Recently we interviewed a candidate for a position on our team. We had previously interviewed her on Zoom and then asked her to come to our office for the final interview. The interview was going well, and there was interest on both sides. Then she asked about the culture at Propel HR. I hesitated for a moment before I answered. As I looked around the socially distant, masked faces in the room, I realized that our culture had changed dramatically in 2020. It was a very good question.
Pre-COVID, the question about our company’s culture was easy to answer. Our team has always been hard-working, but we like to have fun too. Our HR department plans wonderful celebrations and rewards, and there is a sense of comradery that energizes us when we have a major deadline. As a family business, we strive for work-life balance, and employees know that family always comes first. Overall, we have an atmosphere of support and positivity.
Yet I realized how much our culture has changed due to the pandemic. We are back working at the office, but we are isolated behind our masks and behind a screen. Instead of meeting in person in the conference room, we are meeting on Zoom. The office is quieter, and I miss the laughter in the hallways. We may be in the office, but we are really in our socially distanced bubbles.
Whether people are working remotely or back at their workplace, things are undeniably different. The socially distant protocol can be trying, and we are all having to adjust to new norms. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. Employees are juggling childcare concerns, health concerns, social isolation, and increased fears about the economy. These concerns naturally bleed into the workplace, and culture is impacted everywhere.
It is important that we intentionally work to create a positive working culture regardless of the pandemic. It may not be the culture we had before, but there are simple things that we can do to improve our cultures even in 2020, such as:
Listen. This may be the most important advice. Listen to your employees’ concerns and fears and provide a space for their voices to be heard. People are struggling with fears about their health and safety, as well as coping with additional stresses this year like the election, extreme weather, and economic unknowns. Allow employees the chance to talk, and if you see signs of severe depression, work with your Employee Assistance Program.
Provide Flexibility. If possible, work with individual employees that may have needs for flexible schedules. 2020 has brought about unique challenges such as virtual school and quarantines. Keep an open line of communication with employees and provide flexibility when individual needs arise.
Encourage Connection. Teamwork feels different in 2020. We are not gathered in a board room around a whiteboard; we are on a Zoom call with a mute button. Start your meetings with casual conversation and make sure that everyone is being heard. This year has been full of creativity, and we have learned new ways to interact. Continue to make authentic connections an intentional part of your culture.
Express Gratitude. Appreciation is a key motivational factor in the workplace, and studies have shown that happy employees are more productive. However, the best thing about gratitude is that it is contagious! Consider a virtual bulletin board for teams to thank and celebrate each other, write a handwritten card to a remote worker, or encourage a pay-it-forward movement of appreciation. A simple and authentic “thank you” goes a long way!
Have Fun. 2020 has been lacking fun, so it is more important than ever to have fun at work. Plan an hour of games outside for a socially distant stress buster, a competition for the best-decorated mask to embrace fun and safety, or an online bulletin board for silly yet HR appropriate memes to provide laughs during the day.
That interviewee’s question about our culture was really an aha moment for me. It made me think about the culture at Propel HR and how it has been impacted by the pandemic. Since then, we have started working on creative ways to reenergize our culture. For example, just last week, the finance team spontaneously danced through the hallways in a socially distanced and masked conga line in the middle of the afternoon! It was a great reminder to take a break, laugh, and enjoy our friends at work. We can’t control the pandemic, but we can control our attitude and encourage a positive and supportive culture at work.
READ MORE: A Passion to Serve
Propel HR President Lee Yarborough was recently elected Chair of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO) Board of Directors.
About Propel HR. Propel HR is an IRS-certified PEO that has been a leading provider of human resources and payroll solutions for more than 20 years. Propel partners with small to midsized businesses to manage payroll, employee benefits, compliance and risks, and other HR functions in a way that maximizes efficiency and reduces costs.