Getting Company Culture Right Post-COVID

July 19, 2021 | blog | By Mike Sullivan
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Good News. America is coming back. Nearly half the country has been fully vaccinated, states are reopening and as a result, life is returning to some semblance of normal. We’re eating out, we’re shopping in stores, we’re traveling everywhere we can and yet, there’s one part of our lives that doesn’t quite feel the same, and that’s work.

For increasingly more Americans, COVID-19 caused a seismic shift in how they feel about the work they do, where they work, and the people they work with. It’s understandable. Nearly one in 10 Americans lost their jobs during the pandemic. And while a huge number of those jobs have returned and companies are beginning to hire again, a far bigger story is starting to emerge.

Last month, on the heels of the greatest recession in U.S. history and with millions of people still unemployed, four million Americans quit their jobs – voluntarily.

It seems working from home gave people a glimpse of what life balance looks like and how it feels to say goodbye to hour-long commutes, challenging bosses, and the distractions that often make working in an office more difficult than it needs to be.

When the workplace shifted from the office to home, people who worked in less-than-ideal company cultures got a chance to see what the alternative looked like. They cherished seeing their children during the day. They enjoyed having the flexibility to do their work in blocks that weren’t thirty or sixty minutes long, and without someone constantly looking over their shoulder.

Early on, I remember articles questioning whether employees could get their work done at home – as if they lacked the discipline to do their job unsupervised. Now a year later, by all accounts, people worked longer from home during the pandemic because the lines between work and home were so blurry. Many reported being far more productive and even more said they were happier. Now, they are quitting.

What does it tell you that, while countless people are still laboring to find a job, millions of people are just quitting theirs?

Clearly, some are just tired of the type of work they’ve been doing. Of the four million people who quit their jobs in May, 740,000 came from the leisure and hospitality sector – unquestionably a group that was overworked and underappreciated during COVID. But that leaves another 3.2 million people and, for many if not most of them, I’m betting the issue is cultural.

After five, ten, or 20 years in a career, most people aren’t having trouble with the work they’re being asked to do. Their issues lie with how and where they are being asked to do it. Those are cultural issues. And instead of suffering through toxic company cultures like generations of workers before them have done, people are saying “No” to jobs that are unfulfilling, en masse.

This presents an incredible opportunity for you.

To succeed post-COVID, there’s one thing you have to get right.

In the Fall of 2019, former LOOMIS Co-Executive Creative Director Michael Tuggle and I published a book called The Voice of the Underdog: How Challenger Brands Create Distinction By Thinking Culture First. In it, we outline the seven foundational elements required to build a meaningful and lasting company culture. We believed then that for every company, and challenger brands in particular, building a transcendent company culture is crucial to doing great work, attracting and keeping top talent, and building the kind of lighthouse brand that attracts stakeholders at every level.

Today, we are no less committed to our premise. But in light of the shifting employment dynamics post-COVID, we thought it would be interesting to examine our seven foundational tenets through that lens. After 16 months at home, employees aren’t just wishing and hoping to work for brands with great company cultures. They’re demanding it.

If you’re ready to start building and fostering a great company culture, or simply want to improve the company culture you have, here are the seven elements to focus on first:

Safety.

Post-COVID, feeling safe at work is the first thing your employees will think about when it’s time to return to the office. As a company or brand leader, you may be feeling a bit braver personally about returning to the office and wanting normalcy to return. Just remember, not everyone processed the pandemic the same way. Some people got the virus and weathered it just fine. Others had friends or family die from it. Coming back, many people are struggling with varying levels of anxiety about being back in a building with lots of people, or flying around the country to sales meetings, or commuting on public transportation. Do what you can to help your people feel safe. Listen to their concerns and accommodate them wherever possible.

Purpose.

If the pandemic didn’t fundamentally change your company’s purpose, odds are COVID gave it new resonance. At LOOMIS, our purpose it to help challenger brands compete and win against the category leaders. COVID-19 only intensified that need and our commitment to it. If you haven’t already, think about how you can use the pandemic and its aftereffects to energize your purpose and give it new meaning for your team. Then ask, what new doors could that perspective open?

Vulnerability.

It’s safe to say we were all forced to come to grips with our vulnerability over the past 16 months. With so much out of our hands, even the most controlling of us had to admit they didn’t have all the answers or knew how this would end. As you reestablish normalcy with your team, don’t lose that sense of vulnerability. COVID-19 reset the table for every company and brand in the country and, as we recover, there is a great opportunity for collaboration and allowing your team to help orchestrate the way forward. For many leaders, there will be an urge to grab the reins tightly and own every important decision. Resist that. You as a leader are not scalable. Your leadership is.

Belonging.

As the country shut down and companies moved to a work-from-home model, one of the first and biggest casualties was people’s sense of company belonging. When we were all in the office, there were daily cues to tell us we belonged. A kind word here. A thoughtful gesture there. But as we shifted to online meetings, there seemed to be very little room for those cues. Zoom meetings seemed to be just as efficient as regular meetings, but when they were over, they were over. No lingering. No side conversations or chit chat. As your teams return to the office full-time, or even to a hybrid schedule like the one we’ve employed, actively look for opportunities to remind your people they belong.

Take the time to personally tell each person how valued they are. And even better, whenever possible, show them.

Creativity.

It’s an understatement to say COVID-19 caused all of us to get creative, but what a gift that turned out to be. Who would have guessed that in a matter of weeks we would find a way to cease all in-person interaction, move everyone out of the office, outfit their home offices, completely adopt online meetings, and never miss a beat? If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we can solve the biggest problems and we can rally to the greatest challenges. Hold onto that creative mindset. Now is the time to ask the “What If?” and “Why Not?” questions and to dream big for both your company and your customers.

Connection.

In conversations with various colleagues throughout COVID, I noticed we were all missing the sense of real connection we shared with our teams at the office. Until we were faced with hours of Zoom calls and two-dimensional interaction, we underestimated just how much our sense of connection was colored by the physical, sensory interactions we had at the office every day. Suddenly, there were no people poking their heads in the door for a quick chat. No lunch run with your buddies. No random afternoon collisions in the hallway. As your teams return, make the most of your physical time together in the office. As a leader, look for rituals of connection – an office drop in, a lunch, a small group meeting – and use them to strengthen your relationships and your company culture.

North Star Leadership.

The last year and a half threw a lot at both company and brand leaders. None of us had all the answers and sometimes, if felt like we didn’t have any of them. But we endured. Be proud of that and be thankful. There are tens of thousands of companies that can’t say the same thing. The world is coming back and, with it, the extraordinary opportunity to be better than we were before. To pay more attention to what’s really important. To lean into what’s most meaningful to the people who work on our behalf. To focus on the things that move us and our clients forward. It’s not often leaders get a reset, but in many ways, that’s the gift we’ve been given. Use that gift to build, or rebuild, your company culture keeping safety, purpose, vulnerability, belonging, creativity and connection in mind. Build a culture that will attract and keep the caliber of talent that can change the world. Do that, and even a global pandemic can’t stop you.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at  LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency

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