As fall weather starts to make its way into our new abnormal (whatever that means!), I could not help but wonder how long this world in which we find ourselves, dominated by virtual interaction, will continue. Like anyone interested in learning, I decided to do some research and reading to understand the common thinking around office life at home and how prolonged remote work could affect organizational culture.

The construct of “professionalism” we thought sacred has been dashed to bits. Work attire restrictions, which were never popular to begin with, are vanishing (fun fact: the term “business casual” was invented by Dockers in 1992). Pandemic work-from-home programs have already been extended through the fall and we can reasonably expect they’ll continue for some time. It appears that once the pandemic clears, many companies are likely to continue their telecommuting programs or institute a hybrid policy.

Active and passive employee perks do a lot more than draw new employees or make current employees comfortable. They’re integral to a healthy company culture, which feeds directly into company productivity. Across the board, there are a few work-from-home perks that have become standard—even expected. These perks include:

  • Establishing a level of flexibility that allows employees to take personal time when needed. Many workplaces have found this agreement can benefit both employer and employee. Employees are able to quickly react to personal emergencies and employers are able to keep the best and brightest on their team.
  • Becoming comfortable with custom scheduling and longer deadlines. Allowing an employee control over their schedule gives them freedom to manage any precarious crises presented by the pandemic and empowers them to take responsibility for both sides of their life, the personal and the professional. Studies show that these employees tend to have a healthier work-life balance and are more likely to avoid burnout.
  • Many companies including Google, Twitter, and Shopify are now offering work-from-home stipends so their employees can pay for necessary workplace tools such as Wi-Fi or so they can afford to work from a coffee shop regularly, for example.

But what is missing in all of this? It is clear to me that the lack of in-person connectivity can change the employee experience in some unique ways. The need to feel that one is a valued member of a group is universally human. However, when employees are placed in the isolating at-home work environment, it’s easy to lose perspective and begin to view oneself outside the essential operating machinery of the organization. The Center for Talent Innovation found that employees who feel a sense of belonging are three times more likely to be productive, motivated, and engaged. Studies have even shown some significant connections between belonging and performance:

  • Inclusion and engaged alignment can heighten job performance 56%;
  • Belonging can cause a 75% reduction in sick days;
  • Employees who feel an affinity with their team are 167% more likely to recommend their company to others.

Recently, I talked to one of my favorite chief people officers, who told me that culture following the pandemic will be the make-or-break element in her organization’s lifetime. She also shared that, “Employee interaction on a day-to-day basis is especially important to develop workplace culture; we don’t have that now and may not for at least a year.” The degree to which COVID-19 impacts your culture will most likely be a matter of how long and far reaching the pandemic’s impact on society actually proves to be. As they say, buckle up; it’s going to be a bumpy ride!