How To Change Company Culture To Better Navigate A Pandemic

October 13th, 2020 | 10 minute read

One question we have been asked over and over again, at every stage of the COVID-19 pandemic – how do we keep our culture alive now our work environment is different? Most businesses are experiencing significant change in their work environments – whether that is businesses operating completely virtually; businesses who are operating with a mix of virtual and in-person; or even businesses who are fully back in the office, but operating under new rules like social distancing and enhanced safety measures. So what is the key to keeping your culture alive amidst all of this change? We’re going to look at how to change company culture to fit the new work landscape we are all navigating.

When looking at how to change company culture for the better, a lot of this comes down to your cultural rituals. Whether they are planned, or just happened naturally, every business has cultural rituals. Rituals are essentially habits or a series of actions performed according to a prescribed way of doing things. The great thing about rituals, when implemented purposefully and strategically, is that they become part of the fabric of your organisation, and people care more about preserving them.

One of the challenges of the recent pandemic, and its interruption to working environments, is that lots of businesses have cultural rituals that are based around an in-person work environment. They are related to physical space, or to things that people do together in-person, or to habits of the present office environment. It could be taking your team out for lunch once a month, or beers in the office on a Friday, or morning huddles, or ringing a bell when a sale happens – they are all related to physical space and in-person social interaction. To keep your culture alive, regardless of where your working location is, you need to build cultural rituals that aren’t just based around a physical workspace.

We have detailed below four areas to consider when looking at how to change company culture amidst a pandemic that we are all still learning to navigate.

Create Cultural Rituals That Are Flexible

In the times we find ourselves in, with rules changing on a daily basis, it is important that your cultural rituals and pillars are flexible. This means that they are present regardless of whether you are in the office, or not, that they work regardless of what level you’re at in the business, or how long you have worked in the team. This could include:

  • Taking your current cultural pillars and habits, and looking at how they could transition virtually, this post details some interesting thoughts around designing bespoke work from home rituals. 
  • If your business has a competitive edge consider how you could create weekly contests. These could be individual, or in groups but with individual actions. The great thing about something like this is if it is contributed on an individual basis then it can be done from anywhere.
  • Start new traditions. This is the perfect time to look at the cultural rituals your business currently has and question whether those are serving you and your business in the best way. A change of situation can be a time trigger for something new.

Make Cultural Rituals More Visible

Often, in an office environment, the unspoken rules or pillars are more apparent as people see them being lived out day to day. This is a risky strategy at the best of times as you are leaving the living of your culture up to change – some people will exhibit it the way you want to, whilst others wont.

When you have changes in work location and set up, it is more important than ever to have your values and other cultural pillars visible, and is great best practice regardless of time and situation. By embedding key messages into visible working practices you are more likely to drive the right behaviours, some examples could include:

  • Embedding your values into your appraisal and personal development processes.
  • Starting a practice of sharing values stories with the whole team each month.
  • Adding key cultural messages to your remote desktop login or homepage.
  • Creating behavioural prompts within your project management process, or in-house systems.

Make a Shift to Designed Rituals versus Default Rituals

Often cultural rituals happen through default, they evolve over time and become ingrained habits and behaviours. Some of these work in your favour, while others don’t. The changes that the pandemic has brought gives you a great opportunity to hit the reset button and step back to look at your culture from a different viewpoint. Designed cultures work towards a purposeful goal and then design activities and rituals around that, they directly combat any toxic behaviours, and

  • What activities are happening that contribute positively to our culture?
  • What activities are happening that negatively impact our culture?
  • What activities would really reinforce our values and beliefs as a company?
  • What additional things would we like to see as rituals within our culture?

By asking yourself these questions and getting really clear about what type of culture you want to create can help you design a culture that really works for you. Designed cultures work towards a purposeful goal and then design activities and rituals around that, whilst also directly combatting any toxic behaviours.

Get Your People Involved in Embedding Rituals

One of the first things we do when working with our clients on cultural change is to put together a group of culture change ambassadors – or in our terms “the culture club”. This group are at the core of how to change company culture. They act as a sounding board, advisory committee, and change drivers in coming up with ideas for, and embedding cultural rituals. Some things to consider when putting a group like this together:

  • Keep the group well proportioned – you need a minimum of four people, but we wouldn’t advise any more than eight, otherwise it is difficult to hear from everyone.
  • Find a facilitator who is skilled at facilitating open discussion, but comfortable with shutting down any unproductive conversations to keep the group moving positively.
  • Meet monthly to keep up traction and create clear actions for implementation with the wider team in between sessions.
  • Have a facility for others in the business to raise issues and share suggestions for discussion within the monthly sessions.
  • Form a feedback loop with both management and the wider business to ensure that leaders are engaged and informed with the activities being implemented, and that the wider team can see the impact the group is having.

Keeping your culture alive amidst a pandemic is really just about being purposeful about the choices and actions you take, and not leaving activities to default, as otherwise you may find that either the core elements of your culture disappear, or the wrong behaviours start to come in. If you are looking at how to change company culture and this is something that you are concerned about within your business, you might be interested in our monthly service The Pulse, which provides ongoing support and monthly cultural strategies. 



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