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    Coronavirus office culture: navigating COVID-era norms

    Posted by Bill Herndon

    Posted on 8th Aug 2020 in Workplace Wellness


    An interesting post on Reddit summed up the experience of many workers just starting at a new company in the last two months. The first day was the most awkward eight hours of their lifetime. They would naturally reach out to shake someone's hand they were being introduced to, only to stop themselves in mid-motion. May is typically allergy season for everyone. They made sure to take two Claritin tablets before leaving for work, knowing that a sneeze or cough would draw unwanted attention. But when this new worker finished their day, they had a weird realization. They would not recognize any of their new coworkers outside of work because they've never been any of their faces behind the masks.

    The few offices that are open throughout the country are either companies with 10 or fewer employees, or larger ones operating at 20-30% capacity. Many companies have conceded that work-from-home is not only advantageous to their bottom lines, but also keeps business moving without interruptions caused by state and local restrictions. Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security, said via the Atlantic that telecommuting should be permanent except for retail, transportation and other industries that cannot work from home. Joseph G. Allen, professor of public health at Harvard, told Kayyem that the best hazard mitigation is working from home. recently surveyed a global panel of leaders across numerous industries, including government, academics, CEOs, and nonprofits. Dee Turner, a former Chick Fil-A recruiter and HR leader, said that virtual work is here to stay and leaders must face the challenges that come with it. Companies that already had a strong culture are better equipped to adapt to these new times. Those that were in transition prior to the pandemic now have more opportunities to adapt and recalibrate their focuses. It's the companies that had little to no culture prior to COVID-19 that are most at-risk for demise.

    Workforces are unlikely to be under one roof anytime soon. The reality, regardless of personal views, is that business as usual is no longer reality. Dispersed workforces, social distancing, plexiglass barriers, masks and touchless thermometers are part of company culture in some form for the time being. But there are also several commonalities among companies that have successfully adjusted their culture to the times.

    Over-communication is key

    Every tool is now available to facilitate telecommuting. Meetings are held on Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing apps. Email, text messaging, Slack and other platforms keep workers in the loop and in synergy with one another. Social media, online shopping carts and apps like Shopify and WooCommerce handle customer relations and transactions. Anonymity from masks and isolation from telecommuting, however, must be mitigated with over-communication.

    The cliche is that there are no stupid questions. COVID company culture means that there are never too many questions, status updates, comments, etc. Team members should always feel free to send group emails, update their Asana status, or call meetings whenever they feel compelled. This ensures continuity and unity among workers.

    Emotional and community support

    It's difficult to feel like part of a team with everyone wearing masks and being dispersed. Masks eliminate individuality. Further, the camaraderie built by being in the office daily with the team no longer exists. The virtual office space must replicate this same energy.

    Create "hangouts" for workers. If your company had happy hours on Fridays, continue them virtually. Companies should consider adding "beer money" to paychecks so workers can drink together virtually via video hangouts and celebrate the week's successes. Private Human Resources meetings should be easily and readily available for anyone at anytime. The longer a problem or concern festers, the more it effects the team and company bottom line.

    Eco Office is the premier Bay Area source for all things plexiglass, partitions, and space planning to ensure social distancing in the office. We've helped hundreds of companies bring back their workforces to safe, state-compliant environments. Give us a call today at 408-437-1700 to discuss your plexiglass and space planning needs.

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