What can bosses do to keep workplace culture strong during COVID?

Hatfield Consultants president Garth Taylor digs on his company's practices.

Credit: Paul Duchart

Hatfield Consultants senior partner Jason Suwala and Garth Taylor, president and senior partner, at the first annual Business of Good Awards in March

Hatfield Consultants president Garth Taylor digs on his company’s practices

Right before the world shut down, BCBusiness held its inaugural Business of Good Awards, seeking to honour organizations that turn the social principles of responsibility into action.

Garth Taylor took the stage that night to receive the Workplace Wellness award on behalf of Hatfield Consultants, the environmental and social services firm where he serves as president. He likely didn’t know that living up to that title was about to get much harder for North Vancouver–based Hatfield and its some 200 employees across the globe.

When we talk on the phone for the first time in seven months, Taylor’s message is one of gratitude.

“Generally, it’s worked very well—the type of work we do can be done remotely. So people have continued to work and be productive,” he says, noting that even though the company’s Fort McMurray operations took a fairly big downturn, Hatfield has been able to avoid layoffs.

But even though the businesses is going to report a strong year financially, Taylor does have some concerns about the long-term impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on its workforce.

“It’s something we’re talking about quite a bit from a very practical business perspective—the potential loss of cohesion in the group and the opportunities for people to interact with team members beyond just virtually online,” he admits. “Our younger employees enjoy working from home. But having a fairly unique culture in the industry, we worry about people becoming disconnected over a long period of time and what impact that might have on their mental health and their ability to be part of the Hatfield culture. We worry quite a bit about losing that.”

With only about 10 percent of staff coming into the office right now, Hatfield execs have tried to cushion the COVID blow with things like daily huddles—five- to 10-minute team check-ins at the start of each day to get people together and motivated.

“We’ve very much encouraged our managers to stay on top of the connections with their staff and reach out and do one-on-one connections to make sure people are managing,” says Taylor, adding that they’ve also been sending out weekly (at the start of the pandemic, it was daily) briefings detailing what’s been going on with the company.

“The transparency and honesty that we’ve baked into those communications have made people feel a sense of security about their jobs and what we’re doing at the corporate level to keep everyone employed and the company moving forward.”

So far, Hatfield has “kicked its office leases a year down the road,” according to Taylor, as the leadership team will probably have to figure out a mixture of work-from-home and in-office duties moving forward. That group has no desire to have employees work virtually 24/7, Taylor notes, especially as more people are hired: “I think what we worry about long-term is when you bring new employees in, how do you make them feel part of the team, like they’re contributing? How do they get instilled with the culture of the company?”

For now, Hatfield will rely fostering on as much personal interaction as possible, while staying safe. Its offices are only a block away from North Van’s waterfront, so leadership has been trying to organize gatherings every few weeks for sandwiches and beers after work. “It’s just another thing we’ve tried to do to get people to come into the office and encourage face-to-face interactions a bit more,” Taylor says.