Heroism or fear in the face of crisis? Building corporate cultures together

Think you know everything about your company culture, values, objective, climate and relationships? If you haven’t already done so during the pandemic, maybe now is the time to elaborate on them. 

From now on, every action will probably have an impact on both the present and future of the company. When the emergency has subsided, people will remember how the company was able (or unable) to manage their organisational, cultural, social and health plans. Think back to the 11th September 2001. Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing when you heard the news about the terrorist attack? We’ll bet you remember every single detail.

That’s how our mind works: trauma sets the whole context around itself too. We found ourselves facing this unexpected pandemic, and just like every crisis, it bought us through a transition that makes it difficult to return to the world we lived in before. Everything that made us feel safe has changed. Think relationships with colleagues, staff management and managerial behaviours. The pandemic meant we had to quickly change our habits. Companies that have a well defined company culture have been able to cushion the blow more effectively.

But the crisis forces us to come out of our comfort zones too. Change is often associated to mourning, as it requires us to use the same resources to work through the situation. If it effects everyone, it requires even more effort to get through it. The first step is communication: knowing that other people are experiencing the same difficulties can help us to feel less alone. We now know that our colleagues’ health is a top priority. Self-care and caring for others becomes a key element in company culture. It doesn’t just effect our physical health, but our emotional health too. Anxiety, stress, sleep disorders and cognitive difficulties have become some of the hardest hitting symptoms through Covid-19.

Are we ready to come out of lockdown?

At the beginning of the lockdown, lots of companies were worried about the physical and economic wellbeing of their employees. They often concentrated their efforts on the “here and now”: safety measures, sanitising the environments, activating remote working and guaranteeing economic measures. Everything happened so quickly and unexpectedly that it would have been difficult for anybody to go against those decisions. As we travelled further into lockdown, we saw an increase in needs and requests. We saw how the emergency could go on indefinitely. Some sectors continued to grow, while others were shaken to the core. Schools and nurseries would stay closed, that it was still possible to work from home. Forgoing our commutes created more time for ourselves and for our families, as well as having a positive effect on the environment.

We started to see fewer victims, and so we could also see the positives in the situation. Human beings have an innate ability to adapt to their circumstances: at the end of the day we are animals, and it fits into the context of our biological evolution.

We are more aware of the situation, and many people can feel like “survivors”. Leadership was one of the first elements that needed to changed. In children’s eyes, mothers and fathers became “superheroes”. The same thing happened within companies when looking towards the leaders. But when faced with the pandemic, we don’t necessarily feel like heroes. Sometimes, it leads to recklessness. The middle ground is courage, balancing awareness of risks and tools to safely overcome the situation. So, at the moment, good leaders are taking on a parental-type role. They protect their people and create an open and reassuring environment, highlighting how those transferable skills trained at home can also be useful at work.

No going back

The crisis has underlined the elements of company culture that have the biggest impact on the company. An example of this is the new advertisements that have emerged during this time: many of them put the focus on building a “new humanity”. Will we really be better people? It’s difficult to say now. Once thing is certain: we hope companies don’t turn back from their virtuous behaviour during this time. From remote working to digitalisation, from supporting families to making workplaces safe, from communication to sharing strategies, companies have made huge strides ahead. It’s incredibly difficult to double back from this new normal.

Now we’ve analysed these situations, it’s time for the next phase. How can we make sure that we learn from it? No revolution can gain momentum unless it’s guided and applies its learnings. We are sure that the pandemic will have highlighted unexpected talents, new transferable skills and resources that had not been previously considered in the workplace. But as we come out of lockdown, there’s no space for improvisation: it’s time to get organised.

Some companies have felt heroic: think about those who have diverted their production to create face masks, ventilators, medicines and PPE. On the other hand, there are people who have lost their motivation completely: tour operators, service managers, those who have to chase state benefits and can only see a high mountain ahead that they still have to climb. Opposite ends of the spectrum that could both explode at any time, for different reasons. For employees, it’s time to take another look at objectives, engagement, retention and organisational procedures. How?

The data that emerged from our survey across 1,500 workers showed that 69% of people expect their company to make space for people’s thoughts and feelings, in order to facilitate the return to work. 62% of people feel worried about the idea of “returning to normal”, because the future still seems so uncertain. 68% of people feel that good managers need to be good listeners.

How a program can refresh company culture

The digital program Lifeed Transitions supports companies as they begin to come out of the lockdown phase. The training modules allow participants to work through the crisis and identify the life skills that the experience has revealed. Once they become more aware of their resources, their personal diary section allows them to document the training process before moving onto a corporate room where they can share ideas, thoughts and feelings with their colleagues. It’s here that the foundations are laid for a new vision and a refreshed company culture. For example, by sharing that they are fearful of the future, colleagues take the first step in overcoming that fear. If negative emotions are not worked through, they can be more contagious than the virus itself.

Lifeed Transitions allows them to face up to the change: it allows the entire corporate population to become more aware of new key skills that they have developed throughout the crisis and start to build a refreshed company culture together. Each colleague will find themselves at the centre of the process, becoming a motor for change. The training journey is based on Life Based Learning: throughout the transitions people bring unexpected skills and energies to the table, and companies have the opportunity to improve their processes and innovate.

It also reduces stress levels: people can talk about, share and focus on their fears, uncertainties and dreams, finding new reference points inside themselves. Each module ends with an invitation to contribute to the “collective narrative” together with other people within the company, creating a space for people to enrich each other, generate content for the company, as well as sharing their needs, ideas and thoughts. It means that participants become “authors” of change, bringing value back to their company. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that “nobody can save themselves”.