Workplace Culture

Work After COVID-19: Is It Time to Redefine Workplace Culture?

July 8, 2021

Workplace culture is organically evolving. Here's what you can think about as you work to adapt.

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Workplace Culture Rocked

Prior to March in 2020, the parameters were pretty much set for the way we did things in the workplace.  While the 21st century had already offered some variations from decades past—largely due to technological advances—certain processes remained intact.  Timeclocks, hardcopy paper files, and a workplace culture that expected employees to be onsite and present were the expectations.

During the height of the pandemic, however, everything shifted.  Perhaps a better way to describe what happened is that workplace culture was turned upside down.  At times, there might not have been a workplace in which to establish or maintain a culture. 

As we dive into the cleanup process in the aftermath, it’s a good idea to consider whether it’s time for change.  Namely, is it time to redefine workplace culture as we venture into our post-COVID era? 

Defining Workplace Culture

Now, company culture is the embodiment of the values and beliefs an organization and it’s employees hold as true about themselves as part of the company.  Workplace culture, on the other hand, is looking at individual job sites of that company and recognizing the environment created for the employees there.  While company culture can draw good employees into a company, the workplace culture largely affects employee satisfaction and retention. 

Rebuilding

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Political scientist and college professor Keith Yanner posed the question, “How do we rebuild political, economic, and social life after being interrupted by COVID?”  He and his students will attempt to investigate and answer this question in the upcoming fall semester.

While college is certainly a place for thinking, businesses are also pondering the same topic.  Specifically, there are two options being considered.  The first is a radical approach:  rebuilding from the ground up.  The second is more cautions:  being conservative in the building process.

The most important thing to consider:  how can businesses rebuild effectively without making things better rather than worse?

6 Topics That Impact Workplace Culture

So, let’s look at a few easy ways we could make adjustments, hopefully resulting in positive changes.

It’s important to know that it’s possible to have entirely different workplace cultures for the same company.  Therefore, know that the following list of topics is only a sampling of the array of topics you could examine when contemplating workplace culture.

Schedule

Photo of a computer with a daily planner and cell phone laying next to it.

Let’s start with the schedule, which is as good a place to start as anywhere.  After being home for months on end, and rolling out of bed straight onto your computer, we might need to reestablish working hours.

So, what to do about the schedule?  Well, it’s likely everyone has been operating in more of an on-call fashion than we had pre-COVID.  That means we’ve been working according to demand instead of working according to a set schedule.  After all, even the demands had changed during the height of the pandemic.  Some companies worked tirelessly to meet the uptick in demand, while others were just happy to be able to keep their doors open. 

At this point, you need to decide if the workday will revert to the pre-COVID schedule, or if you will do something “new” when redefining workplace culture.  “New” would be something like allowing employees to work flex hours, where they’d be in the office at certain times of day or days of the week and would work from home the remainder of the time. 

Related:  Covered: What Does HR Do?

Dress

If you are going to have employees start returning to the office, it’s a good idea to consider the dress code.  Before stay-at-home orders, each company had its own version of a dress code.  Some companies expected their employees to dress in formal attire, while others cared more about self-expression rather than uniformity.  Fill in the spectrum between those two points, and that’s how many versions of a dress code you will find out there in the business world.

Well, when working from home, that all changes.  No one is there to enforce a dress code, and thus there’s no dress code.  The only time a dress code would be relevant would be during a video conference.  Even then, the dress code would only be applicable for what appears on camera.

So, how would companies redefine the dress code within this new workplace culture?  Well, perhaps it could be a happy medium of formal and casual, depending on the day’s agenda.  For example, if your employees will be seeing clients, then formal would be appropriate.  However, if it’s admin tasks and tying up loose ends, then perhaps jeans and a t-shirt would be acceptable.  If you want to get really wild and crazy, you could make yoga pants permissible.  (What?  You know that’s what was just below the Zoom frame, anyway.)

Breaks

Photo of a staircase with a sign pointing above to a men's room and below to the women's room.

Next, let’s discuss employee break time because it’s going to come around every few hours.  Employees have a right to their breaks over the course of the day.  Typically, employees take around three breaks per day—a short one in the morning, a lunch break, and a short break in the afternoon. 

During COVID, however, those break times were not as structured for most people.  After all, when you are working from home, you probably can’t ignore the sound of things like the dryer buzzer.  You must go fold those clothes fresh out of the dryer or they’ll get wrinkled.  (And Lord knows you can’t have wrinkled clothes during COVID!) 

So, back in the workplace, will your culture be a little laxer, perhaps allowing more frequent breaks, but for shorter periods of time?  Or, will you go back to three predictable breaks per day?

Meetings

Another important aspect of workplace culture we shouldn’t forget about is meetings.  Work meetings are a necessary evil, but they can be the bane of our existence.  During COVID, our meetings were typically online.  If there is anything more painful than in-person meetings, I think we can agree it would be Zoom meetings.  Therefore, it’s likely many of us made those meetings as short as possible in order to stop the bleeding.  Somehow, it doesn’t seem like the world came to an end because our meetings were abbreviated.

With this in mind, will we revert to exhaustive, redundant, mind-numbing meetings when we are working onsite?  Or, will we find a way to keep our meetings brief like what we adapted to during COVID?  Will we start accepting what we learned amid COVID—that it’s not actually necessary to put everyone in the same room in order to solve a problem or complete a project?

Related:  Small Business Trends and What They Mean for 2021

Gatherings

While we’re talking about meetings, we should think about large gatherings, such as conferences, holiday parties, etc.  During the height of the pandemic, these types of gatherings were basically outlawed.  But what now?

Employees and business owners alike will probably argue that large gatherings are an important part of workplace culture.  So, eliminating those events could be detrimental to company spirit.  Still, it might not be possible to forge ahead in the same capacity that we previously had, especially considering not all employees will be vaccinated.  Therefore, do we have other options, such as finding a way to fairly cap attendance at large events?  Doing this might help reduce risk and also keep workplace culture upbeat.

Masks

Photo of an outline of two faces: one wearing no mask (with a red X below it) and one wearing a mask (with a green check below it).

Speaking of reducing the spread of COVID, we can’t talk about the workplace without including a controversial four-letter word:  mask.  Clearly, no one is pumped to sport their COVID-kicker for 8+ hours per day.  However, this is where we need to decide whether it’s worth it to work with a bit of discomfort or to potentially not work at all.  Alternatively, will we be completely resetting expectations of employees showing up to work if even slightly ill?  That is relevant for query, when historically we proved our commitment and work ethic by showing up, regardless of a tickle in the throat.  COVID has definitely called that into question.

Redefining, Rebuilding, and Reviewing

Workplace culture will look different through the pre and post-COVID lenses.  After all, life is different.  Therefore, it is a good idea for companies to look at employee environments to see if the topics affecting workplace culture need some amending.  An easy place to start is with changes to things like the schedule, dress code, and meetings.  If things go well, rebuilding will make the workplace culture better and not worse. 

Still, you may be faced with deciding between a radical overhaul or a paced, conservative approach to the changes.  Either way, it’s not likely you’ll be able to stay at this crossroads for long, and there’s no time like the present to think about making some positive changes.

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