Thursday 16 April 2020 9:48 am

Coronavirus: Keeping company culture a top priority will pay off

CEO, HR firm Breathe

Small business owners across the nation are, understandably, concerned right now. Daily news reports show the economy coming to a halt, businesses shutting up shop and an ever increasing death toll. 

SMEs, arguably more than any other group, are equipped to weather this storm. Our connected economy and cloud-based services enable us to continue – in ways previous generations wouldn’t think imaginable. 

But even in these extraordinary times, small businesses must not take their focus off their company culture. Although cashflow will be the main priority to ensure you stay afloat, for customers and clients to continue to see the value in whatever service or product you provide, you need an engaged workforce to continue delivering. 

It’s hard enough building a great place to work in usual working circumstances – let alone having to sustain it now, when your entire workforce is working remotely. Merging the home and office into a single entity isn’t an easy task making this a learning curve for us all. 

So, what steps can business owners take to keep their company culture alive remotely? 

Don’t take your eye off the culture 

Let’s be honest. No business is operating ‘as usual’, but business continuity is critical, and one aspect SMEs shouldn’t neglect is their people. For your business to succeed you need a team that is engaged, supported and reassured. And, if you don’t get it right, there can be serious consequences. Our Culture Economy Report 2.0 reckons that toxic workplace culture costs the UK economy £15.7 billion every year as 1 in 5 employees quit their job due to poor workplace culture in the last year.

Staff deserve proper leadership, support and reassurance during this period. It’s times like these that bring out the best in humanity too – so it’s vital that leaders act with kindness to one another in the virtual workplace and in their communities. 

Communication is key 

Make video conferencing mandatory. Communicating via emails or instant messaging can often leave room for miscommunication – using video makes it easier to understand body language and ensures nothing gets lost in translation. 

Chatting frequently via video can also help mitigate feelings of isolation, too. Many people around the globe are social distancing on their own, meaning the social interactions at work could be the only one they get all day.

In addition, stress levels and pressure will no doubt continue to rise, making it even more important to ensure mental health is a top priority, as well as treating others with respect. Sadly, research shows just how prevalent workplace bullying and sexual harassment are in British SMEs which can destroy people’s happiness and a company’s culture. 

Indeed, recent research revealed one-third of SME decision-makers experienced or witnessed workplace bullying in the past year. And, interestingly, most employees (57%) thought the situation was handled poorly – showing clear areas of improvement.  

Being unable to physically spot if someone in your team seems upset makes the importance of regular catch ups even more important.  

Be clear on how to use technology

Be warned there’s a big chance your team is facing information overload. It can quickly get overwhelming for people trying to get to grips with managing an array of platforms like Zoom, Slack and WhatsApp – and handling the notifications and alerts they bring. 

It’s important to clearly outline to your team what to use each platform for. For example, some businesses only use WhatsApp if something is urgent and leave Slack for the informal chitchat throughout the day. The art and power of long form communication – via email – also shouldn’t be forgotten by business leaders. 

To combat presenteeism creeping in, we’re encouraging our employees to take regular breaks and time offline to complete tasks if preferable. If an employee needs a couple of hours to complete a task without their phone beeping at them every five seconds, it’s important managers are approachable enough for individuals to ask for, and get, the time they need. 

Don’t forget the socials

Socialising is a huge aspect of life in the office. We’ve used video conferencing to recreate our culture online. We’ve eaten lunch via video conference, hosted lunchtime yoga classes and after work quizzes. Initiatives like these increase team morale, productivity and keep us working well together during this unpredictable time. 

Right now, business owners are focusing on staying afloat during these turbulent times. Rightly so. But attention must also be paid to people and to culture. As the adage goes, ‘take care of your employees and they will take care of your business’. 

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.