For many organizations, a return to normal isn’t going as smoothly as hoped. Indeed the basic aspects of organizational identity remain the same. Yet leaders struggle to bring these pieces back to life. Much has changed in the hearts, minds and values of employees after living and working through a worldwide pandemic. That being the case, how can you help employees realign to the organization’s traditional values and culture?
It requires that you take time to plan and prepare for careful, thoughtful execution. Start reinforcing traditional values while embracing the ‘new normal‘ with these steps.
PRIORITIZE EMPLOYEE SAFETY
A safe and healthy workforce should be the top priority for all employers. As a result, many organizations choose to maintain virtual and hybrid work arrangements moving forward. For some, this will look like split schedules to allow for more social distancing. In other situations, entire departments or offices may decide to keep employees remote.
Select an arrangement that works best for all employees and the customers you serve. Organizations that don’t prioritize workplace safety may find their employees looking elsewhere. The key is to be transparent about how you will keep the employees who do return safely. What values do leaders use to make decisions about employee safety? Share those with employees and customers.
GIVE PEOPLE TIME TO ADJUST
For a large number of organizations, it would be too difficult to bring back people all at once. Massive returns are complicated and confusing to execute. Furthermore, it’s critical to allow employees enough time and space to reacclimate to their new/old environment. In fact, new research confirms that employees need time to adjust to working outside of their homes and in new office layouts. Besides physical changes to offices, the workforce itself doesn’t look like it did before the pandemic.
There are new remote employees who have never set foot in your offices. Allow time to acquaint these people with the physical space and introduce them to teammates. Engage employees hired in the past year with in-person onboarding. Pair them with a buddy who has worked in the office before to help them adapt. For remote workers, a modified re-onboarding can help them orient to company values and business processes. In either case, explain the cultural norms and values that you live and work by together. What in-person traditions exist? How have you aligned hybrid and virtual employees to the culture?
Remote employees experienced an immense amount of stress throughout the pandemic. Workers quickly adapted to new environments and distractions. In effect, people had to learn to balance work and family life in an entirely new way. While some enjoy working from home, others are still struggling to draw a line between where their workday ends and home life begins.
As a result, employees across the country are burnt out, experiencing what experts call COVID fatigue. One of the symptoms includes difficulty maintaining engagement with the workplace. This is understandable because it can be a challenge to feel engaged while separated from the workplace or struggling to separate home and work life. To maintain virtual and hybrid workplaces we need to adjust our values to include work/life balance.
A simple first step is to encourage people to openly discuss fatigue and burnout. These conversations can reduce stress and increase connections between colleagues. Incorporate social events like coffee breaks, happy hours and birthday celebrations to bring employees together in a relaxed setting. How else can you mold traditional values to better reflect the needs of the workforce post-pandemic?
Professional development is another proven way to engage remote and in-person employees. According to CIO, training and development programs are desired by employees while simultaneously increasing employee retention. Are there employees on your team who would appreciate a professional development opportunity? A new challenge can motivate and ignite a spark for team members who feel disengaged. Provide both virtual and in-person employees equal experiences to grow – take care to not favor either group.
USE TRADITIONAL VALUES TO CONNECT AND ALIGN PEOPLE
Breathing life back into traditional values requires fidelity. It also requires that you’re honest about what didn’t work in the past and what will work in the future. Will the same skills and abilities still be relevant in tomorrow’s world? Engagement and motivation will always be important; however, it’s also important that we assess and address any gaps that have arisen.
Were there employees that did especially well during the pandemic? What values did they lean on to guide their work? Are there practices can we harvest from these individuals and spread throughout our organization? As we adapt to the ‘new normal,’ pair these employees with coworkers who didn’t fare as well during the pandemic. This type of support system is beneficial to both team members. Social interactions and joint projects speed up the shift to a new environment.
Listen to employees. Ask questions about their work climates and listen deeply to their answers. What changes do people expect? Which skills would be helpful to them? Are there new trends they foresee occurring? Reinforce patience and kindness as you return to the office. Involve employees to map out solutions to challenges and keep people informed. Finally, lean on the values as a foundation to guide teams through these challenges. Reinforce how these values are important to the organization’s mission and the people you serve.