Could COVID-19 recalibrate Corporate Culture?

Having been in the middle of the 2004 tsunami, I remember experiencing two worlds at the same time. The one was full of devastation and loss of human life. It was tragic. The other was the overwhelming sense of togetherness between all of us navigating the tragedy and the meaningful moments I shared with those around me. We all recalibrated and made choices that night. For me, the tsunami taught me that life can change course in as little as 12 seconds, which was the catalyst I needed to return home and put my hand to the work I am doing today.

Speaking at Design Indaba last week in Cape Town, Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort shared a provocative outlook on Covid-19 stating that the virus will be an ‘amazing grace for our planet‘, which will be both ‘terrible and wonderful’ at the same time. I resonated with what Li was saying. She commented that this time may ‘make us more consciences human beings who find new values, slow down the pace at which we produce and consume, as well as usher in a new era of labour reforms’.

I would like to encourage all organisations to not only be present in dealing with COVID-19 now, but also to be aware of how this time could shape their culture into the future, given its impact on the following fundamentals:

1) Equality

Sure, there are different risk categories but at the end of the day any one of us is able to contract COVID-19. Whilst hierarchy will remain within the four walls of many of our organisations, the sense of equality will be felt during this time. The quality of our culture is determined by the quality of our relationships. The president stated that together we can conquer. Could COVID-19 strengthen our relationships and foster more unity, bringing us back to seeing each other as fellow human beings no mater our race, background, age, gender, social standing or positional title?

2) Consideration for each other’s wellbeing

The country is gearing up to look after each other. Our wellbeing is being prioritised over the economy, the need for our children to be educated or even our faith and sports gatherings. It feels as if we are righting the ship here. For too long the focus on the bottom line has been prioritised over the focus on the wellbeing of all employees. May this time bring these two focus areas back into balance, both now and into the future.

3) Communication

Many of us waited patiently for our president to communicate with us where we are at, and what the plan will be going forward. We were spoken to as fellow citizens and brought into the picture around something we are all concerned about. This is exactly what our employees want from leadership within all organisations. We don’t need to wait for crisis to be vulnerable and open with our people. When leaders communicate the status quo, outline a plan, or encourage their people, it leaves the ‘citizens’ of our organisations feeling safe and valued. Furthermore, when it is done in the spirit of what the president termed ‘Thuma Mina (send me…)’ then people will respond with intention and contribute their skills toward collective goals.

4) Collective Perspective

In line with the above point, there has been so much information out there for people to grab onto and digest, some of which instils calm and some of which fuels fear. Perspective is everything in working together and dealing with challenging circumstances. Right now, we are encouraging each other to consider carefully what we pay attention to, especially because whatever we focus on expands. How can we sustain mindful consideration of what we pay attention to as a collective as work, maturing away from jumping to conclusions and sharing information which we haven’t weighed and tested, as we pay attention to our collective perspective?

5) Trust

The reality is, right now, we have to trust each other. We, as citizens, will need to trust that our government is handling this situation. Employees will need to trust their leaders. Leaders will need to trust their employees as more people work from home, fulfilling their jobs whilst looking after themselves and their families. Coworkers will need to trust each other across mobile phones and screens. We will, over this time, build trust. Let’s sustain that and make it foundational to the way in which we do business once we are in the clear.

6) Meetings

During this time, there will be less meetings, especially as we are asked to limit human contact. I believe all organisations will find this refreshing and realise that we don’t need all the meetings that we seem to fill our calendars with on a daily basis. We will decide which meetings are truly of value and cancel those which are irrelevant or can be tackled in another way. In a world where corporates have entered into an unsustainable meeting culture, this may be the opportunity we have been waiting for to create space for quality work.

7) Living our Values

During any crisis, we reconnect with our personal values and we make behaviour change based on that consideration. This journey we are about to walk presents an opportunity for all individuals and teams to reconsider their values and to make sincere changes to the way in which they behave on a daily basis. This is a real opportunity for each of us to consider what’s important to us and, most importantly, how we live and work in a way which considers our impact on the people around us.

So will this time yield sustainable change?

The reality is old habits die hard. Following the tsunami, I witnessed people returning to old habits and behaviours as soon as things had calmed down. Whilst the above are points to truly consider and adjust sustainably, we run the very real of risk of getting out the other side of COVID-19 and carrying on like we used to before it arrived in our shores.

Let’s not let this time pass us by without some serious consideration of what it means for us and how it could, if we let it, shape our future for the better.

Let’s not only look after each other now but figure out how to look after each other and our organisations sustainably into the future.

Let’s get through this and all the while, recalibrate our culture, so what when the time comes we do the good business that we need to do so as to recover whatever we may have lost during this tough economic period.

Written by Travis Gale

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