Maintaining Corporate Culture in a Virtual World

Culture shock. The massive changes sparked by the coronavirus pandemic might be a culture shock for employees not used to working from home, but they don’t have to shake your corporate culture. After all, corporate culture has more to do with a firm’s values than its physical office space. It may require more creativity and effort, but it’s possible to not only maintain, but strengthen, corporate culture with a virtual workforce.

Mission critical. Now is the time to rally around your firm’s mission statement. This is why your firm exists, and it can unify a disparate workforce by reminding staff of the greater purpose of their work. Use it to inspire your team as part of a renewed focus on communication. In addition to regular firmwide meetings that keep everyone abreast of the latest news, meet with direct reports at least weekly and institute virtual open office hours when employees can engage in one-on-one conversations. Set up virtual suggestions boxes through which employees can give ideas for improvement anonymously.

Ray of sunshine. Since physical separation can make it easier for employees to feel emotionally disconnected from the firm, be generous with your praise and thank yous. Encourage employees to share items that are amusing or inspire joy. Set aside time for team members to share good news, such as projects landed and problems solved.

Virtual water cooler. Social events and informal encounters around the water cooler or over lunch are vital for building bonds among employees and forging a corporate culture. In a virtual work environment, employers are using online tools to facilitate these vital team-building moments. Some companies are dedicating Slack channels for employees to discuss favorite music or movies. Others are hosting virtual coffee breaks, lunches, game nights, and book clubs. Technology company Workboard awards prizes for the best Zoom background, gives stipends to employees to upgrade chairs and desks in their home offices, and sends flowers to its employees to spruce up their remote workspaces. Those companies that invest time and resources in virtual teambuilding are more likely to find themselves with an even stronger corporate culture on the other side of the pandemic.

Leading by Example in a Crisis

Tough get going. Firm leaders are confronting the deepest crisis they will likely ever face, but every obstacle presents opportunities. Tough times forge great leaders who display qualities such as grace under pressure, resilience, and flexibility. While the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted in-person leadership training programs, it has also presented the opportunity to develop next-generation leaders by modeling strong leadership skills.

Stand in their shoes. In a time of enormous stress, leaders need to demonstrate empathy with their employees. With such uncertainty about the future, workers will have natural concerns about staying healthy and employed. In these unique times, each employee faces unique challenges. Some may be lonely. Others may crave solitude from a crowded house. Leaders need to avoid micromanaging while understanding the particular circumstances of each employee. DeAnne Aussem, leadership development and well-being leader for PwC US and Mexico, told the New York Post in May 2020 that leaders “must remember to take time to check on the well-being of their people” and look for signs of anxiety or being overwhelmed. “This is the kind of human-first leadership that’s often forgotten during periods of intense demand or change, but that becomes absolutely critical in the midst of a crisis.”

Be transparent. Leaders must deliver honest, clear, and consistent communication. “Transparency is ‘job one’ for leaders in a crisis,” Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson wrote in a March 2020 Harvard Business Review article. “Be clear what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.” Resist the urge to be overly optimistic. Be confident but don’t be afraid to acknowledge uncertainty. According to a March 2020 report from McKinsey at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, “In crisis situations, a leader’s instinct might be to consolidate decision-making authority and control information, providing it on a strictly need-to-know basis.” Do the opposite by distributing authority and sharing information. Exhibiting the essence of leadership in these difficult times could prove your most effective means of developing future leaders capable of navigating your firm through the crises of the future.

Boosting Productivity with Pomodoro Technique

Blurred lines. With working from home causing an unprecedented overlap of personal and professional lives, maintaining work-life balance has never been so difficult. Staying focused and minimizing interruptions amid the distractions from children, roommates, or other family members is a sizable challenge, but some workers are overcoming the blurred lines between work and home with a very low-tech solution that utilizes a simple kitchen timer—the Pomodoro Technique.

You say tomato. Developed by Italian software industry executive Francesco Cirillo when he was a college student in the late 1980s and used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to track his work, the Pomodoro Technique is a simple productivity hack that breaks work projects down into finite chunks. Start by setting a timer for 25 minutes and begin work on one task that can be tackled in an uninterrupted session. Stop when the timer rings. Then, using the timer again, take a break of between three and five minutes. After repeating the sequence four times, take a longer break of between 15 and 30 minutes. (Each interval is known as a “pomodoro,” the Italian word for “tomato”).

Pardon the interruption. When confronted with an interruption in the middle of a pomodoro, Cirillo recommends a strategy of “inform, negotiate, and call back.” First, inform the interrupter that you are working on a task and negotiate a time for when you can respond. At the end of the pomodoro, call back when you can give that person full attention. If a task is completed before the end of a 25-minute pomodoro, Cirillo suggests using the remaining time to repeat the task or continue to make small improvements.

Sprinter mentality. The Pomodoro Technique trains users’ brains to focus on singular tasks for short stretches of time and improves productivity by keeping energy levels high for a series of short sprints rather than a tiring marathon session. Twenty-five-minute chunks are long enough to get into a groove but not so long as to cause attention to wane. Although all that is needed to implement the Pomodoro Technique is a timer, pen, and notepad to track sessions, a book by Cirillo and dozens of apps also exist to help.

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