Conversations with Gary: Changes in business culture during and after COVID-19

People. Their value in the workplace – corporate or small business – is invaluable. I have continually worked to make sure small business owners, in particular, understand the value of their most important asset when it comes to their overall business value. As so many people have changed the way they work during this pandemic -- a change that may be permanent moving forward for some -- I wondered how has this shifted the thoughts on culture in the workplace?

I talked to Julie Sellers and Nancy Cook with Ellevated Outcomes. They work one-on-one with “creative entrepreneurs to help business owners find clarity, by helping them take a step back, see their business through a wider lens, and transform their countless ideas into measurable results.” I have worked with them and talked to them about how what they do helps businesses grow, something I do in my work with business valuation and CFO services. They use business methodologies, data, and lots of inquiry to move people from ambiguity, to action, to outcome. Nancy used the analogy of COVID-19 being a mirror for small businesses.

“COVID-19 has in many ways served as a mirror for both individuals and businesses – uncovering or amplifying what is or is not a priority, what’s in excess and what’s lacking,” she said. “It’s the perfect time to revisit the performance of your culture strategy and perhaps see it in ways that you may not have before.”

I asked Nancy what she recommends as businesses establish a strong culture with a virtual workforce and she outlined four points:

  • Co-create rituals.  From a purely biological perspective, humans are successful when they co-create. It is a powerful form of intimacy, creates structure, enhances emotional engagement, and creates a sense of belonging.
  • Rally behind common goals. 
  • Grant permission for play. Creativity can thrive among distributed workforces if it’s nurtured. Costumes, competitions, and themed events are a simple and effective way to improve connection and find common ground.
  • Be more human than ever before.  Consider in even more depth than you would during physical interaction “what are the circumstances, stressors and motivators of this colleague?”  Virtual meeting experiences give us a window (literally) into someone’s life that we wouldn’t normally have. Make use of it and seize the opportunity to establish new levels of understanding!

Elevated Outcomes shared with me an example of a local business doing this well: Keith Rathbun of Supporting Strategies. 

“Long before COVID-19 Keith had developed a process to bring his company values to life, through culture, amongst a team that had never even met one another (in person),” she said. “Employee development calls created a safe place to exchange feedback (internal and external) and explore training opportunities. External surveying studied how the business was matching up against its values and promise of value, and Keith’s team led a process of recognizing their own client’s accomplishments. Why?  Because the core values at Supporting Strategies are reliability, helping others and generosity.”

During virtual team happy hours, (aside from sharing a refreshment), they would play “getting to know you” games and lead “how to” exercises, Nancy said. Feedback and recognition were exchanged in a playful and casual setting that never focused on work-tasks or firefighting.

“Keith took the values of his company into the everyday DNA of his team and we’re so proud of the results,” she said.

So how can you go about putting something like this in place?

“We place the topic of virtual company culture alongside of the many other facets of a sound business strategy and help companies determine: what could this look like?” Nancy explained, adding that they outline how owners can implement and measure such changes. If this resonates with you, don’t hesitate to reach out to Nancy and Julie at because investing in your people is investing in your business.