Leadership and culture during a crisis

During a crisis, strong leadership and an open culture is what will pull people together

A company’s leader is the custodian of its culture. Company cultures around the world are being put to the test at the moment, with team members being furloughed, more people working from home (and many feeling isolated and cut off from their social lives), and families struggling to cope with balancing work and childcare without their usual support networks. Employees working remotely for the first time will soon learn whether their company’s culture and values have a life outside of office walls.

If your working space is your bedroom, and your company cafe your kitchen, how does your culture thrive? 

The Social Element’s team of 300 people almost all work remotely, and always have done. We were lucky that we didn’t have the logistical issues that some companies had to deal with in the first days of lockdown. But working from home in this COVID-19 world is about more than simply having the right technology and security checks (important as they are). 

During a crisis like the one we’re going through now, your company culture will be thrown into sharp relief. We’ve all heard horror stories about people being forced to ‘repay’ days taken in quarantine, or being forced into an office when they could have worked from home, or poor communication around furloughing or redundancies. Or business leaders who show no compassion for team members who are struggling with isolation, or home-schooling young children. How you approach those issues will show what kind of leader you are. 

It’s true that it’s harder to maintain a strong culture when your team is working from home. But it’s absolutely possible.

It needs nurturing and a different style of leadership – one that’s more people-focused, compassionate and human. A leader in a remote working environment has to do more than set the strategy and vision of the company. They have to work hard to develop and manage the culture. 

In a COVID-19 world, that means placing even more importance on taking care of your team, and dedicating time and resources to ensuring their welfare. We have an amazing wellness co-ordinator who supports our team with mental wellness, for example. We have an open all-team meeting every day, that I lead, to update everyone on company plans, and give them the opportunity to talk through any concerns, or ask questions about company strategy. Because our culture is open and inclusive, people come together and share their experiences. We support each other. 

In a crisis situation, good leadership means pulling people together with single vision and purpose. It means being compassionate and listening to what people need from their leaders. And above all, it means being human and putting your people first.

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