BusinessDesk is proud to publish The Reset series, made in association with our trusted commercial partners and designed to supercharge your business in 2021. In this article, Sylvie Thrush Marsh, head of advisory at online human resources consultancy MyHR, looks at why good team culture is critical for business success this year.

Plenty of people talk about the importance of strong company culture, but it can be hard to articulate and foster in day-to-day business, especially in times of high activity, uncertainty or stress.

It would be lost on no one that 2020 was a testing year for many businesses and their team members, and while it’s understandable that firms had more pressing concerns in the face of covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns, it is the connection people have to each other, the business they work for and its mission that has enabled smart companies to weather shocks and quickly adapt to the new economic environment. 

That is what strong company culture is all about. 

So, how can you ensure your business is made up of resilient team members all contributing and performing as a unit when times get tough?

Effects of covid were uneven but good work environments aren’t

The disruption and economic impacts in 2020 affected companies and industries unequally. While many businesses faced difficult times and were forced to restructure or explore more flexible arrangements with their employees, others experienced an upturn and either took on or will need to take on new people. 

Since the pandemic began, many talented, experienced people have lost work or are looking for new opportunities, while there are labour shortages in some sectors such as agriculture.

The economic outlook remains uncertain, with covid-19 still raging in some parts of the world, vaccines in their infancy, the New Zealand border closed for the foreseeable future (creating ongoing difficulties for tourism and hospitality, and some skill shortages), and unemployment and underemployment predicted to rise further.

All this uncertainty can have a dramatic impact on staff morale and motivation, which spells trouble for any company looking to rebound and capitalise on the opportunities ahead.

This is why any investment in bolstering team morale, employee engagement and connection is vitally important. It might be easy to overlook, but if your business is to come through any shock and flourish, you need to keep your people connected to each other, the company, and its mission.

So, what does this look like on the ground?

Teams are made of individuals

Company culture can be a bit like a jigsaw. Each person forms a piece that ideally fits with others to form a cohesive whole. 

As we all know, every person is different and how each reacts to challenges differs. Our enthusiasm and motivation can be affected by events inside and outside the business. 

Savvy business leaders recognise this and seek to instil and nurture a work environment based on recognising and respecting each employee as an individual and as an important team member. 

When everyone feels supported, valued, and aligned with the organisation’s goals, they are much better equipped to adapt to changes, whether that is another covid-induced lockdown or more-general market shifts or technological advances.

This is where good HR systems and management are invaluable in ensuring every individual is supported, stimulated, and connected. (This is especially important with the increasing number of people working remotely or with flexible arrangements.) 

Effective people processes bring team culture into clear focus and enable close, responsive tracking of staff wellbeing, performance, and engagement. They also provide clear, open communication channels between all team members, so people know where they stand, can reach out if they need help, and can share tips and experience. 

This all contributes to creating a workforce and business that can withstand pressures, spot opportunities, and change tack quickly and adroitly if need be. 

Find out more about resetting your business in a post-lockdown world.       

Practical tools for keeping culture and morale healthy

There are a number of constructive tools and processes that can really help create and maintain a positive, healthy work environment. Some of the most effective are:

  • Culture surveys – surveys, especially quick, pulse-type ones, provide live feedback about your employees and pinpoint areas for management to focus on.
  • Business- or team-wide meetings – these connect everyone and give people a chance to ask questions. They also give management opportunities to be transparent and demonstrate their control of a situation, so people feel reassured.
  • Regular catch-ups with individuals – these give people the space and opportunity to say if they need specific help or support.
  • Team events (dinners, bowling, team building) – casual events give everyone a chance to connect outside their immediate team and to let off steam.
  • Performance reviews – good performance tracking and analysis keep the focus on delivering results and reassure employees that their contributions matter and that they fit into the company’s bigger picture.

Of course, even the most well-maintained and carefully chosen tools aren’t enough to build a house all on their own. It is critical to have a clear business strategy, backed up by empathetic and caring managers who understand that people are the key to business success and who have the skills and experience to coach, develop, and contribute to a positive culture of their own accord.

Everyone needs to be prepared to walk the talk if you’re putting effort into building your company’s culture. If you’re simply going to run some “feel-good” box-ticking exercises, you’re probably better off doing nothing at all. 

Case study 

MyHR client Parkable is a growing technology start-up, building platforms to make sharing and using car parking easier. During lockdown, they were facing the same pressures as thousands of businesses around the country. No-one was driving or parking anywhere, so their revenue streams were drying up.

“It was a challenging time, and like everyone we were under stress commercially and personally to look after our business and our people” says operations manager Loes Dermott.

“We worked really hard to avoid redundancies in response to the lockdowns and government restrictions. After navigating the immediate financial pressures, we knew that we needed to stay in the Parkable groove to keep driving business growth, which meant supporting and motivating our employees in the face of external stressors.

“Celebrating the positives was big for us. We grew the business in the face of serious headwinds, and we communicated regularly and proactively about the progress we made. We’re a bunch of foodies, so surprise treats like chocolates and personalised “thank you” notes on people’s desks kept the mood up. Social events like Laser Tag helped us connect outside of our immediate teams – having fun is as important as working hard together.

It’s paid off. We’re a stronger unit than ever and are on track to hit all our growth targets for the year.”

What to do if your staff morale and workplace culture have flagged

Obviously, if your people strategies and practices are effective, you will have systems in place to recognise when individuals are feeling stress and strain. These same systems should also help rectify any motivational or morale issues before they get so bad that they require serious remedial action. A gram of prevention is often worth more than a kilo of cure.

With serious, sudden shocks, however, you might have to put in some extra mahi to ensure everyone in the business is coping okay and is happy in their work.

If you feel your HR systems or operations aren’t cutting it and your organisational culture is below par, please get in touch with the team at MyHR.

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