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Going beyond crisis comms: How to leverage company culture during Corona

13 March 2020

Story by
Sarah Rice


It’s during a time of crisis that what we value as an organisation takes on meaning beyond the stickers on the wall or the pages of a handbook. It’s when our backs are to the wall that leaders, managers and colleagues will find out how much they are willing to stand behind their company culture and live their values.

Fear over the Corona Virus has seen people returning to protectionist instincts like avoiding interaction with strangers and stockpiling food and medicine. This speaks to a culture of individualism. Of me vs we. It’s the antithesis of a functioning society and equally of a functioning company culture which is usually built on the principle of working together for a common goal.

So as companies grapple with the logistical challenges of dealing with the virus and its impact on business-as-usual in the workplace, it’s essential to make sure that panic does not give way to abandoning your values. Now is the time to use what is core about your culture to frame how you decide to respond as a business and how you choose to lead your company through the challenges.

Remember, while crisis communications are key, you also need to think about the cultural impact of the precautions being recommended and how you can ensure you leverage and preserve what makes your workplace unique, even against the odds. If your business is going to be hit hard by the financial impact of the virus, then you’ll need a strong culture even more to pull together and step up to tackle the hard work that lies ahead.

Is your culture built on collaboration and teamwork?

Then why not lean into that to crowd-source solutions and find new ways to work together around the restrictions? Run virtual workshops with your teams, to empower them to collaborate to address the challenges and find solutions together. Whilst clear leadership is important, giving your teams a chance to take action themselves in a time where they could feel things are outside of their control sends a powerful message – our team can overcome anything together.

Fear is the enemy of inclusion and it’s at times like these that your employees can retreat into fearing each other’s ‘otherness’. With policies like ‘social distancing’ being recommended by officials and harassment of members of the Asian community reported in the press, it’s more critical than ever that you play your role as a leader in reinforcing the fact that sensible precautions have no relationship to discrimination. It’s essential to communicate that harassment of members of your community will not be tolerated.

Oxford University, which has a large number of students of Asian origin have led the way in reinforcing their values with this announcement from the Dean.

If you value your diverse community, this is a key time to show leadership in showing zero tolerance for any behaviours that might threaten its members.

As well as taking a stand against negative behaviours, why not use it as an opportunity to foster dialogue. Encourage colleagues to think beyond how the virus impacts them individually. Instead mobilise them to show solidarity with colleagues who might have family and friends who are affected or be worried about loved ones around the world. Encourage open discussion and suggest ways that colleagues can show their support for one another.

As the designer Philip Lim points out, “Racism and Xenophobia will not protect us from a virus that does not discriminate based on race, gender or colour.”

Is inclusion in your DNA?

Inclusion can take many forms, some of which we have touched on above. But thinking about the topic more broadly, it’s easier than ever for colleagues to feel excluded and for a sense of isolation to creep in when people are forced to work from home.

You may have the technology for remote working but do you have the culture? Without the camaraderie of a shared lunchbreak, tensions can rise, communication can break down and naturally introverted colleagues could find it harder to be heard.

Brainstorm creative ways you can keep teams connected and make everyone feel included.

Now’s the time to truly put that to the test because with less opportunity to travel to sites where your workforce is and an increased need for employees to work from home, a culture without mutual trust is going to find it challenging.

Instead of being afraid of this, see it as an opportunity to show your employees that you trust them implicitly to get the job done. Why not use the situation as a way to test whether you could rethink your flexible working policies when business as usual returns? If it works in a crisis, why couldn’t it work day-to-day?

Finally, think about your policies and whether, in a challenging time, they reflect what you value as a company.

How will you handle absences or self-isolation? Will you pay sick pay from day one versus forcing workers to choose between a selfless act of responsible self-isolation or being able to afford to feed their family?

True leaders take action to protect their employees as well as their business interests. With some creative thinking the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Gregg’s led the way with its quick reaction to ensure that employees would not be fearful of needing to self-isolate.

On a final note, it’s worth remembering that showing true leadership and treating your staff and colleagues with consideration and compassion during the hard times will breed loyalty that no communications can buy.

Rhiannon Stroud is head of strategy at Synergy Creative.



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