Companies all over the world are adjusting to a “new normal.” Morning standups, friendly watercooler talk, company-sponsored happy hours and everything in-between have been replaced by virtual interactions – or don’t happen at all.

Working in a fully distributed virtual environment is a big adjustment to navigate even in normal circumstances, without having to also contend with unprecedented socioeconomic and behavioral upheaval. Right now, more than ever, employees need a community that is socially motivating, provides personal growth and empowers them to lead.

But in a world in crisis, it’s easy to overlook the importance of overcoming cultural impediments. This is unfortunate considering the true value that work culture has in creating happy, fulfilled and trusted employees who contribute significantly to the bottom line. Conversely, according to one study, disengaged employees cost companies between $450 billion and $550 billion a year.

While processes and protocols are important, they aren’t the sole answer – especially amid a crisis. To successfully emerge from the pandemic, it’s equally important to establish an engaging work culture focused on keeping employees happy and connected, regardless of their location.

Reaching Out to Employees, Wherever They Are

It’s no secret that culture has become uber-important over the last several years. In a 2018 study, nearly 50% of job seekers cited company culture as important when applying for a new work role. In our own practice, we’ve seen this as a recurring theme. When candidates ask questions like, “What are your studios like?” “What can I expect if I have an issue?” “What does collaboration look like?” it’s clear culture matters. Our culture is marked by our passion for new technologies; our mindset that in order to transform, you must accept the notion that it’s a continual, learning process; and our community focus, where collective value outweighs any one individual.

Therefore, it’s imperative that organizations establish and radiate their cultural values not just internally, but also externally. This is critical during a pandemic like the COVID-19 crisis, because connection and value contribution is challenging when we are working remotely in mandated isolation chambers.

Establishing a culture that promotes engagement goes well beyond hosting the occasional awkward (but fun) Zoom happy hour. It also goes beyond selecting which conference platform should be the environment of choice. Even for companies that don’t already have some sort of work-from-home policy and are starting with the basics, the question should be: How can we ensure teams feel they’re part of a community that’s socially motivating, provides personal growth and challenges them to succeed in this new environment?

Creating A Cultural Framework

Former Campbell’s Soup CEO Doug Conant once said:“ To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Winning amid a pandemic will take creativity, innovation and an even greater hunger to succeed, with the starting point being culture. To make sure that culture is palpable to all employees, even with more people working remotely, we’ve implemented the following practices:

  • Local groups and meetups for all: This creates a space for our virtual teams and in-studio team members to come together to ideate and problem-solve.
  • Focused study groups: Connecting individuals within specific areas of expertise is critical at a time when social distancing is the rule – not the exception.
  • Regional tech talks streamed: Tapping into other relevant knowledge and insight helps our community members continually build out their own professional expertise.
  • Monthly challenges: These help motivate and drive engagement in a friendly manner. Whether they’re tied directly to a skillset or not, our challenges are meant to be all in good fun and push individual growth.
  • Online training programs: We continually invest in professional talent development, online or off. We want our talent to feel empowered to take their careers to the next level.
  • Showing appreciation: We continually show appreciation to our team for their hard work on projects and initiatives.

By building a culture with continuous, clear communication that embraces co-ideation, joint problem-solving and individual metrics crafted to grow both the business and personal careers, organizations can amplify engagement exponentially. With broader and deeper engagement, better outcomes can be achieved in record time – location notwithstanding.

Connecting the Dots

Replacing a once bustling, healthy office culture may be challenging, but it’s a challenge worth fighting for, given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. After all, this is our new normal, at least for the time being, with 61% of full-time employees in the U.S. now working from home, up from 33%, according to Gallup. During these unprecedented times, employees need to feel empowered, heard, valued and challenged to approximate business as usual.

Once companies embrace (or at least accept) a virtual workplace, they can reinforce a business culture that isn’t dependent upon being physically together. From there, they can shift their focus to building and nurturing that culture to enable productivity and growth over the near and long term, should another crisis emerge.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

Mihai Constandis

Mihai Constandis

Mihai is Country Manager, Cognizant Softvision, and head of Romania Studios. He has more than 18 years of IT experience in diverse... Read more

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