Since March 2020 and the pandemic, life as we knew it was put on pause. We suddenly and unexpectedly packed up our desks and started working at home, where we met new colleagues through a screen and were quickly fatigued by virtual meetings.
Virtual happy hours and trivia aside, it's been a challenge to maintain workplace culture during these times. As we transition back to a new "normal," business leaders must consider how the reimagined workplace will look for employees, including those who haven't met.
For many companies, this strategy includes a hybrid model of working both remotely and in the office. Looking for a fresh executive perspective, I connected with Michael Simpson, chairman and CEO of workforce journey company Pairin, to get his outlook on creating a culture that reunifies everyone after the past year-plus of remote work.
1. Create company values.
The guiding principles and beliefs for every business, company values establish common goals for employees and are the bedrock for company culture. While many leaders create values based on their personal vision, Simpson believes employees should create them.
"Having employees lead the process of formulating the company values ensures they feel heard, appreciated, and considered. Without buy-in from the entire staff, company values are just words on a page," Simpson offers.
2. Reintroduce the office.
Some employees want to return to the office and some don't. However, the pandemic has taught us that we can still collaborate, be productive, and achieve common goals even if we're not in the same physical space. Deciding when and how employees should return to the office is a complex issue with multiple perspectives and considerations. For this decision, Simpson recommends employee surveys to inform the strategy.
"We sent out a survey where we asked our employees many things to help us understand their needs and desires, how that influenced their preferred working style, and when they'd like to return to the office," says Simpson.
As a result, Pairin implemented a hybrid work structure that allows for fully remote team members as well as hybrid employees to come into the office two to three days per week, or "whatever helps them be most productive, most supported, and most connected," says Simpson.
3. Team bonding.
Once everyone is back in the office, what happens next? At Pairin, and in most organizations at this phase of transition, it's important to remember that team members haven't seen one another in more than a year or may have never met. In this situation, it's important to prioritize rebuilding team morale through various exercises.
When Pairin returned to the office, the company held a three-day onsite event to reintroduce the entire team to the office and one another, celebrate recent company and personal wins, and, of course, reestablish the company values.
"Fifteen months of separation and a pause on work relationships didn't pause anyone's life. Our team has grieved cancer diagnoses, illness, deaths of five family members, and loneliness. They've also celebrated several engagements, purchasing first homes, and many other exciting life milestones, but they did it without the celebration of community. Before we move forward, we need to recognize and embrace what has changed in order to create a new reality as a company and a team," says Simpson.
4. Personal development.
No matter whether your employees are in the office or working remotely, Simpson urges personal and professional development to remain a top priority. Growth goals outside of the office should also be a priority, and that's why all Pairin managers are trained as coaches and all employees are offered free professional coaching services through the company to help achieve their personal and professional goals. This initiative makes employees feel valued and supported, and shows the company cares about the whole employee, not just a part.
"Our job is to help every team member become the best version of themselves and to help them prepare for their next job, whether at Pairin or elsewhere, but make leaving the hardest thing they've ever done. Everyone will eventually leave. I want every employee, and their families, to appreciate their time here," says Simpson.
In conclusion, recognize that your company is unique and that your people are also unique. An open and honest dialogue is essential to authentically reconnect with one another and refresh your workplace culture. Don't just reestablish the same approaches you used before--take the time to reset and reestablish your "why," "what," and "for whom." Digging deeply into the values that define "how" people and the company act, while also allowing the team to redefine "where" and "when" that work is done, is vital to reestablishing a strong company culture.