With many companies planning to keep work-from-home policies in place to some degree for the next six to 12 months (if not indefinitely), here are four ways to maintain a healthy culture in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.

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2 professionals meeting in a conference room with Vari products

In mid-February, 46% of American businesses implemented work-from-home policies in response to COVID-19. Many of them are now weighing the pros and cons of continuing to keep these strategies in place even after businesses start to reopen and lockdown orders are lifted. Google and Facebook recently announced that their employees can work from home through the end of 2020. Twitter even declared that its employees can choose to work from home permanently. American workers certainly seem to be on board: Gallup found that almost 60% of Americans would prefer to work from home “as much as possible” even after shelter-in-place orders are lifted.

With many companies planning to keep work-from-home policies in place to some degree for the next six to 12 months (if not indefinitely), it’s critical for company leaders and decision makers to implement strategies that will best set their teams up for success and keep morale high. And, as other managers are working out hybrid arrangements to bring workers back into the office in shifts, it’s also important to focus on strategies that can adapt to part work-from-home, part in-office arrangements. Here are four ways to maintain a healthy culture in the time of COVID-19 (and beyond).

1. Keep Teams Engaged

Plan regular check-ins and calls to stay in touch with your team, gauge how they are doing, and make sure they are feeling supported. (At Vari, we do daily standups and frequent one-on-ones to keep the lines of open communication flowing.) Encourage employees to address any pain points or issues they are experiencing so you can brainstorm solutions before they become problems that eat up valuable time and chip away at team morale. In addition to creating anonymous surveys that allow employees to give feedback and voice their concerns, be sure to take an active role in offering suggestions that can help empower your teams to successfully maneuver through work-from-home and hybrid work routines. Schedule weekly virtual meetings where employees can get together and talk about how they’ve adjusted to the “new normal,” and have your human resources team put together one-sheeters on self-care and mental health during isolation.

2. Maintain Strong Communication

Switching from working in an office every day to a new setup that may combine work-from-home and hybrid solutions is no doubt a disorienting shift. To alleviate some of the associated stress, leadership should clearly communicate their goals and point of view as often as possible, whether through sending daily check-in emails to the entire company or hosting all-company Zoom meetings weekly so everyone stays informed during this uncertain time. Ensure the transition goes smoothly by keeping communication lines open and clearly outlining company or team expectations. Do you have enough communication tools (such as Slack, Zoom, or Google Hangouts) to empower employees to easily connect with teammates and managers as needed? Do you still expect employees to be online and always available during your normal hours, or are you flexible on when they work as long as the work gets done? How are you tracking projects to make sure everything is completed in a timely manner? Making sure everyone is on the same page about expectations (and maintaining strong communication at every step of the process) will go a long way in alleviating stress and concern. Think about implementing a daily 10-minute morning standup where teams can touch base on their challenges or “wins” and weekly team meetings with an agenda. Create standardized company-wide guidelines that help communicate availability to coworkers — for instance, changing one’s online status to “Lunch” when an employee is going on their break.

3. Demonstrate Team Appreciation 

With so much uncertainty in the world, it can be difficult for employees to stay focused. Let your team know you value them by having their favorite treat delivered to their homes alongside an appreciative note, or encouraging your team to anonymously write what they most admire about their colleagues so you can email the responses to everyone to boost morale. Celebrate birthdays and anniversaries virtually, and acknowledge wins through company-wide communication channels. Organize a team online “happy hour” near the end of the work day to catch up on your employees’ lives outside of work. Little gestures like this don’t take a lot of time and effort, but they go a long way in letting your employees know you recognize and value their commitment to your company.

4. Brainstorm a Safe Return Plan

If your city has given the okay for employees to return to work, talk with your leadership team to plan next steps. Do you need to reconfigure the office so that everyone is spaced out safely? Do you need to have team members come in on alternating schedules? If there isn’t enough space for everyone to maintain a safe distance from one another, which teams can work from home most efficiently, and which ones most need to be in the office? You might also want to invest in plenty of hand sanitizer to place throughout the office, have a cleaning crew come in on a more regular basis to prevent unnecessary buildup and germs, and hold meetings in a large open space so employees who are in the office can still social distance if they feel more comfortable doing so. To welcome returning employees back and reestablish company culture, consider catering lunches or having a socially distanced office event. Following these steps will help maintain a strong company culture while also safeguarding your employees in the process.

To learn more about how businesses can adapt to the “new normal” of coronavirus, please feel free to check out the following articles on our blog: