If you asked six people to define ‘culture’ you would get several different answers, especially today. Is it the mission? Or how people dress for work? Or is the values behind the culture?

Let’s face it, today ‘culture’ has become a nebulous term. For me, culture in a business setting boils down to how an organisation gets things done.

Today, the world’s largest work-from-home experiment is an invitation to think more broadly about a business model (industrial gases, real estate, supply chain, workforce, leadership , et al). As much as we are facing uncharted waters with this Covid-19 virus pandemic, there may be a silver lining – so to speak – to what we are experiencing.

Think for a moment: who would have thought that social distancing and remote working would bring people together?

Yes, I realise that in the industrial gases business at the customer interface there may be little face-to-face less than six feet of distance interaction, unlike the retail gas and equipment sales operations . These retail sales operations will need to happen to keep the sales and service in place. The face-to-face contact of sales people speaking with customers, as well as applications engineers, doing the same to create new or expanded business.

Given this who would have thought that social distancing and remote working could and would bring people together?

Design_TILE_EAB_Social Bill Kroll

The new work culture

The playbook for working remotely that existed just a month or so ago has been thrown out the window.

I discovered this myself just the other day. While on a call with the CEO of a company that I’m on the board of, I was interrupted by a knock on my office door. It was my wife and a staff member of the community we just moved into, a few days before. They walked into the room and asked for the new Wi-Fi password that I had just changed the day prior.

As I wrote it down for them, we kept talking unmuted. None this was dismissed or disguised. Most importantly, no-one cared and the CEO actually reached out to say hi to my wife.

There was a time, not so long ago, when folk went to great lengths to avoid the sounds of working from home from being noticed. Now, these sounds over the teleconference have become the soundtrack of daily life, both at work and outside of it. Leaders need to send a message that it is not only ok, but expected – especially as many people globally are experiencing this daily and wondering when the crisis will end.

I welcome you to the new world of work, and the culture that goes with it.

Weaving a new fabric of interaction

Currently, there is a hunger for a real connections. In many companies, greater than 50% of employees are now working from home. We are seeing this being the same for our customers around the world. Even as people are socially distant, there is a desire to both see and hear each other.

This is not surprising, given that humans are social in nature. People want to be liked and want to belong. This is why more people are wanting to speak and engage in video calls or videoconferencing, in place of just using audio a month ago. People don’t want to dress up, but in fact want to be seen and heard in this difficult time . The more unplugged and authentic the better, these days.

These small details of seeing people, seeing their surroundings and glimpses of what they do, are part of the fabric that is binding us together these days. This is the new fabric of interaction that we are actively weaving.

Take the question, how are you? It really means, how are you doing today?

Asking how you are used to be filler and polite, but today it is indeed different. Every interaction I’m part of, or hearing, begins with sincere questions firstly with how people and their loved ones are. I see and hear it in both business calls and personal conversations. People and their customers are tied into a spirit of more caring that binds. The ability to help now is a binding part of the customer-supplier relationship like never before.

I see this continuing. We need each other more than ever and what we can do to help each other survive in life and business is getting inextricably bound. Trust will be the most important word in this time of change, as we have never seen before.

“Having been forced apart for an unknown and prolonged interval has left in my mind an indelible mark on how we can, and should, do business going forward”

A benchmark time, and a legacy

We will be able to shake hands again, and I can’t wait. Once this is behind us, we will resume work routines. Social distancing will certainly narrow, however I believe we will make only a 180 degree turn back to how we were before.

Having been forced apart for an unknown and prolonged interval has left in my mind an indelible mark on how we can, and should, do business going forward.

We will have a deeper appreciation for being together and doing business with those we trusted and became parted with during this trying global event. As I was told by one CEO in an email to me, “I’m hoping to see you guys and shake hands with you and hug your wife at the planned meeting this fall.” Such a nice gesture that once we took for granted, but will never take for granted again. Now is a benchwork time for the seller/buyer, as well as even seller/seller to take hold.

Finally, the world of work has changed forever. The world and the business world has changed permanently. That indelible mark has not just been made on me, it’s on everything. Even when folk return to their offices, there will be a new norm and ways of working with greater efficiency. One thing is for sure, leaders who were used to travelling frequently may well indeed re-think this after being grounded for so many weeks. There will be thoughts such as, did all that travel I was doing before make a tangible difference?

New ways have been found to transact business for mutual benefit, such that trust and understanding, along with different means of communication, will be an underlying method for business going forward.