Image 2023 08 08 T03 44 42

Nurturing a strong company culture during COVID-19

Search by
Search by blog tags

It's fair to say that 2020 has been a year like no other. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations to make urgent and substantial changes to how they operate, sometimes overnight. The majority of the workforce are based from home and productivity, motivation and wellbeing have taken a hit.

So how can charities support their biggest asset — their people — during the pandemic and nurture a company culture that’s stronger than ever?Freelance Writer Nicola Greenbrookfinds out.

Nurturing a strong company culture during COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on many charities and volunteers. In November 2020,the NCVO’s monthly COVID-19 voluntary sector impact barometerreported that 39% of the organisations reported their financial position had deteriorated in the last month.

The pandemic has also altered people’s working lives dramatically. For the VCSE sector it can feel particularly challenging due to the nature of work people are involved in. Being away from face-to-face services and juggling remote work and childcare with an increased demand for services can also lead to anxiety, stress and fatigue.

Company culture has always been important — but now, it's critical. 

What exactly is company culture?

Quite honestly, it’s multifaceted and there are several definitions. Can you describe your company culture in a few words? It can be difficult to characterise, but many people remember exactly how good or bad culture feels.

The CIPDexplains that, 'the way an organisation operates drives its employer brand, helping to attract and retain talented people who want to be part of a great place to work, and who will in turn thrive in the business’.

Company culture is the backdrop for everything. It embodies the way people behave and think at work, their mindsets and even their emotions. For a charity, it could be the key practices that reflect its mission and values, directly linked to a broader social purpose — and not just the perks, free fruit or fun stuff. Cultivating a strong company culture can also mean encouraging a strong work ethic and healthy behaviours and attitudes. 

Why is it so important , especially now?

Glassdoor believes that 2020 has heralded ‘a culture-first decade for employers’ that puts employees at the forefront of the modern corporation. Having a strong workplace culture has been verifiably linked to better financial performance, increased talent attraction and improved service-user satisfaction.

In times of adversity like the current pandemic, and when foundations are unstable, it can shine the spotlight on bad practices such as poor communication, a lack of empathy and poor leadership. This can lead to low productivity, a disengaged workforce and high turnover; creating extra work — and costs — for charities.

One in five (21%) Brits quit their jobs due toxic workplace cultureand no matter how big or small the charity, if your company culture is brittle it will dictate how your people behave and perform — regardless of the economic climate.

How can we nurture a strong company culture?

A difficult year may be drawing to a close, but it could still be months before working life returns to the way it was, if at all. So, what lessons can we learn from the pandemic about company culture, and what can we take with us into next year?

1. Flexibility, trust and care

The work-home divide is blurred right now; so it’s crucial that charities support their people to work flexibly and balance their other commitments, and continue to show and build trust.

In a survey for the CIPD conducted by YouGovin April 2020, 3 in 10 surveyed found it hard to fulfil commitments outside of work due to time spent on their job. This increases to 4 in 10 for those also juggling increased caring responsibilities. 

Line managers should work to understand individual needs and, crucially, keep the emphasis on work outcomes, rather than hours put in. While managers should empower people to work a pattern that suits their individual circumstances for now, they should keep an eye on overall working hours or if emails are being sent late at night. Check in, and gently challenge when necessary, if the signs of burn out are starting to show.

Now, more than ever, is the time for companies to show empathetic leadership, despite very challenging circumstances. Many people have contracted the virus, lost their loved ones, or have children at home from school isolating. Some may be missing their office and colleagues or even to be ‘grieving' for life before COVID-19. Managers should be encouraged to have open and honest check-ins with their teams during the pandemic (‘how are you, really?’), without being intrusive.

Thirtyone:eight, a Christian charity based in Kent, was awarded first place in theBest Charities to Work for 2020 inaugural list by Third Sector. Its joint-CEO, Steve Ball, stated that key to its success has been "creating a culture of care and compassion for all", likening the charity to an extended family who "genuinely care for each other and look after each other”. 

2. Creative thought and connection

A survey by Resilience First showed that more than half of remote workers are now suffering from working from home fatigue. 

With the novelty of Zoom meetings wearing thin, the risk of some employees fading into the background in larger charities and the absence of face to face contact leading to feelings of isolation, communication is vital to keep a strong company culture intact. In a huge time of uncertainty around the future of organisations and roles, it can help people to cope.

Consider creative ways to maintain a connection with your staff and volunteers and involve them in potential decisions, making them feel they’re being ‘seen’. Take it beyond company updates; like employee-written guides on surviving homeworking, book clubs, and internal channels for people to share what they're listening to/watching. Rather than a distraction, these can provide a way to connect and engage, maintain a sense of community and encourage creativity. Good quality communication could reduce anxiety or uncertainty and tackle loneliness. 

3. A focus on wellbeing

In a recent ONS surveyit was found that around a third of men and women were concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their work. However, health — both mental and physical — and wellbeing must also be a key focus during the pandemic. 

As well as practical steps, like reminding staff to take breaks and use annual leave, charities should encourage line managers to include wellbeing as a core part of any 1:1s or work-based conversations. This could help to spot early signs of low motivation, or fatigue before it becomes an issue.

In Mind'sMental Health at Work Commitment Guide for Employers During Coronavirus, the charity offers practical examples of what employers can do to support their teams and effectively respond to the current pandemic, including the promotion of an open culture around mental health. 

Here are some other ways to support staff and strengthen company culture during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Create a ‘culture team’; responsible for planning virtual events so there’s always something to look forward to (especially during the winter months). This can help shape company culture, rather than people feeling they have to adapt to it.

  • Don't neglect training; now could be the perfect time to encourage upskilling and capability-building and tooffer training on managing mental health at work, such as via Mind.

  • Remind people of the support mechanisms available to them, such as HR, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes.

  • Celebrate successes and great work with virtual reward and recognition; asking colleagues to vote for each other also gives a much needed boost and could improve employee engagement

Coronavirus will have a long-lasting impact on our working lives and nurturing a strong company culture will be critical to ensure your people remain well, engaged and productive — and on board. 

Steering teams through uncertain territory can be hard work; but creating an environment where staff feel valued, where you refine and stay true to your core values and where people feel their wellbeing is looked after, will enable charities to not only survive, but to thrive. 

To come back even stronger than ever. 

More from Nicola Greenbrook 

How to work well from home ►

Podcast your way to workplace wellbeing ►

How to be assertive at work ►

More from the Harris Hill blog

12 tips for video interview success►

20 FOR 20►

Should you be working for a large or small charity? ►

  • Image 2022 11 26 T23 39 23

    Opportunity for all

    Find out how we’re working to deliver more diverse, equitable and inclusive recruitment…

    Find out more

  • Image 2022 11 26 T23 39 23

    Recruiting a charity CEO?

    Our executive recruitment specialists have an exceptional record of successful CEO, chair, trustee and…

    Find out more

  • The Harris Hill Salary Survey 2023

    Charity sector salaries

    Check out the market rate for your charity role in the latest Harris Hill Salary Survey.

    View our latest survey

News and insights

For more careers and recruitment advice: Read the Harris Hill Blog
Blogthumb Final

Thinking of temping? Here’s what to consider…

Temping offers flexibility, variety and a chance to boost your CV - but is it right for you?​ Hear from current Harris Hill temps as freelance writer and guest blogger Nicola Greenbrook explores...Do you ever catch yourself gazing out of the window, dreaming about a work life that breaks away from the conventional nine-to-five? Are you someone with multiple interests and many interconnecting ca...

Read more
Blog Thumb 2

Celebrating UK charity jobs for UK Charity Week 2023!

It's UK Charity Week 2023, so join us for a whirlwind festive tour of some of the best opportunities with charities around the country!​Yes, even though it feels about 30 seconds since you bundled last year’s decorations into an overstuffed box in the loft*, it’s December already, which means it’s time to get them down but more importantly, time for UK Charity Week 2023, celebrating the brillia...

Read more
B Corp Blogthumb Final

Harris Hill is now a Certified B Corporation

We're delighted to share the news that Harris Hill is now B Corp Certified! It makes us part of a global community of businesses meeting high standards of social and environmental impact, accountability and transparency, and leading the transformation of the global economic system. That's a big ambition, but at the simplest level, being certified is recognition that we're here for the right rea...

Read more
Blogthumb 2

Access all areas: how to use the Recite Me toolbar

As part of our diversity and inclusion strategy, the Harris Hill website now features the award-winning Recite Me assistive toolbar, providing a wide range of accessibility and language support tools for a more inclusive online experience. Here’s an overview of the benefits and how to use it.​There’s a lot to look out for when you’re searching for a new job online. In most cases, you'll actual...

Read more

Meet the 2023 Charity Softball finalists!

​Landing just ahead of the big day and 20th anniversary celebrations, meet the teams playing for glory in the 2023 Charity Softball League!Like any other year, 2003 gave the world some things we’d rather it hadn’t - war in Iraq, the SARS outbreak, the Black Eyed Peas – but over the course of that long hot summer, it also gave us (courtesy of founding father Leo Visconti) something we’re very gl...

Read more
Finance Blog Thumb

2023 Salary Survey: finance market trends

They’re certainly earning their keep in these financially-challenging times, but are charity finance professionals securing higher salaries and what’s happening in the market? Here’s what our finance experts have to say on the subject, updated from our 2023 Salary Survey, which you can view or download below for all the figures.​​​​​​Finance market trendsTo the world of charity finance now, whe...

Read more
Blogthumb Final2

How to secure new talent (without spending a fortune)

Candidate scarcity and high inflation have made securing new staff more challenging (and expensive) than ever, but there ARE ways to improve your hiring prospects that needn't cost a thing...(updated and extended from the 2023 Harris Hill Salary Survey)Beyond the world of marketing, where they grow on carefully-branded trees, our 2023 Salary Survey finds candidates in short supply and high dema...

Read more
Temps Blog Thumb

Considering hiring a temp? Here’s what you need to know…

​Hiring temps is a flexible and cost-effective way to fill gaps and bring in extra resource or skills, but if you haven't before, where should you start and what are the benefits? Freelance writer and HR specialist Nicola Greenbrook talks us through everything you need to know.What is a temp?A temporary agency worker or ‘temp’ differs from a permanent member of staff as, rather than being direc...

Read more