As remote and flexible working becomes the "new normal" and teams cautiously navigate social distancing restrictions, how is company culture changing for the better and what trends can we expect to see emerging in a post-COVID world?

The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought with it a fundamental shift in how work happens. In April this year, the UK's Office for National Statistics found that 49.2% of adults in employment were working from home due to government guidelines, almost half of the UK's employed population.   

Trading corridor catch-ups and face-to-face meetings for Zoom calls and Slack messages, business management teams have had to adapt their company culture, shifting attention towards maintaining a connected, happy and motivated workforce at a distance. All the while, reflecting on and refining their core purpose and values to steer them through uncertain territory.

We have witnessed an increased necessity for agile business models that can quickly pivot to meet the needs of employees and customers in order to deliver a 'business as usual' service. In addition, with significant new pressures threatening survival, more flexible, team-centric and empathetic businesses are emerging, driven by a heightened sense of social responsibility.

But how is company culture likely to change forever?

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More women in the workforce

COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for greater gender equality within the workforce. Working mothers who typically devote more time to caregiving responsibilities than their spouses have long negotiated flexible work arrangements at the risk of looking less devoted to their career in the eyes of their peers. That might be about to change.

"Working flexibly or remotely often carries with it the stigma that somehow you are less committed, ambitious, or serious about your career," says Michelle King, gender equality expert and author of The Fix. "COVID-19 has not only normalised working from home, but it has in some ways removed the stigma." 

This also goes for other under-represented groups in the workforce, such as people with learning or physical disabilities. A greater flexibility as to how, where and when individuals work will open up doors for more diverse teams.

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Many companies will have reflected on and refined their purpose and values

A company's culture is guided by purpose and values and these can be brought into sharp focus and put to the test during a crisis. CEOs will have had to question what their company stands for when making difficult decisions in the face of unprecedented challenges. Values such as accountability, commitment to customers, collaboration, agility, integrity, people-centricity and innovation have been more important than ever and those that have adapted their company culture to focus on these will have seen the benefits.   

If you're running a business, try not to let the pandemic make you lose sight of your customer focus. Question yourself regularly. Am I reaching out to sell to my customer or am I genuinely trying to help them?

Read more about how your company can pinpoint its purpose in Finding Your Why.

Stronger, more transformational leadership

COVID-19 has made it clear that we need a different style of leadership. "Now more than ever we need leaders who can be empathetic, democratic, and collaborative," says Michelle.

"We can no longer reward leaders for just ‘getting the job done’, rather we need to focus on how leaders are doing this by creating an environment where people feel valued and supported," she says. "This more transformational rather than transactional style of leadership is not only needed right now, but will be even more necessary in the future as technological advances." 

Find out how to strengthen your leadership skills here.

Flexible remote working culture

Remote working practices that are more accommodating to employees are likely to be favoured, and many businesses will see a shift towards a balance between remote and office working. During the crisis, some staff will have experienced increased levels of productivity and teams that have adapted well to working from home may incorporate this into plans going forward.

With over five million people working remotely in the last two months, teams have been encouraged to adopt communication and workflow management tools that allow people to work from anywhere, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack and Trello, and integrating these into business long-term will facilitate a more flexible working dynamic.

Many companies are beginning to question the necessity of the eight-hour workday and we are likely to witness a shift away from the harmful 24/7 work culture. Rather than long workdays, there will be more of a focus on productive workdays, where the quality of work is more valued than the quantity. This will give people the freedom to work and relax at the times that suit them best.

We could see more and better communication among teams

Technology is enabling businesses to continue to function and communicate effectively and maintain positive morale through video conference calls, virtual coffee catch ups and screen-to-screen team socials. Although some fear that impromptu casual conversations that naturally spark in social workplaces have been replaced with more task-driven exchanges, businesses that have been able to adapt well to using these technologies have had to foster well-rounded team communication strategies.

For instance, at Google, team leads have integrated virtual morning check-ins into their daily schedule to help set priorities for the day, monitor their team's wellbeing, and share progress updates so the team can begin the day feeling motivated and part of a bigger picture. The benefits of interactions like these are likely to inform future team communication. 

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More of a family feel

Working from home can blur the boundary between family and work life, bringing work and team dynamics into the home. As colleagues and clients become more relatable, the divide between personal and professional softens. Some businesses will have witnessed heightened feelings of empathy and comradery among team members as business connections form an important support network in challenging times.

Better collaboration

Fighting a common enemy in a global pandemic encourages stronger bonds to form in relationships. In turn, this brings with it new levels of connection between colleagues, clients and customers. The shared experience of physical isolation and feeling of adapting to the same difficult circumstances can make virtual relationships more important than ever. The idea of collaboration and working together towards a common goal while overcoming similar challenges will be key.

A focus on employee wellbeing

Leaders, managers and organisations as a whole will have to strengthen their empathy, compassion and listening skills in order to support employees on many levels, including those working remotely in situations of great stress. Managers have been checking in on their teams constantly and connecting with them in different ways, and the importance of this has been brought into focus. We are likely to witness more mental health support in the workplace and encouragement for employees to engage in regular physical activity.

For helpful advice and up-to-date resources on how to navigate your business through COVID-19 and beyond head to our Back to Business Hub.