01 May COVID-19: Office culture without the office
PROTECTING CULTURE IN TIMES OF CRISIS
Lockdown life is teaching us some unexpected lessons. And we’re learning truly surprising things about the nature of professional and creative work that I think will matter long after social distancing has been relaxed. As we’ve been helping clients take care of their people in this crisis, we’re noticing that leaders are increasingly concerned about preserving their office cultures. Why? Some degree of social distancing will likely be with us for some time to come. Workforces will be reduced in size and remain at least partly dispersed. Realistically, it will be harder and harder to hold teams together and keep people focused. Especially when they are facing the stress of reduced income, anxiety about future and family pressures.
PLACE IS ONLY PART OF THE PICTURE
In the world of design and engineering, we know that office culture really matters. After all, great cultures help attract the best people. A sense of membership and purpose is key to retention. Trust and collaboration drive creativity and form the foundation of consistent good performance. But how do we sustain a great office culture when there is no office?
What we’re learning is that place is only part of the picture. The most successful leaders recognize that office culture is deliberately constructed through decisions, activities and communication. They build great cultures through consistent efforts to hire the right people, getting the right work, and building the talent management systems and processes that encourage the right behaviours and results.
FIND WAYS TO DUPLICATE INFORMAL INTERACTIONS WITH YOUR TEAM
Now’s the time to use that thinking to hold your team together. Consider all the informal points of contact that your teams are missing now. Rank the most important, and substitute planned activities for them. Some options will be obvious and easy, such as the virtual town halls that some clients are successfully substituting for office meetings. Other ideas will be more time-consuming but will pay off handsomely. The most important challenges include finding ways to duplicate the casual conversations that tell you what your employees are thinking about and struggling with. We’ve been having real success with surveys and one-on-one interviews. Knowing what’s important to your employees shows you what you need to communicate and respond to. Those insights will help you in the critical task of keeping your people engaged in a stressful time.
COMMON PURPOSE IS AT THE CORE OF GREAT CULTURE
Above all, think about activities and projects you can use to reinforce the sense of common purpose that’s at the core of a great culture. There are so many tools available to you that no longer require face-to-face contact, from virtual charrettes to design competitions and research and development assignments. And now is a time when your team will welcome any opportunity that creates a sense of a brighter future.
Written by Rowley Mossop, Principal
May 1, 2020