EVERY ORGANIZATION has a corporate culture. And it is not always an intended set of values driven by a mission statement and a sense of purpose, like customer primacy, honesty, respect for subordinates and peers, and teamwork. Even when these values are enshrined in posters around the office or inculcated in off-site sessions (not possible at this time) where games and songs (“Wind Beneath My Wings”) with lots of hugging (again, a no-no), the expected corporate culture can be informally enshrined by actual practice.
What is the impact of the lockdown, or semi-lockdown, environment on the corporate culture? Has the “new normal” characterized by facial cover (Do you know how your new doctor really looks?), work from home, curfews, and the social stigma of a positive testing, affected how we now work and relate to our co-workers?
Here are some behavioral and cultural changes that now define the work environment.
The climate of uncertainty is not limited to the lockdown status that can shift in three days and made to have a short-term effectivity like two weeks — wait for the next midnight announcement. The climate of uncertainty extends to customer demand, closure of businesses, and an idle labor force during a scale-back. This set of unpredictable developments makes a planning culture unrealistic. Organizations and individuals are on a survival mode with a wait-and-see mindset. Everyone is waiting for the vaccine.
The “office culture” of physical presence and the ability to get instant feedback on an idea or a request has been limited. The default mode is working from home. This is a project-based culture ideal for preparing pitches for new business, setting up a webinar, or conducting a prescribed meeting of the board. The team-building, brainstorming, and ties to the organization are frayed. Informal grapevine updates at the office pantry disappear. Now, everything becomes task-based with roles and inputs clearly defined. All activities feel like work with lessened camaraderie — please put yourself on mute.
The home-office boundary has disappeared. Working hours are not dictated by the usual 9 a.m.-5 p.m. template. Sure, it is possible to take a short nap at home during the designated lunch hour. But what about rush requests from clients? (Hope I didn’t wake you.) The internet corporate culture of being “always on” has replaced the appointment culture of regular office hours.
Client intimacy (of the appropriate kind) has also been replaced by a more business-based relationship anchored on deliverables and commitments (Have you finished the TV commercial yet?). The more socially oriented atmosphere with no-agenda lunches that makes the client servicing more collegial and pleasant is no longer available.
There are businesses that require on-site presence like bank branches, restaurants with dine-in or pick-ups, and barbershops. Even these are reduced to a skeletal force, sometimes with rotating closure of outlets. This uncertainty of regular employment can ironically be an incentive to improve customer-facing service with the fear factor. But there is still the overhang of a discontinuity of the business that has falling revenues from the restrictions on distancing and less customers per square meter of space.
There is a rise in demand for practicing psychiatrists to address anxiety, depression, and stress in the workplace. It is not just about fear of losing a job. There is the possibility in spite of precautions taken and strict adherence to health protocols that one can test positive in some random check in the community. Even those who need medical help with some unrelated illness, like a pregnancy or a fracture from slipping in the bathroom, are fearful of going to the hospital to be attended to, if there are even available slots.
Corporate culture defines the work environment. Good cultures attract and retain high-performing talents. The survey of good companies to work for is determined by existing employees as well as those aspiring to join them. This ranking is determined by a combination of good compensation and benefits programs as well as a nurturing corporate culture.
Still, in these times of high unemployment, closing businesses, and economic recession, the corporate culture of survival has become dominant…. maybe even after a working vaccine is administered to the first volunteer.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda