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How is COVID-19 Affecting Your Organizational Culture?

COVID-19 is expected to fundamentally change the way many organizations operate from a day-to-day perspective – interactions with peers, how tasks and work efforts are managed, and, of course, policies and processes. But the culture is also going to change if you are not careful. I did not give it much thought, until a CIO posed this question during a Leaders Helping Leaders virtual collaboration session, which I recently hosted with IT Executives in Austin, Texas.

I have since had the opportunity to reconvene with this group and delve deeper into the topic of how a company’s culture is affected by COVID-19 as well as share the findings from a recent poll conducted by Genesis10 on this very topic. The five-question poll was issued to 7,235 IT Executives across the United States to understand the biggest cultural challenges of working remote, as well as to gain insight into how Executives have adjusted their management style and communications tempo to elevate their team.

The concept of working remote or having teams work in a geographically dispersed delivery model is not new by any stretch, but what is different is that instead of 10 or 20% of your workforce working remote full-time, now virtually the entire workforce is working in a remote capacity. Three questions to consider as we chart the path forward: 1) how is working in a remote capacity affecting informal conversations and the ability of a Manager or Executive to maintain a pulse on the organization; 2) does today’s 100% remote working model level the playing field in the sense that no one is getting more face time; and 3) over time how will productivity be impacted?

Our poll finds that before the pandemic, less than 10% of the workforce was working from home. But, as Executives plan for the future, they anticipate that more than 50% of the workforce will be working remotely. There was no surprise that some of the biggest challenges with the work remote model was managing children and remote learning, spouses or household distractions. With many K-12 schools moving to a hybrid learning (e.g, in person/remote combination) or 100% remote learning model for the Fall, the level of stress and pressure for working parents will increase dramatically.

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Particularly insightful based on the challenges that respondents have experienced was the emphasis placed on utilizing technology to bridge the distance as well as extending a greater level of flexibility on work schedules. Additionally, maintaining cadences like daily stand ups that were already in place prior to COVID-19 became important in order to keep the team focused and on track. Some have also extended the meeting time, for example, by 15 minutes to allow for informal conversation as a way to stay connected on a personal level with colleagues.

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But all in all, the ability to elevate and keep the team focused on priorities fell squarely on the Executives’ shoulders to adjust their management approach, communication cadence and reinforce confidence with the team. One Executive commented that expressing gratitude and saying thank you more often will reaffirm your appreciation of the person and their contribution to the team and company which alleviates anxiety when you cannot see facial reactions and body language in a conversation.

Based on my consulting experience and working with clients in large organizations, leveraging skip meetings where you meet the resources that report directly to your direct reports is an effective way to maintain a pulse on the organization and create a sense of community. This is a useful technique that I have relied on over the years.

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Whether we are working through a pandemic or not, effective communications and engagement are critical to maintaining a pulse on the organization and building a productive, healthy work environment and culture. What also stands true is that there is no silver bullet. Executives will need to leverage technology and adjust their management style and communications tempo. Communications will have to be adapted to fit the needs not only for the workforce as a whole, but also for the individual team members, as needs will vary based on their personal circumstance.

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