top of page

Workplace culture can survive, and thrive in lockdown

You’ve worked hard to build a fantastic team and right now they need you, and each other more than ever. But how can a workplace culture even exist when you’re not physically together?

The perks that only a week ago helped demonstrate your culture and commitment to your people's wellbeing - things like the free gym membership, the staff fruit bowl and the family friendly work hours suddenly have little value. What your staff are craving right now is human connection, reassurance and clear communication.

...leaders are defined more by how they behave in a crisis than how they behave when they’re winning...

You know that old saying about how leaders are defined more by how they behave in a crisis than how they behave when they’re winning? Well right now is that crisis, and it’s your time to shine.

Here’s some pointers for the qualities staff need from their leaders right now:

  1. Humility – you need your staff, and they need you.

  2. Clarity – people are realistic and understand you don’t have a crystal ball. But as a business owner or senior manager, you’ll know better than anyone what your financial situation is and what this means for your company and individual employees.

  3. Decisiveness – once you have made up your mind, don't hesitate to commit to your decision.

  4. Courage – you’ll need strength in the face of pain or grief. There are hard times ahead for everyone and you will have to be brave.

  5. Passion and positivity – this may be a lot to ask if your situation is dire but everyone needs hope and something to look forward to. Demonstrate a positive mindset for your crew.

So what does this look like in practice?

Last week I spoke to a number of employees on the phone to find out how they were doing. What I heard was humbling, troubling and reassuring all at once.

A number of staff had to think quite hard about where to base themselves for the next four weeks (and possibly beyond). I was one of them, I separated from my husband some weeks ago and I’ve been renting a place week-to-week since. But when Level 4 lockdown was announced I and many others had to make a quick decision about where and how to live.

I know my situation isn’t nearly as stressful as many New Zealanders, but I suggest you take time to consider the living situations of your people. Do they have suitable and supportive places to isolate to? Or are some just making do?


Here’s my advice on some concrete steps you can take to support your staff:

ONE Be clear about what financial help the Government is offering and what your company is entitled to. Tell your people how you will distribute those payments TWO Plan how often you will send an official company update to your people and prioritise sending those emails. Staff want to know how their employer is placed (even if it’s an evolving situation). Don’t create further stress by keeping people in the dark or forcing them to ask for an update. Be as positive as you can! THREE Help people connect. Facetime, Zoom, Skype and other platforms are all obvious ways to encouraging interaction between staff and/or your clients. But what about giving everyone a colleague’s name so they can chat at morning or afternoon tea? Developing a buddy system could be a great opportunity for people who don’t normally interact much in the workplace to get to know one another. FOUR Keep people engaged and motivated to the best of your ability. Use your staff to train and mentor people where possible. Use the time to improve systems, innovate, review standards, check in with clients/customers. This could be a golden opportunity for people in the company that have their own ideas to flex their creativity. FIVE Understand (or appoint leaders in the company) to understand individual’s unique situations and stresses. A personal check in is the easiest way to show staff you care about their financial situation, living conditions, health concerns and workload. Do they have all the tools they need to work from home? Is there any other support you can provide? SIX As a leader or owner find your own ‘person’ to take the above steps with and for you, the pressure on you is unquantifiable and you need a person too.


I think the thing I'm feeling now is that doing the right thing by your team and switching to a more personal than professional mode is binding everyone together. This adversity is very strangely creating a unique opportunity.

As an idea, consider your company goal being ‘let’s all go down together so we can come back up together’? There’s a real opportunity for you to bond with your team right now and in a meaningful way by redefining relationships that were possibly very robotic previously. You may get a sense of their willingness to help, a genuine feeling of let’s get through this crisis together.

The important thing to remember is to use your voice, your people want to hear from you now more than ever. 

Be brave.



bottom of page