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As more states begin their official economic reopenings in the wake of COVID-19, many organizations feel like resuming the work itself isn’t the biggest challenge. For many of us, reengaging and rebuilding our teams of talented professionals and getting them motivated and bought-in to the new way of work is an extremely daunting task.

Many people are scared, distrustful, and depressed right now, and that is the exact opposite of the recipe for a successful team. Whether they know it or not, professionals are hungry for their employers to help them feel normal and plugged-in again. That means employee culture and engagement should be points of emphasis for every business in the coming weeks and months.

Identifying the Best Aspects of Your “Pre-COVID” Culture

It may seem like a long time ago now, but less than three months ago, you had a thriving community sharing a physical space and working towards common goals – some of your team members might even have compared it to being part of a family!

The realities of COVID-19 mean that workplace culture and team atmosphere can’t resume with perfect continuity. With that said, there is the potential to create a new, even stronger community by porting what worked about your previous approach onto new methodologies and emerging best practices in light of COVID-19.

How Do We Figure Out the Best Parts of Our Culture?

Your team members are the best source of information when it comes to which parts of your workplace culture, employee wellness initiatives, and daily perks really make a difference for them. You can get that information through employee culture surveys, which can be blasted out team-wide via email as you plan your return to the office.

If possible, you should do this work in the weeks ahead of your reopen to give your new initiatives the most possible planning time. However, if getting people back into the building is the main priority, you can use the opening weeks of the return to work to gather this data to inform your employee engagement strategy.

What About Employee Mental Health?

Workplace culture and collegiality are crucial to creating a positive work environment that drives work people can be proud about while robustly supporting people’s humanistic and mental health needs to prevent tension, frustration, and burnout.

One of your culture survey’s main goals should be determining what services you were providing that people found really valuable pre-COVID. Did they value seeing their colleagues in contexts other than work? Did they appreciate making time for serious conversations during the work week? What made them go home feeling good about themselves at the end of the day?

What Strengthened the Team?

As the old axiom goes, “teamwork makes the dream work.” While it may sound trite at first, bringing your employees together to create a true team is the difference between having a great approach to human capital management and just being a “job” where people work.

Another main concern of your employee surveys should be to identify what aspects of your pre-COVID-19 approach brought people together to create a more functional, vivacious unit. What made people feel like true colleagues and not just people who worked in the same space? How did you help team members discover, appreciate, and celebrate each other’s strengths? How did you foster an environment where people understood and were not judgmental about their colleagues’ areas of need or weakness?

What Gave People a Sense of Shared Purpose?

If you’ve got people feeling positive about themselves and their work and functioning as part of a thriving team, there’s only one real component left to a great culture: shared goals and purpose.

In order to get your employees reintegrated into the work and making up for lost time, you need to figure out what messages, incentives, and motivational tactics really worked for them. What about your organization or leadership did they find inspirational? What about the nature of your work makes team members feel good about what they’re doing? What approaches to shared success and shared failure spoke to them?

Leveraging Technology to Modify & Modernize

Once you’ve drawn out the aspects of your workplace and employee culture that really worked and inspired excellence, you’ll likely have a long list of activities and approaches that feel like a real challenge to recreate in the context of social distancing.

At first, this can feel discouraging, but luckily, the last few months have seen an explosion of remote communication and interaction platforms that enable us to continue positive community interactions without the risk of viral transmission.

Migrating Physical Interactions Online

Video conferencing and project management platforms have picked up much of the slack during our time away from the office, and they also offer opportunities for employee culture reengagement.

Think of ways you can allow people to “take a walk” to visit friends in other departments for a quick chat like they used to. Provide people with document sharing and collaboration tools that make it just as easy to work together as if you were sitting at the same table. Consider meeting in a text-based chatroom where people have time to think about their responses and process other people’s ideas at their own pace.

All of these are different ways we can use emerging work tools as culture tools as well!

Embracing an Opportunity to Grow & Redefine the Work

It’s important to understand that there will not be a cut and dry way to completely recreate our previous approach to office life and employee culture post-COVID-19. We will need to stay open-minded and identify employee needs in order to find solutions and approaches that support them.

With that in mind, this is an opportunity to grow and redefine what it even means to be a business, a team, and a professional. The new work will be finding ways to continue and extend intellectual and communal closeness without the benefit of physical proximity.

If we stay open minded, remain grounded in what we know works and what employees need, and keep our ears to the ground for the best emerging tools and solutions, we’ll be able to reopen the business space in a powerful way that makes all of us better.

How to Learn More

If you’re an HR professional or business leader looking to guide a successful reopening as COVID-19 continues, be sure to download Launchways’ Complete Return to Work Toolkit. The toolkit provides a variety of checklists and other resources that help you consider reopening from every conceivable angle, including:

  • Recalling furloughed or laid off employees
  • Modifying your physical workspace
  • Best practices for employee safety
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • New policies for meeting, communication, shared space, etc.
  • Bringing people together while distancing
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