurrents of the business world is the need to continuously evolve. We become stronger when we can find new solutions, when we can continue pushing the envelope.
Professors Jenny Chatman and Francesca Gino agree. In their illuminating story for Harvard Business Review, they propose cultural adaptability—”your organization’s ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities”—as a way of helping sustain these ties we’ve spent years building.
I’ve written before about how we can foster a strong remote culture, and I believe many of these same tenets apply to how we approach our new working conditions. Here are a few strategies to help your employees stay engaged no matter where they are located.
FOCUS ON YOUR COMPANY’S VALUES
The first step in maintaining company culture is creating a solid foundation. For example, at my company, JotForm, it’s been one of my missions to dismantle the “always-on” mindset so inherent in the tech world. “There is now a mountain of careful research showing that people who experience long hours of work have serious health consequences,” John Pencavel, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford, told The New York Times earlier this year. Whether employees work in an office or remotely, it’s more imperative than ever that a focus on well-being remains the same.
A critical value for me, then, is having firm boundaries between our work and home lives. One way we uphold this value despite geographical differences is by having rules against sending emails at all hours of the day.
In allowing my teams to switch off—and encouraging them to delete their Slack app on weekends—I’m warding off employee burnout and promoting a healthy, more resilient culture.
FOSTER AN ATTITUDE OF CARE
Many of the culture initiatives my company embraced before the pandemic, such as group picnics or cycling together across the Golden Gate Bridge, will have to stay on the back burner. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ensure people feel supported in other ways.
Culture doesn’t come down to physical proximity or dynamic activities; it’s more about developing an attitude of care. In growing my business to over 300 employees, the strongest predictor of solid company culture has been in how we’ve treated one another. A few things to always be asking ourselves as leaders: Are we humanizing our emails and looking for small ways of personally connecting with our employees each day? Are we creating a community versus a business focused solely on metrics and productivity?
But equally as important to being mindful of how we communicate, are we following those questions up with our actions? According to Rebecca Knight, showing care is ultimately about respecting our employees. In a story for Harvard Business Review, she describes how many working parents have been on the receiving end of being belittled or dismissed because of their status as parents. She writes, “Too many working parents and other employees with extensive caregiving responsibilities have stories of a manager who gives them an assignment at 4 p.m. and asks for it the next morning, or a boss who makes disparaging comments about another working parent.”
Caring isn’t about a tally of all your social gatherings or in-person discussions; it’s about being sympathetic to our team’s struggles and unique circumstances.
GET CREATIVE IN SUPPORTING YOUR TEAM
During the pandemic, many companies have been goaded to innovate, including hosting virtual summits and curating team entertainment to create bonding activities. For example, during Sarah Blakely’s summits for Spanx, she includes a section during which each team member must deliver a funny joke.
Video technology company OneDay came up with an idea called “New Digs,” an initiative where four employees are selected each month to work from an Airbnb.
“As business leaders we must find ways to ensure our people are supported, even when they don’t see each other every day,” OneDay’s cofounder and CEO, Clint Lee, told Business Insider. He goes on to say that the program can’t counter all the negative effects of the pandemic, but it can help to offer a means to promote good mental health among teams.
Looking for ways to help our teams feel more supported regardless of where they work from isn’t rocket science. In many ways, how we avoid a fractured company culture isn’t so different from how we would have avoided it before the pandemic: by establishing trust and doing everything in our power to rise to the occasion.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.