How post-pandemic office spaces could change corporate culture

COVID-19 has indefinitely changed the way we work, manage and relate to others. The effects on corporate culture will be far-reaching and leaders who succeed will learn new tactics to meet their employees where they are.

 

This article was originally published on CNBC on May 18, 2020.

How post-pandemic office spaces could change corporate culture

KEY POINTS

  • COVID-19 will change the way we work in offices — perhaps indefinitely — which will likely impact corporate culture. 
  • According to the Q2 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey released Monday, 54% of workers say their jobs have become more difficult to do in the pandemic.
  • Effective managers will need to learn new ways to connect with their employees and support them to grow and succeed in this new environment. 

By now it’s very clear that the coronavirus pandemic will change the way we work in offices — perhaps indefinitely. Less certain is the impact these physical and structural changes will have on corporate culture, which has become an intangible asset that companies now long to perfect. Corporate culture can also be used to describe the warm feelings employees have or the high expectations of a company’s management team.

“Think of it as safe, not sad,” explains Marc Spector, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and principal at Spectorgroup, referring to the measures companies will need to implement in order for employees to return to the office in a post-pandemic world. He emphasizes the aim for a greater focus on health and welfare and less so on “togetherness.”

A turning point in corporate culture

Corporate culture is the secret sauce that builds the loyalty and trust workers have for their employer and defines the nature of an organizationIt’s the ephemeral feeling that CHROs and chief people officers speak of and work feverishly to build at their corporations.

According to an April survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 2 out of 3 employers say that maintaining employee morale during the pandemic has been a challenge, particularly companies that have 500 employees or more. According to the Q2 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey, workers are happier with their jobs than they were pre-pandemic, yet more than half (54%) say their jobs have become increasingly more difficult.

Positive change requires bold, firm leadership

Michelle Penelope King, a gender-equality expert and author of “The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work,” says the workforce right now requires some very strong leadership skills and that it is up to managers to rethink their management styles and how to best engage their teams.

“Leaders are going to have to lean into the vulnerability and create space so people can innovate and grow,” says King. “Transformational leaders won’t just dive into an agenda but will check in with their members and get diverse points of view before they right to business. I think a relational-style of management will really help company culture during this time.”

King says the first thing managers should do is check in with their colleagues and understand their individual needs.

“Constructing a workday that is effective will likely look different to various employees. For example, a 9 a.m. meeting may not be great for a parent but may be ideal for someone who lives alone. There needs to be a new level of compassion at companies, and successful managers will craft an environment that is conducive to each member of their teams to have people achieve success.”

One aspect about work post-pandemic that appears to be universally agreed upon is that employees cannot come back all at once. “They have to stage it in teams or staggered in 25% increments,” says Spector of the architectural firm Spectorgroup.

He added that once employees begin to head back, the company will expect the level of professionalism to revert to what it was pre-Covid, meaning those working from home will be expected to do away with the sweatpants and hoodies and wear proper business attire.

But while reshaping company culture post-pandemic may be a large task for managers, chief people officers and human resource officers, Keogh sees this as a unique opportunity for leaders and managers to connect with and build their teams. “If you don’t, you are really missing an opportunity,” she said. “You are leading through a crisis and connecting with your people. This is the most authentic time in business history.”

Written by: Jen Geller and Riley de León

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