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Returning to work means putting on your ‘mask’

Remote work has made it harder for employers to mold the culture they want


July 3, 2020
By Mina Movasseli

Topics
When it comes to the eventual return to the office, employers should be concerned about more than simply physical masks, writes Mina Movasseli. (narstudio/Adobe Stock)

What kind of behaviour changes can we expect by going back to work following COVID-19 closures?

For one, many will continue to be working remotely, navigating their office from their homes. This can create issues for a company’s corporate culture.

How?

Organizations work hard to create an environment that allows people to do the work they want them to, which often makes people wear a different type of “mask” — one that hides their authentic selves.

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This can make workers feel almost robot-like where they need to work a full eight-hour shift — with the flexibility of going on Instagram — and having to abide by the rules given by those who are higher up on the ladder, creating a place with people that will have similar habits.

With remote work, people are working from the comfort of their homes, a place where habits have already been formed and “masks” most likely are taken off.

This makes it harder for companies to mold employees for their ideal culture — creating a divide within the culture as people embrace themselves working with less “masks” on, but increasing the level of happiness for the individual.

This can definitely be a time where companies who believe in remote work thrive as they understand the advantages of their employees working from home.

Unfortunately, that is not yet the majority, but with major changes, it can go in that direction.

Physical masks have an effect, too

For those that will be going back to the office, the simplicity of wearing a physical mask can dramatically affect the culture as well.

As it is unnatural to the human mind to not see someone’s full face — especially their mouth.

Since viewing facial expression is one way our mind makes assumptions on whether or not the person is kind, safe, angry or other. This lack of facial recognition can subconsciously put people in a state of fear.

Another way corporate culture is being affected is through political conversations — especially when colleagues don’t even realize they are being political.

This happens when people engage in conversations about whether or not wearing a mask is helpful, or even a discussion to which vitamins are best.

These conversations can turn into debates, which create a political divide, since it brings forward opposing views and people are debating them almost endlessly.

Of course, it is good to share information and exchange knowledge, but workplaces were not created to handle this.

And even if the conversations are not being had, colleagues are sharing information on their Facebook or Instagram accounts, making it clear where they stand, creating a major divide between teammates who don’t share their views.

There are sure to be arguments on the topic at some point, so it is important to handle it like a political conversation where people understand that opposing views are going to come up and to choose to engage with an open mind, or move on to another topic.

Protecting your culture

COVID-19 isn’t the only political conversation going on at present.

Black Lives Matter protests are happening around the world and many businesses are trying to step up and show their support.

Oftentimes, the support can be seen as a marketing ploy from the inside, which can indirectly affect the culture. This happens when employees know their company is preaching something that is not embedded in the organization.

So, once a statement is put out by the company who pretends they have never had these issues, then they will lose their employee’s trust. You can be sure that will be the elephant in the virtual chatrooms.

Why? This leads to a lack of belief in the mission and vision of the company, which means you just have employee’s collecting paycheques.

Preventing this could be as simple as creating a line of communication where the leaders start to have conversations about how they will be improving corporate culture, instead of acting like it is already perfect.

Hopefully, this ensures an environment based on equity. Equity in terms of fairness for all; the understanding that many might have different opportunities or biological differences — so being equal might not actually be fair for each party.

By taking this level of ownership of the issue, leaders are able to be vulnerable and build a stronger foundation of trust.

Company culture will be affected by COVID-19, but it doesn’t have to be negative — it just depends on how it is handled.

Mina Movasseli is a behaviour analyst and founder of Mind the BluePrint in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to Talent Canada.

This commentary has been updated.