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Maintaining a Healthy Culture in the Time of COVID-19

Lisa Walden
Tuesday, Mar 31, 2020

Maintaining a Healthy Culture in the Time of COVID-19

When as a kid I imagined what 2020 might look like, this is NOT the Jetsons-esque world I had in mind. The headlines currently read more like dystopian fiction than news, but (for a while at least) this is our “new normal.”

For a lot of us, social distancing is in full effect. We’ve moved as much work as possible over to the virtual realm, and as many challenges as that entails, there’s one that feels particularly steep: how do you maintain a functioning culture when everyone’s suddenly working remotely?

We’re glad this question is top of mind because anyone who knows anything about corporate culture can tell you this: culture is not static. It’s an ever-moving, ever-growing, morphing thing that needs constant tending. You can’t afford to stop thinking about it while you figure everything else out. But this also isn’t the time to audit your core values or roll out any new policies. Now is the time to keep it simple.

With that in mind, here are three relatively straightforward ways to maintain a healthy workplace culture during these unprecedented times:

Communicate, communicate, communicate

You know the old saying, “no news is good news?” Pay it no heed. Right now, communication is a lifeline, and any vacuum in communication will become a black hole of darkness. Literally. Thoughts like, “Am I going to be let go? Did I drop the ball? Have I not been responsive enough? Are we going under? What are they not telling me?” are playing on loop in employees’ minds. They need reassurance, whenever possible. At the very least, they need thoughtful transparency. Err on the side of overcommunicating. Keep your messaging frequent, earnest, and simple. If it makes sense, send an update every day at the same time. And don’t skimp on video. So much gets lost in translation over email, text, and yes, even Slack. Seeing the whites of each others’ eyes, even in a video chat or on FaceTime, makes all the difference!

Don’t Let Virtual = Transactional

One thing that happens when work shifts to the virtual realm is that everything becomes super transactional. Being behind a screen robs people of opportunities for the casual watercooler exchanges that are common in the workplace. On top of that, right now everyone is hyper-focused on figuring out how to get their work done while juggling some combination of new routines, homeschooling, and their partner’s work schedule. Crossing things off the To-Do list can (sometimes unintentionally) become more important than the people you’re working with.

But the relational aspect of work is a huge motivational factor. It’s what gels teams together. It’s what makes for a thriving, people-first culture (instead of a collection of productive robots). When working virtually, it’s so important to find ways to add relational elements to day-to-day interactions. Open up meetings with short icebreakers. Make time for checking in, personally as well as professionally, during one-on-ones. Host virtual happy hours so people can chat about the latest hit show on Netflix (currently, the very bizarre Tiger King). The virtual space can absolutely be one for nurturing culture, connection, and team building. It just requires intentionality.

Embrace a Generosity (Not Scarcity) Mindset

This one might be the hardest of the three. In times of fear and panic, people can become rigid, cold, afraid. They try to protect themselves and their livelihoods, and it leads them to operate from a scarcity mindset. This can turn into all kinds of potentially toxic behaviors… thinking the worst of coworkers, leaders, employees. Being tight-lipped with important information. Keeping your head down and focusing on yourself. Not offering help for fear of standing out (in a bad way). Making decisions strictly for “what’s best for the company” without considering what’s best for your people. These behaviors are counterproductive and will actively hack away at your company’s culture. Ditch the scarcity mentality, and embrace generosity instead. Assume positive intent. Offer to help when and where you can. Ask for help if you’re stuck. And most of all, be generously kind and compassionate. In times like these, even a little bit of care and understanding can go a long, long way.

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