In Belgium it has been about six months since the government declared a lockdown, which has led us to working mostly from our homes. For some this has been more challenging than for others – some must work from home, while their children are also at home, others might not have an optimal space to work efficiently from home and lastly some people could get lonely. But we are all adapting to this new reality in different ways and dealing with the uncertainty of how the next months will look like.

Your LinkedIn feed is full of articles with titles such as “5 habits to stay effective” and “Find your daily routine,” containing tips on adapting to the current situation. However, perhaps a more important factor to find and maintain motivation is to continue working as a team towards a common goal. But how can this be achieved while working remotely? This is not only relevant during COVID-19 times, but the outbreak of the pandemic has shown that we might be working remotely longer than we may have expected initially.

Why the “soft stuff” is just as important as the “hard stuff”

This forced teleworking makes it more difficult for companies to develop and promote the corporate culture to a widely dispersed staff. The importance of company culture and corporate values should never be underestimated. According to survey results published in “Corporate Culture: Evidence from the Field”[1]: over 90% of executive directors believe corporate culture is important and improving it would improve their organization’s performance thereby increasing the company’s value. However, only 16% believe their culture is where it should be.

But first let’s look at what we really mean by “culture”. KPMG defines it as a combination of structural elements such as formal policies and systems and behavioral elements, such as leadership style and norms. Often the behavioral elements are overlooked since it requires a “look below the surface”.

Even then, while an organization can promote values, there is often a gap between the value statements found on an office wall and the actual cultural reality of the everyday work life. When trying to instill corporate culture, it is important to keep in mind these three factors:

  1. Culture is dynamic: Company culture is constantly evolving and these current, disruptive are shaping that culture.
  2. Culture is not singular: There is not “one culture” within an organization. There are certainly similarities, but every team has a different dynamic that influences the culture.
  3. Culture is shaped by formal systems and informal norms: While efforts often focus on the influencing of formal systems, the impact of informal norms are often more powerful, although harder to shape. There should be greater focus on behavior and the implicit rules, behaviors and habits of people in the organization that influence how we interact with each other and make decisions.
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Why trust is crucial in times of crisis

In uncertain times, trust emerges as a critical factor for success – trust in staff working remotely, trust in government, trust in the healthcare system, trust in leaders. To guide individuals through times of crisis, and prevent people being driven by fear, a culture of trust in an organization is a powerful motivation. Research has shown that a lack of trust may lead to fear, which has a crippling effect on engagement, learning, productivity and innovation. 

Social scientist, founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, Timothy Clark, states[2]: “During a crisis, people look at two things. First, at the conditions around them. Second, they look to their leaders. It’s this combination – with particular emphasis on leaders – that either escalates or de-escalates fear.”

This leads us to KPMG’s Culture, Purpose & Reputation Framework which shows that levels of trust are impacted by three inextricably linked factors – an organization’s culture, reputation and strategy (or purpose).

Considering culture in isolation can lead to inward thinking, thinking only about reputation can lead to inauthenticity and without a clear purpose, an organization becomes aimless. When an organization seeks to understand all three factors and actively influences and shapes them, they have a greater chance of building trust with all their stakeholders, both internal and external.

Graph importance of culture

In order to steer a company and its staff through the crisis, a crucial element for leaders is to keep their finger on the pulse of the organization. Although working remotely, communication is a simple but powerful tool in understanding the diverse challenges we face. Proactive communication also allows for directing culture where necessary. 

How the COVID-19 crisis will have a lasting impact on culture

Organizations can notably shape their competitive positions to meet the demands of the future by addressing its values, leadership, communication skills and organizational structures during the COVID-19 crisis.

For many the pace of work has not slowed down, but the work environment has changed drastically. That experience has not been without complications, for example, the quick adjustment to new technologies. However, many organizations have demonstrated an ability to be adaptive, responsive and agile. Despite this, a new level of vulnerability has emerged: people are openly discussing their feelings of anxiety. The questions this raises is how can we recognize the importance of these human traits and, as leaders, what is the best course of action going forward during and after this crisis?

COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity to proactively shape the future way of working by not going back to old habits and practices. In order to achieve this ambition, a first step is to observe, reflect, capture and promote the positive traits that have emerged during the crisis. Furthermore, a forum should be created, where individuals can offer different views on how we will work in the future – since these can vary greatly within an organization. To implement the desired rules of the “new normal” after the crisis, the changes need to be addressed clearly. Encouraging employees to adapt to the new reality requires sufficient inspiration. Without it, old habits and practices might reappear sooner than expected.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has had an impact on all our lives, both privately and professionally. While we are currently coping with the crisis by working from home. now is the time to proactively reflect on how to proceed after the crisis. The adoption of a new way of working can be accelerated if we create momentum to implement new technologies, leverage different channels of communication and collaboration and nurture trust in the organization.

If you would like to know more about the current leading practices for remote working we invite you to read this article – click here


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