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Transforming Culture in a Time of “Business as Unusual”

Long before Covid-19 dominated our lives, we knew that building organizational culture takes intentionality. Yet, because we’re so often operating in a “business as usual” mode, we may not give culture the attention it deserves, especially since people are resistant to adopting new behaviors that have the potential to transform culture. Right now, however, it’s not just business as usual. People are willing to try new things and are hungry to engage in new ways.

These times offer a unique opportunity to build an intentional virtual culture as we rapidly redefine a new way of being together. What’s more, the structures we put in place now open up the possibility of a new culture taking root – not just during, but also beyond the pandemic.

In this “business as unusual” mode, we see that people are granting new levels of grace and flexibility as we shift to this new reality which requires rapid learning, iteration and adaptation. It is a time in which many leaders are willing to be more vulnerable and more courageous, tackling long-standing issues head on to move from breakdown to breakthrough.

So, what are the next steps towards transforming culture? These four components, taken together and consistently recalibrated over time, lay the groundwork for building an intentional and thriving virtual culture.

1. Redefine Norms & Agreements

Take time to discuss explicitly how your team/organization will shift behaviors in the virtual workplace. Start with the basics: you must define which technology platforms will serve your virtual workforce. Consider the different ways that we’re working together (e.g. hanging out, collaborating, learning) and settle on the suite of tools that best fit your organization’s priorities and culture.

From there, it’s important to be explicit about how your staff should communicate and collaborate. Remove the ambiguity that so often surrounds workplace communication by providing clear guidelines that outline what kind of messages should be sent through which mediums and how team members are expected to interact with each other. Set expectations for responsiveness and get transparent with one another’s calendars, which will allow people to see who is available and when.

The “virtual water cooler” can be an overlooked aspect of virtual cultures. It’s imperative in any virtual workplace that we make room for personal non-work interactions. This is especially true right now, given the sense of isolation that many are experiencing. This type of interaction can feel hard to prioritize when our kids, pets, partners and neighbors need our attention, but if many opportunities for informal spontaneous connection exist, there will be at least some ways for each person to engage with the culture.

2. Identify Champions

Make the work of building a virtual culture someone’s job by identifying virtual champion(s) who carry forward the culture torch over time. By default, the company leader is a champion for the new culture, so it is important that they model the new way of working. From there, identify and empower one or more team members from across the organization to keep a pulse on employee engagement, reinforce norms, organize fun events and model the organization’s values in all they do virtually.

3. Establish New Routines

Seize this business-as-unusual moment to nurture new habits that may not have been possible in the previous status quo context. Culture is created in part by consistent behaviors that show up over time. Knowing this, make it a priority to establish consistency in new routines.

For example:

  • Intentional openings & closings (to days and meetings)
  • Regular informal gatherings
  • Setting hourly and/or daily intentions
  • Delineating time to connect with others in your home
  • Mindfulness practices to improve cognitive capacity
  • Schedule time for reflection & learning
  • Time for personal connection before each meeting
  • Default meeting times of 25 and 50 minutes to allow for breaks

The power of rituals should not be underestimated. Get creative about how your team or organization cultivates new habits. These new routines have the potential to lead to a dynamic culture that will become part of your DNA for the long-term, beyond the current crisis.

4. Nurture Team Dynamics

Give attention to keeping teams, and in turn the organization, intact. With all that has changed, what makes an effective and cohesive team has not changed. Many of us are familiar with Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The five behaviors needed for a cohesive team: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability & results – are as important as ever. Check out this podcast to hear Lencioni talk about how these behaviors may look and feel different in the virtual workplace.

Vulnerability, open exchange, clear communication and recognition of a job well done are just as important for virtual teams as they are for in-person, non-remote teams. This moment brings an opportunity to get back to the basics and bring an intentionality to what keeps teams effective and cohesive.

While there isn’t just one way to build a good virtual culture, what we know for sure is that it takes attention and intention. The structures and routines that you put in place now will affect your organization for years to come.

The old status quo is gone, and now is the time when anything can be on the table if we choose to put it there.

The Nebo Company offers coaching and leadership development programs to support successful virtual work for both individuals and teams. Contact us to learn more about how we can support your organization.

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