Building Culture in COVID

Employers in the midst of COVID are walking a tightrope between creating a supportive work environment and ensuring work gets done. Chronic uncertainty added to varying risk tolerance levels among staff and perhaps the legacy of precedents set in March/April that are no longer sustainable in October/November are making this a very tricky time. Rigid pandemic safety rules and mission-critical work combine awkwardly with a desire to create employment situations that are both flexible and equitable across teams.

The more you can do to create overlap between what your employees need and what your organization needs, the better. Ideally, those two aims will not be in tension very often.



In The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman recommend creating harmony between individual self-care and your organization’s culture as a strategic choice. They advocate for self-care action plans that extend into your workplace, and suggest that leaders model, support and reward this approach. Their encouragement resonates strongly during COVID and extends well beyond the nonprofit space.

Three tips for leaders navigating these unfamiliar waters that are becoming too familiar in these days:

  1. Be clear who gets to decide what. Consistent understanding of decision rights helps build clarity. Communicate which decisions are non-negotiable organization-wide and which ones can be made at a team or individual level.
  2. Create certainty where you can. Revising scenarios too often is exhausting, and decision fatigue is real. Employees will appreciate having plans put in place over a slightly longer timeframe when possible.
  3. Align your messaging with the broader culture you are trying to create. Be careful that your COVID coping plan isn’t causing people to monitor others’ behaviour and “keep score” in ways that are undermining your deeper values.

Try to expand the space where achieving the organization’s mission and promoting the best interests of your team happen concurrently. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.

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