Five ways COVID has had a positive impact on workplace culture

- June 15, 2022 4 MIN READ

After the past two years of struggle through the pandemic as COVID-19 forced businesses to send their workforces home to work, interesting data is now showing that there have actually been some positive impacts on workplace culture, writes Shane Michael Hatton, leadership communications expert and author of Let’s Talk Culture.

Culture is the unseen competitive advantage that sets great organisations apart. So as the dust begins to settle from two years in a global pandemic and we step back to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on company culture, is it all bad news for leaders?

In a McCrindle study we commissioned of 1,000 Australian managers, we asked them to share how they believe COVID-19 and working from home have influenced the culture in their organisation and team. It turns out there is some good news, with nearly two-thirds of Australian managers saying the pandemic has had a massive or moderate positive impact on culture.

The positive impact of COVID on culture

graph with arrow showing sad to happy

While COVID has undoubtedly brought many unique challenges, there appears to be a silver lining. When asked to evaluate the culture of their organisation, 75 per cent of managers rated their organisation’s culture as very good or excellent despite the challenging times.

We asked managers to share what they believe are the most important ingredients for creating a healthy culture in an organisation. When looking at their top five responses it’s possible to see how the effects of the pandemic could bring about some positive outcomes for teams.

1. Collaboration and teamwork (53 per cent)

During the pandemic, geographically dispersed teams have had the opportunity to connect more frequently and check in without the additional expenses of travel and meeting in person. Tighter restrictions have also forced people to think more creatively about the informal ways in which to connect and collaborate with fellow team members.

As a result, teams are finding new and more inclusive ways to work together across teams, locations and departments to achieve goals.

2. Leaders are visible and approachable (52 per cent)

48 per cent of managers said that absent or disconnected leaders are key contributors to unhealthy culture in an organisation. The last two years highlighted the importance of leaders being present to lead.

Some organisations have gathered for the first time ever collectively to hear from their leaders, bringing those at the top down to the front lines of the business. Many senior leaders have shared more vulnerably as they join online town halls from a living room rather than a stage, all the while home-schooling children or co-working with other family members.

As leaders share more frequently and openly, they become more relatable and credible.

3. Open communication and feedback (52 per cent)

Prior to the pandemic, Microsoft Teams had roughly 32 million active daily users. This figure now exceeds 145 million. Ask anyone that has spent the last two years in online meetings and that wouldn’t be surprising to learn.

During the pandemic, leaders have managed the tension of needing to communicate rapidly changing priorities while at the same time avoiding that message from getting lost in the noise of information. This tension has caused many leaders to reflect on best practices in organisation-wide communication.

employees working from home can have health and safety issues

4. Trusting relationships (50 per cent)

As more people began working remotely during the pandemic, the visibility of team members decreased. Leaders could no longer see people at their desks working; managers were required to put an increased emphasis on new indicators of performance.

Employee visibility and output shifted to an emphasis on autonomy and outcomes-based measures. This shift requires a high degree of trust that team members will achieve their goals and results in much less micromanaging from leaders, which two-thirds of managers in our study said contributes to creating a healthy culture in remote work.

5. Clear and realistic workload expectations (49 per cent)

The global pandemic initiated a period of global re-evaluation. As employees set up offices at home during tough restrictions, the line between work and home became increasingly blurred, causing people to personally evaluate and speak up about more clear and realistic workload expectations. Organisations were forced to evaluate their strategic priorities and any theoretical discussion around mental health and wellbeing was put to the test.

As a result, businesses that thrived created greater flexibility to balance work and home life, which 67 per cent of managers said was the most important action for creating a healthy culture in remote work.

Despite the very real challenges that COVID has created, we can’t be too quick to dismiss the positive impacts of remote working and COVID on team and organisational culture. If it’s nothing more than managers trusting a little more deeply and communicating a little more clearly and regularly, then it is still progress worth taking time to recognise.

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