Why Workplace Culture is Important for Resilience

Mark Schinkel

We all want a workplace where people are healthy, effective, productive, empowered, and motivated to do great work in support of their organization’s mission and shared values. However, what happens when you toss a pandemic into the mix? COVID-19 has created extraordinary circumstances as nations, communities, families, and individuals are experiencing enormous changes. These changes are playing out in real time, throwing long-held assumptions about how we work together into a giant, relentless, grinding blender.

In a short period of time and under intense pressure, organizations all over the planet have had to respond to change, putting their old ways of doing things under the microscope. At the same time, large swaths of disadvantaged, exploited, and genuinely hurting people groups (and their allies) are crying out – as they should – that they will not be silenced and the status quo is not an option.

It is very possible that in the swirl of competing priorities, your efforts to nurture your workplace culture have been shelved. However, now is precisely the time to invest in building your culture – your organization’s future livelihood, resiliency, and capacity to adapt to new realities may well depend on it.

Now is precisely the time to invest in building your culture – your organization’s future livelihood, resiliency, and capacity to adapt to new realities may well depend on it.

Is your organization losing ground in the effort to build a healthy workplace culture? Are you treading water and hanging on for dear life? What can you do to prevent erosion and get back on solid ground in order to access the opportunities swirling around in the chaos?

Here are a few suggestions I have gathered from conversations with those who are trying to provide leadership in the midst of these challenging times:

Don’t let your foot off the gas.

Among the many things you are doing to build a thriving workplace culture, there are likely a few that matter most. Whether it is diversity and inclusion, environmental sustainability, employee well-being, team building, collaboration, or any other important agreed-upon initiatives, don’t lose focus. Acknowledge that these are challenging times and that adjustments have had to be made. However, keep talking about their importance and continue to take action. You may need to scale down current initiatives or alter benchmarks or goals, but don’t let these priorities evaporate.

Frame these challenges as an opportunity.

Now is your organization’s chance to show that your purpose and values are so fundamental that they can stand up under intense pressure. This is the time to demonstrate the extent to which you are committed to live out what you say is non-negotiable.

Articulate and tell your story.

The experience of working remotely can limit opportunities to feel socially and emotionally connected to the workplace. The usually dynamic and iterative process of observing and participating in the life of the organization, receiving feedback, adjusting direction, and tapping into organizational energy may now be compromised under the current circumstances. Your typical efforts to prioritize the organization’s mission may be limited. Seek out and tell the story about how you are remaining true to your core values and commitment to build a workplace culture that is vibrant, effective, and healthy.

Proactively build resilience and preparedness into your organization’s culture.

Model the qualities and characteristics that you value most in your organization.

Explicitly share your thinking to educate others. Acknowledge and mitigate the reality that employees working at home have even fewer clues and signals about what you are thinking and valuing. Check in on people and continue to nurture meaningful relationships.

Anticipate the changes that may become part of the new normal.

Have an eye on the future and understand how work, culture, and relationships may have been changed by this experience. For example, consider redesigning the physical workplace and IT supports in place to accommodate new ways of interacting and doing business. Think now about how you want teams to connect in the future.

Proactively build resilience and preparedness into your organization’s culture.

Curate information and experiences that can be used to adapt or build a strong pandemic and emergency response plan going forward. This is how you knit confidence, security, and a sense that “we’ve got this” into the fabric of your organization’s culture.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Have a forum for expressing concerns, problems, challenges, new efficiencies, ideas, etc. Use this as a means of seeking out “hot spots” or potential conflicts that need attention. Don’t stop acknowledging good work or celebrating milestones. Be clear about expectations and in providing feedback.

A prevailing theme amidst all this change is the notion that opportunity and challenge are two sides of the same coin. The impacts of our current circumstances are pervasive and all of us have been affected. Now is precisely the time to double down on culture – don’t hesitate to step up to the challenge!


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Author: Mark Schinkel
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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