Organisational Culture in a Post-Pandemic Workplace

Who would’ve thought that a time would come in your lifetime when you had to watch re-runs of sitcoms to remind yourself of what pre-pandemic life was like?

No one wore masks on the bus or the train, never mind while driving alone in their cars. People hugged one another. They went to dances, got married, and had huge receptions. Thousands of people shopped in crowded markets, and attended concerts and plays, from schools to the Proms and the West End.


The workplace was different, too.

The roads, trains, and buses were packed with commuters. Some travelled for a couple of hours just to get to work and then spent as much or more time to get home.

Offices were busy and factories never stopped.

A typical office was either open plan or filled with cubicles. Phones rang constantly, people dropped by your desk to share coffee or to chat, and some were content to just add work to your in-tray.

Meeting rooms often contained more people than the fire brigade would’ve allowed had they known, and the water cooler was the common gathering ground where ideas were exchanged and banter traded.

Supervisors managed by walking around or hiding in their offices.

As you reminisce, that workplace seems like a long time ago.

And then it all changed.

Suddenly all those things disappeared.

People were told to work from home.

No more commuting via any means. Offices were empty and factories closed.

The only phone that rang was your mobile.

There was no sharing of coffee because there was no one to share it with.

And supervisors had to content themselves with walking around their spare bedroom, because that was where their desks were.

All those things that you once touched thoughtlessly - your desk phone, doorknobs, light switches, thermostats, fire extinguishers, tools, sinks and toilets, vending machines, and even money - were more or less off limits.

Everything had to be disinfected, and then disinfected again. The few employees that did go to work had to wear masks and sit or stand some distance apart from one another.

The organizational chart was squashed to the individual level because at home, everyone was their own boss.

These changes are the obvious things. These are the things that you see. The things that you really need to think about, however, are the ones that you don’t see because they contribute so much to what is loosely defined as organisational culture.


Organisational culture

Organisational culture consists of shared beliefs and assumptions that people learn simply by being members the groups in which they work, thought much of what it was based on at the beginning of 2020 has now disappeared.

For instance, when you want to have a “quiet word” with someone, you have to do it by phone or on Zoom, or if you are together, from a distance of at least a meter apart. That approach lacks the personal touch that’s often needed in those circumstances, but it’s likely that for the time being there’ll be no other way. You’re going to have to face the fact that even though none of those options may seem particularly genuine, especially to the recipient, it’s all you’ll be allowed to do. Not only has the Government decided that that’s the way it will be, the constant wearing of masks has exacerbated the situation by making people afraid of each other, something you notice immediately if you get “too close.”


What does all this mean for your organisation’s culture?

It means that you’re starting over. Everyone from the top of the organisation to the bottom is going to have to learn how to relate to one another in the context of these changes. And this is just the beginning. There are many things that won’t become clear for some time to come. The dust is still very much suspended in the air.



The tendency for all will be to fight the changes; to try to wrest things back to the way they were.

That’s a mistake.

Things will never be the way they were. The year 2020 will have the same significance for this generation as 1914, 1929, 1939, 1945, 1963, and 2001 did on others. And so instead of fighting the changes, you must give people the ability to cope with them. To do that, you’ll need to change your authority structures, for example, so that employees can make decisions that heretofore they weren’t allowed to make - to let them decide when, if, and how.



You’ll have to focus more on people than you ever did before. You’re going to have to learn new ways to connect with them, to help them grow, and to succeed in this new situation. If you thought that engaging them in the past was tough, then wait until you see what you’re up against now. This will be true whether they’re working from home or are part of a “skeleton” crew that’s permitted back into the workplace itself.

For instance, bonding with people will be much more difficult because it depends on getting to know them. You get to know people much more quickly when you’re together than if you’re a pen pal. And Zoom isn’t the same thing as being together, no matter what others say.

In what ways will you show people that you care about them that differs from the way you used to do it? Have you thought about that? You mustn’t overlook it because you don’t want anyone to feel that they’re unimportant, or that you’ve forgotten them.

One of the primary reasons why people leave your employ is because they don’t feel that you appreciate them. That means that they don’t care if, to you, “no news is good news.” To them, “no news” means that you haven’t noticed. The flip-side is just as devastating. If “no news” is good news, then they’ll know that there’s a problem when you do talk to them or tell them that you will. That in itself will cause unnecessary anxiety which will affect their productivity.



Whatever your management role was before, you’re now a master facilitator.

Facilitators coordinate, design, develop, and promote the activities of others. They’re not micro-managers. If micro-management has been a part of your supervisory toolkit, then no doubt you’ve noticed that it’s obsolete. It’s been obsolete for decades; it’s just that you’ve been able to carry on using it in the past because it was easy to do in the former workplace.

Now you can’t do it. It’s just not possible to look over someone’s proverbial shoulder on Zoom or Skype. If nothing else, the lack of screen space, not to mention bandwidth, has meant that your employees can’t look at you and their work simultaneously.

That’s a good thing. They’ll get far more done in less time if you let them get on with it and leave them alone.



How will you sustain, never mind increase morale? Many people draw their energy from others and without regular contact become unhappy and lose motivation. For many, work will no longer be something to look forward to because employees won’t be able to interact with their friends the way that they once did. That could depress their overall mood, and make work a drudgery, rather than a place of enjoyment.



How will you keep communication channels open? It sounds obvious, and it is, but if your custom was to wonder through the office, coffee firmly in your grip, say “Good morning” to everyone and then disappear for the day, how do you plan to replace that where there’s no one to talk to - indeed, where your office is in a spare corner of your own house?

This may sound trivial; but it’s not.

Regular communication with everyone on an individual basis is now more important than ever. When it’s impossible to see one another personally, then the only other way is to do so online.



You’ll know by now that you can’t legislate for every eventuality, and that means that employees shouldn’t be put in a situation where they have to wait for your decision. It’s one thing to stand outside the manager’s door for a few minutes so that they can ask a “quick question”; it’s quite another for them to have to track you down because you’re working from home or from some other location.

There’s only so much you can do on the phone. In any case, quite often time is too short to wait for the ideal moment to get an answer.


Personal responsibility

All employees are now leaders of themselves, whether they want to be or not. That’s because remote working has forced them to take responsibility for their time. They are accountable largely to themselves. It’s up to them when they work, and what they do. There’s no manager there to ask them why they keep staring out of the window, or petting their dog, or drinking coffee.



How will employees interact with one another? To be sure, it will be different than it was before.

Social distancing, in many cases, will mean that not everyone will be in the office at the same time. And so if one expects another to be available for a meeting, then it’s possible that that person will find that they’re at home instead. If they’re at home, then they may not be available because they’ve adjusted their hours to suit their domestic responsibilities or traded days with someone else.

The number of variations is endless. That means that employees will need the freedom to schedule these meetings without supervisory approval.



You must recognize, too, that cliques are more likely.

In the pre-pandemic workplace, people simply lowered their voices if they didn’t want those in the vicinity to hear what they were saying. Online it’s much easier. You simply limit your conversations to those you want to be with and exclude those you don’t. Platforms such as Zoom make it simple for a group to meet together without anyone else knowing that they are.



How will you prevent burnout? In any new working situation, there will be those who rise to the challenge, and who work harder than they should. How will you prevent them from doing that?

In the pre-pandemic workplace, you could simply observe that they stayed too late in the office and push them out the door.

You can’t do that now.

What steps do you intend to take to prevent that?


Dress code

What’s your strategy for your dress code? As long as employees continue to work from home, gym clothes, at least when they’re out of the view of the camera, are acceptable.

What happens when they go back to the workplace? They’ll be loath to give up the more relaxed standards. If nothing else, it’ll make them want to stay home rather than go back to the office.

And one thing that managers have missed is that employees are already thinking about how to work from home permanently. And so if you insist that they not only come back, but adopt the old uniform of the day, you may experience even more resistance.



You need to think about your furlough strategy, too. Whatever the Government’s stated desire to avoid a lockdown again, you can’t assume that it won’t happen. And so if it does, how will you decide who goes first, who’s next, and who’s last? And how will you return employees to the workplace itself if all-at-once isn’t an option?


These are just examples. You’re going to have to evaluate every task and process, every job description and role, to determine how the ability of employees to do their job has changed. And you’re going to have to rethink how you evaluate their work, too. Performance appraisals were largely ineffective before the pandemic, and there’s no reason to suppose that they’ll be any better now. You can read more about that [here].


New normal

What if this is the new normal? It’s been months since the world of work was turned upside down, and institutions still aren’t back to pre-pandemic conditions. As you can’t wait any longer for the dust to settle, what will you do in the meantime, and what will you do if it never does?

It’s a false hope; a false economy to assume that the organisational culture in the post-pandemic workplace will look the same as it did before the crisis occurred.


This is the new normal.


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