As some states start to open back up after weeks of sheltering in place, many organizations that can are being encouraged to maintain teleworking for public safety. Work-from-home might already be endangering your organizational culture—but you can preserve it without rushing everyone back into the office prematurely.
At its core, organizational culture is based on norms, principles, and people. It’s usually apparent when observing interactions and behaviors within a space. But, take away the people from that space, and you might slowly lose the culture.
We are creatures of habit and adopters of our environment. The small rituals and opportunities for banter within an office space influence our actions, our communication styles, our attitudes, and even our organizations themselves.
When home replaces the office, it is our self-designed domain and our own daily routines that dictate our culture and disposition.
Amidst this pandemic, there is only so much an organization can do to keep employees feeling connected to culture as we grow more accustomed to distance working. Virtual meetings may be having diminishing returns; positive social media messages are nice but likely losing their impact. However, this doesn’t mean workers are less engaged or less productive. In fact, productivity levels are reportedly strong at this time for those who are able to do their work remotely. The work is moving forward, but the influence of the firm is not.
So what can be done?
Dip into that promotional budget and market to those who matter most—your people.
A company generates value through branding by providing “informational, interactional and symbolic benefits” to an audience (Holt, “Toward a Sociology of Branding”). So go beyond the distribution of gift cards or sending virtual words of praise since such gestures are fleeting. Something concrete with your logo on it is needed.
Yes, some people might view the sending of swag as a bribe or marketing ploy (it is), and some might view it as adding to their clutter (it might), but people need tangible reminders of what they were, and are still, part of: an organization, not just a task.
Here are some tips for deciding what to send
Get personal. Think about branded self-care items or items appropriate for home-office life (slippers and flip flops with the company logo and a note saying “approved for office use,” for example).
Get familiar. Branded items for the partners or children of employees have the dual benefit of bringing a bit of cheer to the whole household.
Get physical. Branded fitness gear or water bottles promote health and well-being.
Get festive. Branded games, such as playing cards, and happy-hour wares with the company logo may go a long way right now with the rise in virtual cocktail parties—plus your company might get some external visibility during these social hours.
Get functional. Branded tech accessories such as portable chargers or power banks are always helpful to have on hand, perhaps not for traveling purposes at this time but for doing work on one’s porch or couch away from an electrical outlet.
Get real. Toilet paper rolls, sanitizer bottles, and face masks with a company logo may sound comical but these items are helpful right now. Plus, imagine the day when an employee stumbles upon that mask in their junk drawer years later—quite the memento.
This is a significant moment in time that will be remembered, and you want your organization to be remembered in a positive light during and after it.
Company culture is to a large extent based on its artifacts, made up of memorable events and the objects associated with them. Given that people tend to remember negative experiences more than good ones, it is important to remind employees of the positive elements of company culture.
In the end, these small gestures can go a long way toward retaining organizational culture while your organization does the safe thing of staying the course and working from home.
Kimberlee Josephson is an assistant professor of business administration at Lebanon Valley College (LVC) and the associate dean of the Breen Center for Graduate Success at LVC in Annville, Pennsylvania.