COMMENTARY

COVID-19 bringing permanent changes to company culture

COVID-19 is changing how Americans work in fundamental ways. Some changes will be temporary, but some will mark lasting and fundamental shifts in traditional corporate culture.

Telework. Virtual meetings. Collaboration portals. These are no longer concepts we simply discuss incorporating into our daily work lives. Companies have quickly adjusted to the new realities of social distancing and government mandates, and ideas and tools we considered for use in the future became our reality almost overnight.

I believe these changes to company culture, while difficult and unsettling upfront, will result in a new normal for businesses of all sizes that will last well beyond the end of the pandemic. And the changes will be good, particularly for those who embrace the opportunity to evolve.

We all need to rethink our ideas about company culture. Our cultures will no longer revolve completely around face time with others in the office. It will be about collaboration, the work we do, and the novel ways we manage to stay connected. Elements of this new culture will include:

  • Frequent communication and check-ins. Whether through teleconferences, emails or calls, team members will need more frequent communications to make up for not always working together in-person. Zoom, Google Meetings, Microsoft Teams and other tools will become increasingly important to connect team members and clients.
  • Less formality. While working at home, there may be less of an emphasis on formal dress codes. People may feel more comfortable being on a teleconference in a T-shirt and sweats. Sometimes this is appropriate, sometimes it is not. Companies will need to create and share new rules of etiquette with employees. For example, small children walking in on a video meeting or a dog barking in the background may not be as much of a distraction as before COVID-19. It is worth remembering that a more casual attitude toward dress and etiquette does not mean less professionalism.
  • Rotating schedules and/or work from home. While working from home will increase, some tasks still requires an in-office presence. Rotating schedules will help reduce the amount of people need to be in the office at one time. This will have a beneficial impact on traffic and commuting times. Of course, decisions on office space requirements will also need to be reconsidered in light of telework and varying work schedules.
  • Virtual recruiting. The need for new talent is still a factor in terms of federal contracting. New workers are at a premium and organizations will need to consider different ways of reaching them. Companies will reach out to recent graduates and new recruits virtually to get a sense of how they fit with the company culture before meeting with them in-person. Virtual job fairs and interviews will be increasingly common.
  • Services and socializing. Company culture is not just defined by work schedules and meetings. Younger employees often express a desire for more services and team-building activities when considering a job offer. Expect a growing amount of non-traditional services from employers. For example, my company is offering free tutoring services for employees at home with school-age children. Many companies are hosting virtual happy hours to encourage employees to meet and socialize since in-person gatherings are problematic.

Company culture is always changing. Those who remember the dot.com boom and bust of twenty years ago can testify to that. The key is to make the most of these changes and evolve to the benefit of your employees and customers.

COVID-19 made all of us implement changes more quickly than might be comfortable, but company culture was drifting toward a more virtual setting even prior to the pandemic. Those organizations ready to adjust to the new realities of a post COVID-19 business environment will be ahead of the curve.

About the Author

Walter Barnes III is the founder and president of PM Consulting Group, a provider of program and project management services.

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