Woman on video call with colleagues
Published April 10, 2020

Maintaining and Rebuilding Company Culture During and Beyond COVID-19

Many leaders are trying to adapt to running teams and their businesses remotely. How can you maintain, or create a remote culture while everyone is online instead of in-person? And how do we rebuild culture when remote workers return to the office?

Company leaders can start by taking stock of their existing values and using them to guide how they move forward during this time of crisis. Bain & Company points out that COVID-19 has created a moment of truth for corporate culture. Focusing on your company’s values – and modeling them as leaders – will help you make the right choices in a time when there is very little guidance available.

First, though, we need to acknowledge that people may not be okay. The longer the physical isolation goes on, the greater toll it is taking. It may seem we should have settled in to the “new norm” and have figured out how to make it work by now, but many are struggling more than ever – with social isolation, parenting, schooling, and working at home – that is creating anxiety, stress and guilt over feeling unproductive or failure as parents, partners or caregivers.

So while we can offer ideas to create a “remote” company culture that mimics the culture we had in the office, remember that people may be feeling more burnt out and anxious than ever and the actions we take now should reflect the core values that have guided our organizations daily.

Maintaining a Remote Company Culture

1. Virtual Happy Hours and Coffee Breaks. Companies have quickly integrated technologies like Zoom and Slack to keep teams connected for work, but you also use them to recreate “water cooler talk” opportunities for your employees.

2. Slack Channels and Check-Ins. Create a “just for fun” or “random” spot for people to share anything they want that is non-work related. Photos of their home work space, families, pets, etc…, or just funny memes or clips. Channel ideas could be:

  • Question of the day. For example, our question for today was, “What is your stage name?” (The name of your first pet + the street you grew up on.)
  • Fitness challenge or tracker
  • Home school tips: Lunch ideas, links to resources to keep kids busy with activities or learning
  • Highs and lows of the day

3. Employee Development. Encourage your team to look for certifications, online courses, or cross-training opportunities that will give them more knowledge or opportunities to advance their career.

4. Old Fashioned Mail. Many people are feeling technology “overload” now more than ever, so go back to basics. Celebrate milestones (birthdays, anniversaries, births and graduations), or just remind people they are being thought of with handwritten notes from the team. They stand out even more now as people are home opening junk mail and Amazon boxes.

5. Newsletters. Keep your team connected with a company newsletter.  In addition to the milestones mentioned above in snail mail, consider highlighting employees that received new certifications, or learned new skills, or new pets. On the business front, update them on any policy changes, introduction of new employees, recognition of those who went above and beyond to help others (on the team or customers).

6. Peer to Peer Recognition. Give your team the opportunity to highlight others’ contributions. Celebrate those in the newsletter, videos chats, or publicly on your website and communications to clients.

7. Virtual Round Tables. Host employee discussions that give people a chance to converse and stay engaged. Topics could include:

  • What do they like about the new way of working?
  • Are there ideas that could be continued when we are on the other side of this crisis?
  • What ways have they changed their workday or approach that they want to share with others?

8. Executive Team Virtual Lunch. Leaders could break out the employees and have small groups “eat” together. This is an opportunity for them to get more time with each leader and get to know others on the team more intimately. It’s also a chance for leadership to see how people are really holding up, and allow them to ask questions directly.

9. Share Data. It is more important now than ever to be transparent. People are more emotional and scared now. The more you can share, the more comfortable your team will be that you are providing details they need to know, and that you aren’t hiding things from them.

10. Mental Health Check-Ins. HRDive recommends that, in addition to creating social opportunities during this time of remote working, leaders also prioritize mental health check-ins to acknowledge the struggles team members may be having, and provide a healthy outlet for conversations about the challenges of living and working under “stay-at-home” orders. Most of us aren’t therapists, so this may mean reminding employees of resources available to them, or if possible,  adding employee well-being benefits.

Planning for the Return to Work

When we return to “normal” and come back together, things will be different. You might not have the entire workforce coming back, or you could have new team members that are coming in for the first time.

For leaders, it’s critical to establish trust and acknowledge emotions. We may all be looking forward to the day when we can return to a “regular” routine and office, but there’s also likely to be some strong emotions around it as well. There may be employees who were seriously ill or died from COVID-19 or had a family member or friend who did.

You may also have been forced to let employees go during the crisis. Returning employees may feel grief and/or guilt, and it’s important to recognize this and do everything you can to demonstrate how much you value those returning and trust them to take on expanded roles. Fast Company recommends having a plan in place for communicating the impact of the changes, helping employees develop resiliency and holding activities to boost morale.

1. Highlight changes. Don’t pretend nothing’s changed. Be honest and transparent about the state of the business, what you learned about what worked and what didn’t, and how you plan to learn from it.

2. Consider work from home opportunities. Now that you are set up for people to work from home, could people choose how much time is spent working in the office versus at home? If you were able to measure productivity during the crisis, it may make sense to offer more flexibility for the team.

3. Create opportunities for enthusiasm and excitement for moving forward. This could mean offering additional opportunities for professional development or cross-training, or simply planning some group activities to re-engage the team, for example, a welcome back party.

4. Do a post-crisis assessment. An employee survey provides a formal opportunity for the staff to share feedback on what went well and where they struggled. Give employees the option to respond anonymously so they can be completely honest. If they feel comfortable sharing their name, reach to thank them individually and address any concerns, if you can.

Related Content: eBook

The CEO’s Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Positive Culture in Franchising

Despite it’s critical importance, culture is frequently overlooked by leadership. This eBook provides practical advice for franchise leadership teams for creating and  maintaining a culture that leads to greater productivity and profitability.


About the Author: Michelle Rowan

Michelle is the president of FBR, the former Chair of the International Franchise Association’s Women’s Franchise Committee. and a Certified Franchise Executive. She is the recipient of the 2022 Crystal Compass Award, has facilitated CEO Performance Groups and Executive Networking Groups and is also a mentor of UNH college students. When she is not at work she is usually reading, playing outside, or hanging out with her husband and daughter.
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