Three workers smile at computer

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has redefined “normal” in almost every aspect of our lives, including our work lives. Many employees have been forced out of the traditional office environment they’ve worked in their entire lives and had to adapt to a new work-from-home model. And the impact on company culture is palpable.

This brings new challenges to keep work lives separate and distinct from personal lives, even though there’s a natural overlap. A big part of the workplace experience is the daily interaction with our “work family.” Not surprisingly, this personal and social aspect of work has suffered a major blow during the pandemic.

How do we maintain our company culture in this new type of work environment? And what are the keys to staying socially connected even when we’re physically distant?

Use Technology to Stay Connected

We hear a lot about how technology interferes with personal relationships, but this might be one time it actually helps us. Technology tools can better connect us with our coworkers and reinforce company culture in several ways.

Being apart means we can’t just poke our head into our neighbor’s cubicle for a quick chat about a work problem, upcoming meeting or what we watched on TV last night. Granted, watercooler talk can be a productivity killer if it’s excessive. But when it has been reduced to almost nothing, we lose a bit of our humanity.

Works teams, regardless of how social they might be, still need to maintain human interaction and a collaborative atmosphere. Using apps to chat, video call or talk allows team members to jump in when they want to talk and be social or disconnect when they need time to focus.

There’s a variety of technology solutions that offer this capability, and you most likely have one available. Most web conferencing applications like Skype or WebEx will do just fine, or if your company is using a collaboration platform such as Slack or Teams, you probably have voice capability already. So, throw on a headset and invite your coworkers to join in! You don’t need a scheduled meeting to just chat.

Maintain Normal Routines as Much as Possible

The suggestions above are close to what you might normally do at work on a regular basis, just translated to a virtual world. This principle applies to most every aspect of work life. We need to continue doing the things we would normally do to maintain company culture.

Hopefully you have some standing traditions, like celebrating coworkers’ birthdays or praising teammates for a job well done. Keep doing these fun aspects of company culture! If you have regular staff meetings, leave them on the calendar and find a way to conduct them remotely. Work must go on whenever possible, so it’s important to find ways to connect your team to the resources they have when they’re in the office. Consider securely connecting employees to your internal systems via Virtual Private Network (VPN) technologies or other remote sharing applications.

Embracing change can help too. If you normally work independently or don’t have a regular communication cadence, now is a great time to experiment with one. Scheduling regular meetings to review progress and set up work for the next week is important to staying productive while apart.

Even if you’re sure your team knows what they’re supposed to be doing, consider a weekly or bi-weekly meeting to discuss the work. If nothing else, this keeps you talking and leads to a collaborative effort in reaching your goals.

Keep the Human Touch

You probably feel like it’s more important than ever to focus on your business priorities. This is especially critical if you’re in a leadership position. But make sure your team knows you care about them personally as well. Make it part of your company culture to check in with your teammates individually to ask how they’re doing. Ensure they have what they need to stay productive at work and happy at home.

Perhaps most importantly, give one another some grace as we all adjust to our new work lives. Nothing is running perfectly for any of us right now. An extra dose of patience and understanding will go a long way toward reducing some of the stress.

Ask your colleagues how you can help share their load and make life easier. This might not be a common thing in your workplace, and it might feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s a key component of letting others know you care. Your HR consultant can also give you ideas on how to reach out to employees and coworkers.

With a little luck, these tips will have a positive impact on your company culture that lasts even after we all come back to the office.

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