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Company Culture in the Workplace

Company culture in the workplace has been one of the many things that COVID-19 has changed forever.

We’ve lived through lockdown, travel bans and job loss. Understandably, it’s the workplace where the lifestyle change has been most profound. Office buildings usually alive with activity – that office buzz created by individuals and teams collaborating on projects, sharing ideas or simply chatting – now stand almost empty. Those face to face meetings where you build a rapport and gain trust, have been replaced by zoom calls. Monumental changes to the way we live and work have reinforced our inability to create, and maintain, a solid company culture when everyone is working at home alone.

There’s no denying the global pandemic has changed the workplace landscape. The last time there was a change of this magnitude was in 1926 when the standardisation of the five-day working week was rolled out by Henry Ford. This was done over several years, so it’s no surprise that according to a recent Workforce Survey, 54% of workers say their jobs have become more difficult since COVID-19. And while we’re not out of the woods yet, some countries are slowly opening up and beginning a COVID normal way of life. But instead of rushing back to bustling pre-COVID office buildings, companies around the world are expanding their working from home policies. Survey data reveals that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID. So what does this mean for company culture? And what can be done to ensure the happiness and wellbeing of your employees?

What is Company Culture?

Firstly, what is culture? Culture is a way the company as a whole operates towards fulfilling its goals. There is no published policy or document that can create a corporate culture, or guarantee that people will practice the company’s values each day. It is influenced by how the people, especially the leaders, behave day in and day out. So, culture can make or break your strategy.

If a company was a person, culture would be its personality. Considering its importance, maintaining a positive company culture and getting employees to “buy-in” to a company’s vision is vital. If employees aren’t enthusiastic about the vision, they won’t be enthusiastic about executing a strategy for it.

Every company and culture is different. It’s not something that generally changes quickly, rather it adjusts and morphs slowly over time. Company culture reflects the realities of people working together every day. While some employees admitted to being more productive at home during the pandemic, most miss the impromptu chats, the debriefs in the kitchen and the access to learning from their mentors.

Togetherness unites us and gives us a much needed sense of belonging. This is as important in the office space as it is in our personal life.

How Flexible Space can Re-Build Company Culture

Many companies are embracing a flexible approach of time at home and time in the office. Coworking spaces and flexible office spaces have become even more appealing as companies try to re-establish an internal cohesiveness. Employees will still need a place to come together, connect and build relationships.

Direction, guidance and mentoring are imperative for employee success. They’re also three things that can be difficult to do remotely. Flexibility is also key. By adapting to the change now, companies will be better equipped for the work world of the future and will be able to deliver a more positive working experience.

Flexible office space, regular face-to-face meetings and collaboration are all imperative to maintain culture in this brave new world.

It’s too early to tell what the mid and long term changes to organisational culture will be, but if company culture is the secret sauce that defines the nature of an organisation, coworking spaces may well be the bun that holds it all together.

“Good conversation is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.” I don’t know about you, but I love a good quote. A catchy phrase or a few choice words can certainly improve your mood. But even if you prefer a latte, it’s hard to deny the power of a stimulating conversation.

We all know that good communication is an integral element to business success. Studies have shown that when a workplace focuses on good communication there is an increase in productivity and employee engagement. There is something empowering about a productive meeting. A room buzzing with activity, the gentle hum of constant chatter as thoughts are shared and problems solved. From one on one meetings and company gatherings to motivational letter boards, we are surrounded by the spoken and written word on a daily basis.

But could the recent global pandemic have highlighted the true value of not only words, but more crucially, positive words?

Touch has long been regarded as the most profound of connections. Even in the workplace touch is used for validation, celebration and general interaction, but Covid-19 has changed the way we live our lives. Social distancing is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. When we eventually return, the work environment will look very different. No more hugs, high fives, fist bumps, back pats or shoulder squeezes. Even everyone’s favorite ‘air kiss’ is a thing of the past.

But these ingrained habits are popular for a reason. They trigger the endorphin system in our brains and leave us feeling warm and positive. Human contact helps create a sense of comfort and well-being. In the absence of this, we have words. Moving forward we will need to verbalize a lot more things that we would normally express with touch.

At the beginning of a meeting, instead of slapping a few backs and shaking a few hands before getting down to business, we will rely on eye contact and a warm greeting. Thankfully, science has proven that positive words can actually strengthen our brain’s frontal lobe. A study where individuals read words of ‘loving kindness’ showed increases in self-compassion, mood elevation and reduced anxiety, while scientific research has shown that motivational quotes can make us feel the same as actually accomplishing something. And it’s not just us. Even the office plants benefit from positive words. In a study performed by the Royal Horticultural Society, researchers discovered that talking nicely to your plants helps them to grow faster!

Our ‘new normal’ won’t feel normal to begin with, but words and language used positively within companies, or by individuals working together, can impact morale and motivation, boost confidence and enhance performance. Positive reinforcement isn’t a new concept, but now more than ever, is the time for us to be proactive about creating small moments of happiness in our days. The way we interact with one another has been irrevocably altered. But while face masks and distancing will change the workplace landscape it doesn’t have to be negative. Whether it’s an encouraging comment in the corridor or an inspirational pick-me-up on a letter board, positive words really can make a difference and enable us to thrive.

These anxious and unusual times will bring unforeseen difficulties and while we can’t deny the need for positive communication, for those of us – like me – who will miss air kisses and fist bumps there is a socially distanced alternative. The Vulcan salute, will have to do for now. It worked well for Spock. Live long and prosper.

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