How to Improve Company Culture During a Crisis

By Emily Roner | Updated: 20 May, 2020

A study from Great Place to Work found that companies with strong, inclusive cultures outperform those that don’t by as much as 400% during recessions. This may seem extreme; however, when you treat all of your employees well and make intentional efforts to keep them engaged, they work harder, are more committed to success, and are less likely to burnout. This translates into strong performance across the board and enables your business to thrive while others are struggling to survive.

Thus, the key to a healthy recovery is creating an environment where employees are empowered and motivated to do their best.

Here are five practical ways you can improve your company culture during these challenging times.


1) Create Certainty Wherever You Can

Even though most people have adjusted to the new normal, there is still a ton of uncertainty regarding how the world will evolve over the foreseeable future. Change creates anxiety, so, as a leader, you need to take actions to prevent their stress becomes an overwhelming distraction.

While much of the future remains unknown, here are some ways you can create certainty for your team:

  • Decide when - or if - you’re returning to the office and what steps you’re going to take to make that decision work. Committing to a path forward lets you optimize for that decision instead of making last-minute arrangements as the situation evolves.
  • Pivot or drop projects that are unlikely to be successful. There have been permanent shifts to market demand. Carefully evaluate your projects, so you only move forward with activities that are likely to succeed.
  • Share your decision criteria for cutting costs. This is one of the biggest sources of anxiety for employees during hard times since these efforts can range from budget freezes to layoffs and pay cuts.

The more certainty you create, the more resilient your team will be when they’re faced with additional challenges that are out of their control.

Learn more: How to Optimize Executive Productivity During a Crisis


2) Embrace Long-Term Work Flexibility

One of the only positive outcomes from the crisis is that businesses were forced to realize that many job functions can be completed without an eight-to-five in-office schedule.

As your business becomes able to return to the office, consider letting your employees retain much of the flexibility that they had during the stay-at-home order. Here’s why:

  1. The future remains uncertain. There’s no way to predict if COVID-19 will have another wave in your area or how local government policies will evolve. Employees with underlying conditions and/or caregiver responsibilities may face severe challenges if they’re forced to return to a regular schedule before COVID is eradicated.
  2. Employees now know that flexible work is possible. If your employees can be just as, if not more, productive with a flexible work environment, many will view being forced into the office full-time as a power move that disregards their happiness and well-being.

As long as your employees are meeting performance expectations, the benefits of adopting flexible work for foreseeable future far outweigh the cons in most cases.


3) Prioritize Learning and Experimentation

According to a study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity, one of the most effective ways to ensure a strong recovery from a downturn is to invest in upskilling your employees. Leading a successful recovery requires change across your organization, and to do that, your employees need to be continually learning.

One of the great things about upskilling during a downturn is that it doesn’t have to cost anything. When you’re facing unprecedented challenges and a need for innovation, there are an unlimited number of hands-on projects that can teach your team new skills.

Here are some examples:

  • To improve efficiencies, employees may have to learn data analysis or figure out how to manipulate your systems to perform tasks faster.
  • To better serve your customers, your customer success team may have to learn how to professionally interact on new social platforms.
  • To create a more relevant product, your team may have to develop a feature they previously thought was impossible.

Keep in mind that solving these kinds of problems with minimal guidance will be stressful for a lot of employees, so, as much as possible, keep the stakes low while they’re learning how to approach problems. This will promote success by encouraging them to experiment freely. Once they’ve identified a promising path forward, hold them to stricter goals.

Learn more: How to Motivate Employees to Engage in Continuous Learning


4) Launch Introvert-Friendly Initiatives

Often when leaders try to reinvigorate their company culture, they focus on hyper-positive, high-energy bonding activities. They believe the myth that being expressive and engaged in social activities is an indicator of commitment.

The problem with this approach is that it alienates introverts and, depending on how much you emphasize the importance of social activities, can make them feel like success at your company is based on personality and not performance. If left unchecked, this can cause your introverts to burnout because no matter how well they perform, they don’t feel valued.

To create a culture that empowers people of all personality types, you need to do two things:

1) Create opportunities for employees to have fun together but avoid treating participation like a KPI.

2) Host some introvert-friendly activities. Here are some examples:

  • Learning lunches
  • Book clubs
  • Mentoring opportunities

And other activities that focus on work-related topics. 

Keep in mind that many introverts love their jobs and are highly engaged without any other activities. Judge their engagement based on how they feel about their work instead of how expressive they are. 


5) Rally Around Inspirational Goals

Since COVID-19 started spreading, people have been overwhelmed with negative news in every area of their lives, from their work performance to the health of their loved ones. All of the negativity has caused a dramatic spike in the number of people experiencing mental health symptoms, so there’s a good chance that a portion of your employees are suffering from at least mild depression and/or anxiety.

While you can’t solve their mental health challenges, you can support your team’s emotional well-being by rallying around inspirational goals.

Staying positive doesn’t mean you should avoid the challenges your business is facing. The only way to survive a crisis like this is to tackle issues head-on; however, you can inspire your team instead of threatening them.

No matter what your team’s goals are, you can frame them to support your company’s vision to positively impact a group of people or other worthy cause. Here are a few examples:

  • Instead of telling your sales team that they need to sell 250 units a month or the company is going to face severe budget cuts, tell them that meeting their quota will allow your company to invest in exciting initiatives.
  • Instead of telling your product them that that they need to create a cutting edge feature by the end of the quarter or else face layoffs, tell them that this is their opportunity to create something that alleviates stress for people during a difficult time.
  • Instead of telling your marketing team that they need to stabilize lead flow ASAP or they’ll lose their budget, invite them to rediscover their favorite parts of your business, and find compelling ways to share those ideas with prospects.

To improve your company culture during a crisis, you need to bring out the best in your employees. By giving them policies and goals that support their well-being, you’ll help them do the challenging work required to create a successful recovery.


About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.