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With “nonessential” workers in most states now under stay-at-home orders and organizations working at lightning speed to adapt to the multitude of logistical, legal, and people implications, I’d like to posit a silver lining: a pandemic-catalyzed all-telework workforce could improve your organization’s culture.

Although an entirely valid public health term, “social distancing” is a bit of a misnomer in the lay sense. We are not in reality being required to distance ourselves socially from one another. In fact, this would be inordinately difficult to achieve, as humans are at their core social beings. Instead, we are being required to engage in physical distancing. And with today’s technology at our fingertips, working from home does not mean working alone; rather, far from it. For those of us currently spending much of our workday videoconferencing with coworkers, we are essentially inviting each other into our homes—and lives—every day. In ordinary times, that might feel too close for comfort. But these are not ordinary times.

Every employee has a “work life” and a “home life.” And the line between the two that sociotechnological trends were already starting to blur, COVID-19 has largely erased. You might have experienced being on a call where your VP was cradling his infant. Or you may have witnessed a four-year-old extracting (considerable!) concessions in exchange for “giving Mommy five more minutes.” You also might have been one of those people. These are actual, crowdsourced anecdotes. By now, you’ve probably met the small children and pets of those with whom you work closely, and maybe not so closely. Do you know all of their names? If not, I’d bet you do by the time we return to some sense of normalcy—whatever that new normalcy actually looks like.

So, what does this mean for your organization’s culture? The strong possibility of an increased sense of closeness and connectedness among your workers, both positive cultural elements in all but the rarest of scenarios. In addition, research conducted in recent years suggests that authenticity in the workplace—that is, “bringing your ‘whole self’ to work”— improves not only coworker relationships, but also job satisfaction, engagement, happiness at work, and self-reported productivity.[1],[2] And for those of us teleworking, COVID-19 is compelling us to bring that “whole self,” or something very close to it, to our virtual workplace.

All of this said, an improved culture due to workforce-wide teleworking is not a foregone conclusion—you can tilt the scales at the organizational level in a few different ways. First, encourage your employees to videoconference whenever possible, and to “overcommunicate.” And actively encourage your people to pull together and not apart; the “we’re in this together” message is a powerful one. In sum, just as cohesion in military units is often strengthened by shared experiences of great adversity, so, too, can your workforce emerge from the current crisis with a greater sense of closeness and camaraderie—and, in turn, a stronger culture—than before.

Fors Marsh Group will continue to share human capital insights as shifts occur due to COVID-19. Sign up for more perspective pieces from FMG Experts here. Reach out to our team to continue the conversation and gain additional resources.

[1] van den Bosch, R., Taris, T.W. (2014). Authenticity at work: Development and validation of an individual authenticity measure at work. Journal of Happiness Studies15, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9413-3

[2] Buote, V. (May 11, 2016). Most employees feel authentic at work, but it can take a while. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/05/most-employees-feel-authentic-at-work-but-it-can-take-a-while

 

FMG Expert

anna sheveland

Anna Sheveland

Director, Organizational Behavioral Research

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