Some phrases are repeated so much that they begin to lose their meaning. Company culture is one of those phrases. It’s been thrown around so frequently that its importance is being forgotten. In a nutshell, company culture is the attitudes, values and behaviors of a business and its employees. It’s how an organization functions, and it can make or break a company. It is safe to say that it has changed significantly over the past year. Company culture takes a long time to be established as businesses are constantly evolving, growing and learning. However, once the culture is set, it’s up to the employees to maintain it. Culture change requires new behaviors throughout the company, but behavior doesn’t switch at the push of a button! Well, except when a global pandemic abruptly knocks on our door. When the workforce shifted to working from home, everyone was forced to quickly change their work behavior to adjust to the newfound “normal.” But how did this sudden change affect company culture?
We invited two kick-ass industry leaders, Allyson Witherspoon and Chris Gurrie, to speak during our June Lunch & Learn. Allyson is the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Nissan U.S., and Chris is the program director of the Master of Arts in Professional Communication and University of Tampa associate professor. While their career fields are different, they had to undergo similar changes in company culture.
One of the most significant changes was the way coworkers communicated with one another. While virtual happy hours were a fun way to stay connected, sipping a cocktail alone in front of the computer began to feel strange. Additionally, “the Zoom happy hours were difficult because employees weren’t able to connect in the same way as they can in person,” said Chris. And he had a point. When companies get together in an in-person setting, they can break off into groups or different atmospheres to get to know their coworkers better.
Therefore, people started to miss the little things about being in the office, or in Chris’s case, on campus. He elaborated on this by adding, “when you would run into colleagues in the hallway, it would make for a quick interaction, and you got a lot of valuable information quickly.” With the pandemic causing individuals to work virtually, calendars soon became flooded with meetings. Something as simple as turning around to ask your coworker a question, or just distracting them with a funny story while grabbing a snack were missing in day-to-day office fun. However, Chris explained how some of his meetings became easier and more beneficial on Zoom, but only when everyone was engaged with their cameras on. In some instances, these virtual meetings encouraged team members to be better prepared and complete tasks faster since they fell within a specific timeframe.
To combat the lack of “normal” socialization, leaders began touching base with their team more frequently. Even asking a simple “how are you really doing?” showed a deeper level of care and made employees feel valued. It also allowed for leadership to become involved in the day-to-day lives of their employees, something that wasn’t as frequently seen pre-pandemic. Allyson brought up how she had to be “more transparent and a lot more relatable with everyone,” which was something many company leaders had to do. It helped to show understanding and emotion towards a situation. As a result, some may know more than they would like to in their coworker’s everyday routine, like what time the UPS truck delivers weekly. This was all a part of the fun in learning the “real” side of our coworkers and that they do have normal lives (who knew).
Before the pandemic, many people could separate work from personal. However, the pandemic brought us to an in-between stage where our personal lives and professional lives overlapped. Company leaders had to show more sympathy and understanding towards their employees and had to develop a “well, life happens” attitude. Coworkers became closer and trust within companies grew because of this. By seeing the authentic side of people, it showed that yes, they had a million things going on, BUT also that they were able to produce amazing work despite everything. “With the power of the human spirit, you can do anything,” as Allyson eloquently put it.
In addition to the numerous shifts the pandemic caused, networking changed drastically. Instead of attending cocktail parties or other events to network, people began to rely on word of mouth and virtual communications to make connections. Professionals had to take it upon themselves to actively stay in touch with their contacts and network. In some ways, networking was made easier because people had more time to check in on LinkedIn or their social channels and build relationships this way. Along with this, networking events were all virtual, meaning professionals were able to attend more easily since travel wasn’t required.
As companies are moving back into the office, the flexibility of a hybrid work week is quite appealing. Working in-person and remotely gives employees the best of both worlds and allows them to be flexible during the workweek. With that, companies are becoming more adaptable to accommodate in-person and virtual employees.
There are some aspects in which the pandemic negatively changed company culture, like the overload of virtual events. Zoom fatigue IS REAL. Sure, there are some cute, stylish blue-light glasses out there, but staring at screens all day is still exhausting and most certainly NOT fun. From an educational perspective, there is certainly a “dark side to Zoom,” as Chris accurately stated. There is a sense of frustration that comes with not being in-person and he “didn’t necessarily appreciate hopping onto meetings or virtual sessions where everyone was doing something else. It’s very disheartening to talk to a bunch of boxes.”
Another undesirable shift has been the expectance of employees to be active and available basically 24/7. As we mentioned, there isn’t much of a work and personal life divide anymore, and not everyone understands that. It’s unrealistic to think that employees can work around the clock and in some cases, it can become unhealthy.
As we move forward, we have learned an abundant amount of valuable information from our distinguished speakers about the challenges they faced as industry leaders, and we want to thank them for sharing their perspectives with us. We learned from their words of wisdom that the shift in company culture has overall been more positive than negative. Coworkers have become closer, more trusting and now know what time your dog needs to go outside or what time your kids will come barreling through the door. Even better, working from home in sweatpants became socially acceptable! What can be better than that?
Interested in working for an agency that has a fun and educational company culture? You’re in the right place! Check out our open positions.