New Behaviours for a New Normal

A few weeks ago, we hosted a webinar all about employee experience. This is usually something business leaders have a lot of control over. We chose where our offices are, and what they look like. We know what tech we use and why we use it. We also bring our people together in ways that match and amplify our cultures for the better. Government lockdown has made all of the above a lot harder, but not impossible!

We posted a full write up of the webinar here, but also wanted to follow up with a deep dive into one of the most poignant questions that came from one of the attendees: What are some of the new behaviours evident in organisations now, compared to a ‘business as usual’ environment?

So, what are we seeing and learning?

Positivity overrules

There’s no doubt that many people were in a state of shock when lockdown was initially introduced. The change in routine was something that many of us really struggled with. Another struggle was the changing relationship with our homes: no longer our sanctuaries after work, we’ve become used to living, working, sleeping and relaxing in the same spaces very quickly.

It’s still very easy to be bogged down by statistics and potential catastrophes, but in general, this isn’t the case for a lot of people. People are nostalgic for their favourite parts of work — Friday trips to the pub, their favourite client meetings, a costume at the Christmas Party — to the extent that many are looking forward to going back.  

It has been great to see and hear people looking for the good and embracing good news – even if it’s only small.

That said, lots of discussions have been exploring the role of optimism and the fact that it is impossible to be optimistic all the time. Having a positive mental attitude is important, but if you want to have a big dinner, have a few glasses of wine or lay in bed much longer than you normally would, it’s also important to recognise that’s okay too!

Communication is changing

Pre-Coronavirus, we were already seeing in a shift in workplace communications. Where we were once expected to leave our personal lives at the office door, only to resume at 5pm, the work-life balance has certainly evolved, and many businesses now take a more blended approach. Bringing your whole self, your personality and your different talents are encouraged.

Asking people to bring their whole selves to work also means we have to embrace the more difficult elements of being part of a team: fatigue, challenges to our mental health and dips in confidence, to name but a few!

One of the biggest ways that behaviour is changing is how we are communicating our feelings. No longer a taboo, feeling vulnerable is now accepted as part and parcel of the times we live in. Even better, many businesses have put mechanisms in place to help their people when they are feeling this way.

We are seeing new dialogues with team members that may not have otherwise happened, people are being increasingly honest about how they are feeling and everyone, from the top down, is becoming better at simply saying ‘I don’t know’.

Boundaries are being shaken up

I heard a story recently from a Founder who had an early morning email from one of his team: I’m really sorry, I can’t make the all-hands meeting this morning at 9am. A client has booked in a call. I’m really sorry! They said alarm bells were ringing – yes, the all-hands meeting is important, but missing it is absolutely not the end of the world.

Boundaries are so hard to manage in a world where the face-to-face contact we’re used to has moved entirely to video chat. It’s so hard to read other people’s emotions on video chat. Do they understand? Am I boring them? Is this even relevant? These are all questions I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves. It’s important to remember that, for everyone, life does exist outside of the daily Zooming.

For many, taking control of our own boundaries means being there for homeschooling, exercising when suits you best, right down to speaking to clients when suits them best. Giving your people the power to make decisions for themselves will go a long way, even past the return to normality. I mentioned businesses becoming more human, and to me, this feels like the 2.0.

Empowerment is still important, but the meaning has changed

We used to talk about empowerment as the act of motivating our teams to embrace responsibility, innovate regularly and to live and breathe the values of our businesses. While these are still important things for our people to be doing, empowerment looks slightly different these days.

In a way that many are not used to, working remotely means to be in total control of your schedule, and one of the things we should certainly take with us post-Coronavirus is that many employees are empowered to make their own decisions and act autonomously, while still bearing in mind what they need to deliver by the end of the week.

It is great to know that so many people have wellbeing at the forefront of their minds: if I want to take a walk at 11am, why shouldn’t I? If I need to take a longer lunch break, that’s what I need to do right now. If I’m feeling fatigued and need to rest, I simply must.

Presenteeism is an issue long discussed and empowerment is one of the simplest ways to elevate this challenge. It’s difficult to trust, sure, but once you’ve made the first step your people are going to be receptive and appreciative.

Values are a strong constant

We often talk about providing a comprehensive set of statements, or ‘behaviours’, to give meaning to your company values. Essentially, a ‘behaviour’ is an action that backs up whether or not you’re living the values. This literally gives a black and white explanation of what our culture expects and what can be damaging.

You can very easily identify businesses who recruit against their values, and that’s amplified now. Despite not having seen our teams together for weeks, a great culture will permeate and exist regardless of location, date and time.

At the very least, having a strong set of values provide a sense of belonging and purpose, which have never been more important.  

Find out more about how we we can support your business through uncertainty and disruption. 

Jo Geraghty
Jo is a Director and Co-Founder of Culture Consultancy, specialising in cultural change and employee experience. She is a regular speaker, author and guest lecturer, and a champion of women in business. 
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