Published on in Built EnvironmentReshaping Business

Who we are as a company (our culture) must be about more than simply where we work together. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, for many businesses and organisations the physical place where we work is a redundant measure of a company’s working culture.

Companies have gone to great lengths to create workplaces that are aesthetically pleasing in order to create an environment where people want to spend time. And while we all enjoy a cool looking and comfortable place to work, it’s really the people that create and define the working culture – our emotional attachment to work. This, I believe is one of the reasons why the last number of weeks has been so difficult for employees who are typically office bound. So, what are the things you can do to try to maintain and build on a good working culture when everyone is offsite?

Flexibility and empathy 

Maintaining a positive culture is not linear. I recently heard a colleague describe this lockdown period (flippantly) as a slow trauma experience, throughout which we are experiencing a spectrum of challenging emotions. Within this, there will be times when people are feeling more and less motivated. We must find the right balance for what works for the individual. While some are balancing responsibilities to family and friends, others are lacking those day-to-day human interactions and are feeling isolated.

For many employees it’s a matter of simply missing work friends and the daily routines which make our week more enjoyable – the coffee, the chat, the lunchtime walk, the post work drink. I can attest first-hand to the high volume of virtual meetings that have taken over the working day since working from home. These new routines don’t work for everyone and we need to be flexible and empathetic. While not a solution, its hugely important that our teams feel supported and understood. I think, on balance, this will mean more on a human level to employees than many of the perks and benefits that companies can offer at this time.

Trust

There’s no doubt that when you remove the physical interactions of work, a company’s culture is put to the test. For business leaders it’s a time when company values like trust and empowering people must be reinforced in the hope that the cultural foundations already laid, stand up to the rigours of these exceptional circumstances. If the company’s values do not reflect its employees’ emotional attachment to the company, fissures will emerge. When not working side-by-side, we must live our espoused values with even more conviction.

When we trust our employees, they have better job satisfaction, are more likely to collaborate well with others, perform better and crucially experience reduced stress. I also believe that this trust has a cascading effect. When employees are empowered through trust, they take genuine ownership of their work. In a business like ours where clients are serviced, I believe this has the knock-on effect of fostering greater trust with our customers. In times of uncertainty, the importance of this cannot be understated.

Channeling the collective good

Where we can, we need to offer the ways and means that allow people to come together. I’ve long been a big advocate of CSR as a powerful tool to make a positive impact on the communities in which we are based but also as great binding force for employees. In my experience people go to incredible efforts when they feel they are contributing to a common good and a worthwhile cause. There is no shortage of charities and organisations that need our help at this time.

While we can’t do the kind of community engagement we would under normal circumstances, companies are being hugely creative in finding ways to support our charity partners, frontline workers and communities. For example, I’m hugely proud of members of our team who are delivering food to those who are vulnerable at home and manning phones for charity support services. As a company we have also been providing wellbeing webinars that focus on nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and coping with self-isolation.

Rest and relaxation

A number of recent survey results have shown that on average people are working more hours at home than they would be when in the office. When the boundaries between work and home life are blurred, the working culture needs to be at its strongest.

We need to encourage people to keep as much normality as possible in both their working hours and, crucially, in taking time off. Even those who feel that they are managing this situation well need to take days away from their home office. Time to relax and decompress has never been more important and employees need to hear from business leaders that taking down time is the right thing to do for their mental health.

While many will be holding off in the hope that travel restrictions will be eased and holidays in Ireland, or possibly even abroad will be possible, in truth, that reality is likely still many months away. Encourage your people to take their leave now when it is arguably needed most for their mental health.

Good communications

Those with an interest in PR and communications will know that the first rule of communicating in a crisis is to be proactive. It is vital to keep all members of your team updated and share honest, current information with them. Anxiety grows in the absence of information. In a time when many are losing their jobs or being put on reduced hours this has never been more important.

I think this is also a time when employees need to hear more than ever that their work and their contributions matter and are valued. If all of this sounds straight forward it likely means that you are doing well in keeping your people motivated and positive with a good organisational culture – even from a distance.

 

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Tony O'Malley

Tony O'Malley

Tony O’Malley is CEO of Fujitsu Ireland and Chairman of the Fujitsu Ireland Limited board. He is leading the delivery of Fujitsu’s innovative ICT services to the public and private sectors.

As CEO, Tony is committed to creating value for customers and putting into practice Fujitsu’s vision to create a Human Centric Intelligent Society.

He also oversees significant research programmes in Ireland in collaboration with Fujitsu Laboratories Japan, in particular addressing Data Analytics and Healthcare systems for assisted living.

Tony sits on the Dublin Chamber of Commerce Council and is a member of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics Advisory Committee.
Tony O'Malley

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