This article has been updated from the original publishing date to keep the information fresh.

One of the outcomes of the COVID-19 crisis is that companies have been able to build a strong sense of community based on the underpinnings of the company culture. It’s important that as we transition back to the office that the work you’ve done to foster a sense of community and company culture doesn’t change.

Jack Goodman, Founder of Jack Goodman Consultants, advised in a recent Q&A session that there are two things for employee communicators to keep in mind as the workforce returns to the office:

  • DON’T create an environment of haves and have-nots in terms of access to information.
  • DO sustain a sense of community among people who are no longer all working remotely under similar conditions.

Here are six ways to keep your company culture strong as your workforce shifts back to an office environment.

1. Don’t necessarily be the first out of the gate. Shadé Akady, VP of People at MeetUp, a company based in Manhattan, is waiting for other corporations based in the Big Apple to test the waters. “Let’s learn from others who have gone first", she says. By holding back, and talking to other communications pros about what is working or what is not working for them, you'll be able to avoid making the same mistakes.

2. Lean on your company culture when making decisions. From Vineyard Vines to Mayo Clinic to Mastercard, heads of employee communication report that they are making decisions based on the core values of their company. From Vineyard Vines' decision to not to furlough employees when all of retail was laying off their staff, to making decisions based on the “Mastercard Way”, having a strong company value system makes creating policy easy.


3. Get help from your Human Resources staff. Donna Tenanbaum of DGT Communications thinks that topics such as racial injustice creates a huge opportunity for HR to assist with communications. “Companies are stepping up and talking about opportunities around inclusion and diversity right now - we are expanding the agenda. [These topics] are not just window dressing. Some communications teams are often at a loss how to address these issues. HR leaders can provide the bridge and help them to open up the channels.”

4. Stay empathetic when talking about returning to the office. The decision to return to the office environment can be as simple and as personal as not being comfortable despite safety precautions, or can revolve around risk factors related to someone’s age or health issues. Employers should ask two questions: When are you coming back, and is there any reason why you can’t come back? Donna reports that most companies are taking the answers at face value and not requesting documentation. This simple act of trust will help to keep the channels of communication open.

5. Give clear direction to your Leadership team. Logistically, re-opening the offices is going to mean relying more on the managers and leaders in the offices to maintain proper communications. The challenge is going to be how to help them be self-sufficient with the communications teams too busy for operational support. A recent survey by Jack’s company cited that only 14% of communicators have been given any additional resources despite a greater workload. The solution, says Tracy Benson of OnTheSamePage, is to train your leaders to follow the internal communications protocols and cite company culture when appropriate.

Remember that you’ve pivoted quickly before:

One of the biggest surprises that has come out of the Coronavirus pandemic is companies’ ability to shred bureaucracy and make some fast changes. If your company re-opens the offices and it doesn’t work well - remember that you’ve already pivoted on a dime and made some fast, sometimes unprecedented changes to get to where you are  now. There’s no reason why it can’t happen again.

With the two tenants of company culture and inclusion driving your decisions, maintaining the strong sense of community should follow. With honest discussions of personal decision factors, considered timing, well-trained managers, and the help of human resources, your company’s re-opening should not create an environment of diversity.

"“We want the workplace to be ready when YOU are ready to come back to work”.

Kerri Warner, SVP, Employee Communications at Mastercard 


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