The list of negative COVID-19-related implications is endless. However, it appears that the pandemic has actually improved company culture. According to a report by CHG Healthcare, 20% of respondents said that the culture actually improved since they’ve been working from home. In addition, 54% stated that their culture remained the same.

Among workers who felt that the company culture improved during the pandemic, the top three factors were as follows:

  • 40%: Increased transparency/communication
  • 15%: Maintained benefits/salary
  • 14%: Better leadership support

Among the 25% of respondents who felt company culture decreased during the pandemic, the top three factors were as follows:

  • 31%: Poor leadership support
  • 24%: Lack of transparency and communication
  • 11%: Lack of camaraderie

When creating company culture (even remotely), many organizations believe that workers want perks and benefits. However, only 1% of respondents considered perks a part of the company’s culture, and only 7% felt that benefits helped to shape culture.

Instead, respondents identified the top three factors that contribute to a good company culture:

  • 41%: Work environment
  • 27%: How employees are treated
  • 15%: Company values

Unpacking the most important factors

So, why are work environment, how employees are treated, and company values so important?

“As we take on the COVID-19 challenge head-on, there is no better feeling than to be part of one huge work family with a set of shared values, belief systems and attitudes,” says Neel Prabhu, Salesforce program architect at Saggezza, a global IT consultancy.

He explains that perks are transitory. “However, a culture that is inclusive and rewards employees not only for their work, but for their humanity — who they are, as mothers, fathers, and people — is a culture that helps facilitate long-term commitment to an organization.” And creating that type of culture ensures that employees aren’t showing up (in their home office or living room) just to do a job.

“They come to work to actively support a community and cause that they believe in, that they are proud of, and that they are invested in,” Prabhu explains. “Said more succinctly, the right culture reframes the work experience: it's not just about work, it's about the larger experience, and being a part of something that's rewarding and impactful.”

The role of leaders

The survey also reveals that employees don’t want a leader who will be their friend. That was the trait they valued the least. Here’s what they want in leaders:

  • 20%: Trustworthy/trusting
  • 16%: Not a micromanager
  • 15%: A mentor
  • 13%: Easily accessible
  • 12%: Skilled at providing feedback

“Trustworthiness is a quality that leads to successful workplace partnerships and collaboration,” Phabhu explains. “A trustworthy leader believes the best in employees and operates on the premise that most employees want to do the right thing.” And he says trustworthy leaders give employees room to succeed.

“Not being a micromanager allows an employee to feel trusted, and as a result, more incentivized to take pride and ownership in the work they do, in turn, producing great work,” he says.

“Mentorship builds a relationship that is rewarding and fruitful for both the mentee and mentor, and this relationship helps develop the future leaders of the organization and secure the future of the company.”

To improve company culture, Prabhu says increased transparency and communication are crucial, since these traits lead to mutual respect and trust. “When folks at the top — leaders and executives — communicate honestly and openly with the company at large, organization-wide respect and trust is built; as a result, the quality of the work produced, and an employee's personal investment and commitment in the company only continues to grow.”

One company working on maintaining a great company culture is Altia, a Colorado-based software company. “Shifting to fully remote work during the pandemic has forced us to find new ways to make human connections,” says Teresa Martinez, director of human resources. She says the company has made it a priority to maintain contact with employees and engage them as human beings as opposed to just workers.

“During our weekly business meetings, we make it a point to ask one another how we’re doing, inquire about each other’s families, and engage in casual conversation instead of keeping things strictly business.” Martinez says they close meetings using the “tell me something good” technique, asking everyone to share something good that has recently happened in their life.

“Working remotely has meant that spouses, kids, and pets have made cameo appearances during our meetings, giving us all the opportunity to feel even closer to one another personally than we did before the pandemic.”

The company is also focused on giving back to the community during the pandemic. “We’ve worked with local schools to provide technology and meals for students in need, and spearheaded many donation-matching opportunities for our employees to show them that we support the issues that are important to them.” Martinez says this is important because it makes employees proud to be on the team.

“We were proud of our company culture before COVID, but we’re even more proud today of the way Altia has created opportunities during the pandemic to become more connected than ever and continue to build an even stronger company culture.”