Culture matters more than ever, even with the new norm of working from home. Zoom video meetings are new for some of us, but trying to do a Zoom call while overseeing a child’s remote learning, keeping one ear on the news, and one eye on your bank account, that’s a whole other ball game. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high for many of us and the threat or reality of coronavirus still looms over many of us.
We know from our research that respect and empathy are essential to building and maintaining healthy workplace cultures. As we adjust to working from home during a full blown pandemic, what does that really look like?
How Leaders Can Adapt
First and foremost, we know that culture comes from the top. Leaders, this is your time to shine, over-communicate, and recognize the efforts of everyone throughout your organization. Daily short video updates posted to a specially created Slack channel, or on your internal portal, can go a long way to keep employees feeling connected and motivated. They can also be fun opportunities for employees to get to know you better as a person and a leader. Taking the opportunity to connect with employees either individually or in small groups can also be valuable in nurturing the culture and connections within your organization. You could even take it old school by sending a handwritten note to one or two employees a day during the pandemic.
How Employees Can Adapt
But what if you aren’t “at the top?” How can you strengthen and nurture your company and team’s positive culture? It’s not complicated, but it takes some intentionality on your part.
When you have a video meeting, be ready for it. Make sure all your tech is working. Show up on time. If are late because of your child’s math class, let everyone know when you anticipate joining the call. During video meetings, it’s even harder to “read the room.” Help your team out by putting all of your empathetic, engaged listening skills into action. A few head nods or a smile of agreement can go a long way so the speaker knows people are following along and tuned in.
When you are on the video call, remember that everyone can see what you are doing. If you’re checking texts and replying to emails, folks can see that you aren’t engaged. If you need to step away because your 10 year old has set the toaster on fire, simply turn off your video and–I cannot stress this enough–mute your audio. Don’t forget about the audio! Years ago, when I was new to working from home, I didn’t realize my video and sound were on during a company-wide meeting. I was hungry and decided to multi-task. I moved my laptop to the kitchen, was listening to and watching the meeting while deciding what to eat (opening and closing the fridge, cabinets, silverware drawers, etc.), cooking, and then eating soup. As it turns out, my video was on… the whole time! Which wasn’t so bad–until the soup eating part. In which, apparently, the camera was just focused on my mouth. Charming, I know. A coworker finally called my cell phone to let me know because I hadn’t answered the 173 texts and slack messages trying to get my attention.
Advice to All: Be Responsive and Professional
Another important way to nurture the positive aspects of your culture is to be responsive and professional when someone reaches out to you on Slack or email. If someone stopped by your desk at the office, you wouldn’t ignore them. If it was a bad time, you’d let them know. Treat Slack in the same way. It’s like someone popping over to your desk with a question or just to chat. If you are buried in a project and can’t respond relatively quickly, simply set your status on Slack. Or if there will be a delay in your response, just simply manage expectations. One last thing to remember about Slack (or any chat tool you’re using), email, and texts: it’s super hard to read tone in electronic communication. What one employee may believe to be dry humor, another may interpret as cold, or even flat out rude.
These social intelligence skills may seem obvious to some, but they are more essential than ever. Embracing the human element in one another will go a long way in nurturing your company’s positive culture now and in the future.
For more ideas, check out our tip sheet on 5 ways to build a positive workplace culture foundation.