By Kyle Schnurbusch, OrgStory Partner & Director and Rob Kessler, Partner & Operations Director
What to do now that we’ve adjusted to a new normal.
In early 2020, the global pandemic caused disruption to work offices everywhere. Employers had to react and adjust to a remote workforce, and employees had to equally adjust to this “new normal.”
Fast-forward to late 2021, and a new disruption is about to take place. Organizations must figure out how to safely and effectively bring employees back together in the physical workplace, following over a year and a half in which employees adjusted to a remote work environment.
Employers have many perspectives when it comes to what their future workplace will look like. Some have given a definitive date to bring all employees back into their physical office. Some are allowing employees to choose where they will work (remote, in office or a hybrid of both). There are pros and cons to each, and this article is not meant to advise on logistical procedures. But, for those choosing to bring employees back under one roof, there will be challenges to acclimate them back to the “old days” of being together. Communication with employees is essential in the process, and for most organizations, it will determine success or failure for transitions. Here are a few considerations and suggestions for effective internal communications to help reignite your work culture.
Focus on your mission and values
When COVID hit, the primary social fabric for the vast majority of workplaces, face-to-face interactions, changed completely, putting work cultures at risk. Organizations did their best putting new processes and software tools in place to keep employees informed and connected.
But even in PC (pre-COVID) times, keeping a strong, consistent culture could be difficult. According to Gallup, only 23% of employees strongly agreed that they could apply their organization’s mission and values to their work every day.
So when we talk about culture, “how we do things around here,” this should be the focus of your communications moving forward. Regardless of whether they are remote or together, connecting employees to your purpose and culture is more imperative than ever.
This is the time to reinvigorate your purpose. The stories might have changed a bit, but the same important message needs to be consistent – “Now more than ever, our purpose and mission is imperative to those we serve.” Remind employees of why you exist and what you bring to the world. And through storytelling, show how the mission is brought to life through the work of your people.
Recognize and connect with meaning
Another key ingredient to culture and the employee experience is recognition. This remains one of the most effective easy to communicate cultural expectations at a local level. Celebrate wins and great work with team-building events to strengthen morale and to remind employees of the benefits of working together.
Instead of shooting off email updates, meet your people in person. Present them with the opportunity to acclimate back to an in-office setting and reform office relationships that were lost when they went to remote work. Allow employees to work on cross functional projects as a way to learn something new, form new relationships and expand their skill set. Any chance to interact (safely) will bolster your culture and raise engagement across the organization.
Prioritize safety and a non-judgemental environment
The lack of social interaction has taken a toll across the general adult population. A 2020 study by JAMA Network reported that COVID tripled the rate of depression in adults across all demographic groups. Though software tools helped connect people to a small extent, they don’t match the organic connection created by grabbing coffee, heading to lunch together or catching up on the latest by the proverbial water cooler.
Ensure you have an open pipeline to listen and understand the needs of your employees, especially around the topics of comfort, safety and health. This won’t be a simple flip of the switch to go back to how it once was. To successfully transition to the next phase of work, organizations will need to beef up their people strategies around flexibility, safety and wellbeing. This includes a strong mental health program as anxiety will remain high.
If you decide to go forth and bring people back together, plan carefully and consider transitional periods if possible. Communicating early and often about the overarching plans will give employees the information (and flexibility) they will need to feel that the organization has their best interests at hand.
Based on a recent Glassdoor study, fully remote teams have financial and recruiting benefits, but also suffer from lower spontaneity, more challenges forming bonds and lower innovation. Again, remind your employees that great work comes through interactions and relationships. This is the time to unite under your mission and values.
It’s still unclear when life will return to normal (whatever that will even look like), but one thing remains certain, the workplace has been changed forever. So we might not ever get back to “how things used to get done around here,” but that might not be a bad thing as we continue to evolve and strengthen our cultures and the overall employee experience through effective communications.