Female business owner smiles while sitting with colleagues and discusses ways to refresh company culture in 2021.

How to Refresh Company Culture


How can you improve company culture and workflow? Check out Fifth Third Bank's tips to refresh company culture for 2021.

There’s no argument that 2020 was a “normal” year. The COVID-19 pandemic, economic troubles, racial tensions and fraught political campaigns disrupted every aspect of American life. These and other factors contributed to isolating families, straining personal finances, pressuring parents to support remote schooling and changing the way work gets done.

Employers responded by adopting policies to help workers who couldn’t get into the office and had to juggle their jobs with the need to care for at-home children. As the workforce becomes more of a hybrid—with workers spending some days at the office and other days at home—employees need more than flexible schedules and the right office equipment to succeed. Not only do companies need to adapt their practices to the world of dispersed work, but they need to adapt their cultures, as well.

Culture matters, and for very practical reasons. A study by Oxford University found that workers are 13% more productive when they’re happy. Separate research by U.S. scholars determined that not only are satisfied workers more likely to stay with their current employer, but their loyalty to the company also increases over time.

Employers that offer flexibility, training and career opportunities tend to retain more workers. They help employees feel connected by providing a clear sense of partnership in approaching how the job gets done and how the employee develops their career path. These indicators are also clear signs of a company’s culture, demonstrating that the organization respects each worker, understands their needs and wants them to succeed over the long term.

It’s hard to imagine a corporate culture that wasn’t put to the test during 2020. Now, company leaders can take a few concrete steps to ensure their environment is one their employees will embrace.

1. Take the Pulse of Your Workforce

The first step is to determine your employees’ current mindset, and the simplest way to do that is to ask them about it. One approach is to use surveys to get a sense of the workforce’s connection to the company, whether they feel they have the tools they need and whether they believe managers appreciate them.

However, surveys can’t provide a complete picture. Once you’ve run one, hold face-to-face conversations to probe for details behind the broad-brush results. By talking with individuals or small groups, you’ll get a more specific idea of what your employees like — and don’t like—about their jobs.

And be sure to listen. Holding meetings and asking questions don’t, by themselves, demonstrate your commitment to feedback and open communication. If you don’t do anything with the information you receive, you’ll be sending the exact message you don’t want to send: That what workers say doesn’t really matter.

2. Prioritize Communication

When employees know what’s going on, they feel like they’re involved. Indeed, the more information you share, the more invested in the business workers become. So keep everyone in the loop about company developments, and not only those that impact the workplace.

Share business wins and news of new customers, for example. And don’t be afraid to let employees in on bad news, too. Level with workers about business pressures, missed targets and the like. You’ll build credibility when you do.

3. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Remember that communication is a two-way street. Hold regular conversations with your workers, both formal and informal. Ask for their opinions on corporate developments, give them the opportunity to share their ideas on both long-term issues and day-to-day challenges, and encourage them to be open with both managers and leadership.

4. Push Individual Conversations

Managers should regularly—typically at least weekly—have one-on-one conversations with their team. These needn’t be formal sit-downs complete with agendas and follow-up reports. Instead, they can be brief chats where managers hear about the worker’s daily issues and help problem-solve when necessary.

In addition, be ready to coach. It’s not enough to simply tell employees what they might do to address a particular situation. Often, they’ll need guidance on how to do it. Be ready to share advice, or point them toward resources that might help.

5. Train and Support Your Managers

Front-line managers spend their days making sure operations run smoothly. However, working on a company’s culture is a long-term effort. Because the business’s day-to-day needs will always distract you and your managers, it’s important to give managers the time and training to be proactive in their efforts and to prioritize them. Otherwise, they’ll always have something “more important” to do.

Front-line managers, especially, are under pressure to make sure daily operations function smoothly and fires are put out. In your interactions with managers—and in their performance reviews—make sure they’re actively setting the company’s cultural tone and doing their part to stay in touch.

6. Pay Attention to Remote Work

Remote work involves juggling childcare, home-schooling, elder care and other needs, alongside virtual meetings and work deadlines. Be aware of the challenges remote workers face and look for ways to ease the strain. Flexible schedules or adjustments to selected benefits can often make a difference. Whatever you do, don’t be lulled into thinking flexible hours and new laptops are the only things workers need when they can’t be in the office.

7. Recognize Achievements

Recognizing workplace anniversaries and exceptional performance makes individuals feel good about themselves while reinforcing the overall message that your company values its employees. Even if you can’t gather people in the same room, “presenting” a gift on a video conference spotlights workers who’ve achieved a notable goal or milestone.

Cultures include a number of moving parts, which vary from company to company. But building and developing a culture requires certain foundation blocks. Communication is obviously a key, but it’s just as important to demonstrate by your actions that you care about what you’ve heard.

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