View source: Jeff Gelinas 

While culture took a backseat during the pandemic, it should be top of mind as the world starts to reopen.

Employees are looking to organizations for more than just a paycheck and health insurance; they’re looking for safety and support, as well as providing opportunities for growth.

Organizations have gone through profound transformations in the last year and a half. Likely, you’ve experienced some kind of disruption to your company, such as remote work, layoffs or furloughs, and technology failures. And more recently, the struggle to find the right “return to work” strategy.

Leaders are now contemplating how to rebuild company culture to allow team members to feel safe, supported, and excited to get back to work. While culture took a backseat during the pandemic as many companies struggled to survive, it should be top of mind as the world starts to reopen.

One positive thing to come from the past year of tragedy and disruption is that COVID-19 opened our eyes to new ways of working and brought forth some critical questions for business leaders to consider:

  • What can we do differently to adapt to this “new normal”?
  • How can we best take care of our people?
  • What is our purpose and how can we re-establish trust?

Be flexible

The pandemic has made perks like working remotely or having a hybrid model more common. In fact, these conditions are more like table stakes now than they are perks. And with the transition to remote work, millions of Americans decided to pack up and move. In fact, according to a CNBC article, 31% of young adults moved permanently to be closer to friends and family or to find more-affordable living.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for organizations when it comes to planning a return to work. However, having flexibility and empathy for people’s needs is crucial during this time. While some team members may find that they are more productive in an office setting, some are still without childcare and need to be at home to take care of family. Or, they just want the option to come into the office as they wish.

Letting employees know that their needs are heard is important. Flexibility is key to retaining employees and attracting new ones.

Take care of your people

Employee benefit needs are changing. Employees are looking to organizations for more than just a paycheck and health insurance. They’re looking for safety and support, as well as providing opportunities for growth. This can be achieved by offering coaching and training, implementing policies around work-life balance, and flexible work schedules.

Here are some benefits to consider:

  1. Additional paid time off

This year was the year of burnout. While the majority of people aren’t traveling like they used to, the need for personal days is critical for self-care. It may sound contradictory, but paid time off can boost engagement. In fact, Harvard Business Review stated that 94% of planned vacations do wonders for someone’s energy and outlook when they get back to work.

Your organization might not have the ability to provide employees with unlimited PTO or four-day workweeks, but providing a couple of extra days of paid time off can go a long way in supporting their health and needs. Some people are reluctant to take their PTO days in times of crises if they aren’t traveling. In addition, they might be worried about their job security.

Leaders must emphasize the importance of taking time off so that employees feel more comfortable and see how important it is. Ultimately, it will help lessen burnout and reduce turnover.

  1. Flexible work schedules

Work-life balance was a hot topic this year. Many employees are homeschooling their kids, taking their family members to doctor appointments, or just trying to find time for their own needs. It’s no wonder there is demand for a flexible schedule.

Rigid work schedules are a thing of the past. For many, a 9-to-5 schedule is no longer practical in this post-pandemic world. If it’s within your organization’s ability to offer a flexible working schedule, it can do wonders for your bottom line by allowing employees to get their work done on their time.

  1. Coaching and training

The need for upskilling has drastically increased during the pandemic. While the world went remote and layoffs and furloughs were common, employees were forced to take on additional work seemingly overnight, often outside their area of training and expertise. Not surprisingly, the need for training and coaching emerged.

One way to understand what your employees need and want most is by using employee surveys that equip leaders with valuable insights. Some people are uncomfortable or reluctant to speak up, so using a tool where everyone has a say is not only valuable to leaders but can improve employee morale, engagement, and performance.

  1. Keep purpose at the core

Leaders not only need to be resilient in times of crises — and after — but they must also have the courage to take action and lead their companies in the right direction. A company without a North star — its purpose — can easily lose its way. Every decision a leader makes should be analyzed against the organization’s values.

When leaders emphasize the company’s purpose, it keeps employees feeling engaged and reinforces that their work has meaning far beyond making money. A purpose-driven company also helps retain loyal customers, even in a downturn.

A way of communicating purpose within an organization is through recognition. Continuous recognition of employees who embody the company’s purpose emphasizes the importance of their work to the company. Even though employees may be working from home, embrace social recognition and give a shoutout during your next team Zoom check-in.

  1. Empathetic communication

Empathy in the workplace strengthens connection and makes work feel more “human.” We’ve all had a personal situation that impacted our ability to work, and in 2020, I don’t think anyone was spared from disruption. Therefore, we all know that a little empathy goes a long way.

According to Businessolver’s 2021 State of Workplace Empathy Report, 68% of CEOs say they fear they will be less respected if they show empathy in the workplace, up 31 points from last year. The report also finds that 7 out of 10 CEOs say it’s hard for them to demonstrate empathy at work consistently. Despite this, the study also found that “employees considered employers’ pandemic reactions to be empathetic and want even more progress.”

While leaders didn’t necessarily think they were showing empathy, employees recognized their actions as empathetic. Now is the time to keep the momentum going and build a work culture around compassion.

Summing it up

The last year and a half was hard. And while there are still challenges ahead, there are even more opportunities to bring your workforce closer together despite being far apart. There is no better time for leaders to ask themselves what is best for their employees and clients. And there is no better time to create a positive work environment by allowing employees to have a say on what they want their work experience to look like.

A strong culture sets the foundation for everything an organization does, and it must be worked on continuously. Leaders need to be empathetic, provide flexibility, continually recognize individuals for living the company purpose, and most importantly, lead by example.