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How to maintain company culture during a pandemic: an example

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How to maintain company culture during a pandemic: an example

Nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees have yet to return to the office. About 45% of all U.S. workers – and almost two-thirds of white-collar workers continue to work remotely. Although working from home has advantages, the isolated nature of the arrangement can have an emotional and mental impact on employees. A sense of connection is a loss through virtual communication, and a sense of purpose and motivation may disappear. Maintaining the morale of employees has become a problem for many organizations amid the pandemic.

At UBS, a financial services company, the foundation of our firm’s culture is how we provide social impact in the communities in which we do business. Through ours community influence team, we strive to reduce inequalities in employment and education opportunities, work with leading nonprofits and empower employees through volunteering and donations.

In particular, our educational efforts support first-generation college students and students from unrepresented backgrounds. Historically, these groups have faced many obstacles and limited resources to earn a college degree and make a successful career. Engage employees through mentoring programs too plays an important role in connecting colleagues with the case and leveraging their expertise while contributing to our firm’s focus on service and influence.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to disrupt our work in this area, but fortunately we had a solution. We work with Strive for College, a non-profit organization that provides individual mentoring to students as they navigate the financial aid application process.

When the partnership began in 2019, the program was managed virtually, so UBS staff from offices across the U.S. could participate in the mentoring program. This meant that the achievement of our teachers could extend far beyond the districts and cities in which we were physically present. It was amazing to see how important the online component became to the program.

As the pandemic arose and the work and learning environment changed, UBS teachers relied on a virtual mentoring program to stay in touch with students and continue to teach them success in college. Now Strive is one of the largest mentoring programs we offer, in which more than 250 employees to date have served as teachers to nearly 500 students.

Providing volunteer opportunities for employees provides many benefits. According to a Deloitte volunteer survey, such programs can enhance morale and atmosphere in the workplace. Nearly 90 percent of Americans who work believe that employers who sponsor volunteering offer better working conditions than those who do not, and nearly 80 percent of nonprofits say volunteering is critical to an organization’s well-being. Three out of four workers say volunteer opportunities are a higher morale boost than traditional benefits such as company mixers.

Volunteering has also been shown to help reduce depression, stress and anxiety. It boosts self-confidence and self-worth and can help delay or even reversing decreased cognitive function.

At the same time, we know that there is a great need for education mentoring – especially for students from underserved communities and first-generation college students. As the first person to go to college in my family, this problem is close to me. According to a recent poll, having a “teacher who encourages student goals and dreams” is among the most important factors in whether a college student will receive a diploma and succeed after graduation. I certainly didn’t when I was a first-generation college student. Navigating in high school, applying, and enrolling in college can be difficult if there is no one on your network who can act as a guide. Companies and their employees can close this gap.

Our program with Strive had a huge impact on our staff during the pandemic. It gave a sense of meaning and purpose at a time when there was so much uncertainty. This has helped them stay attached to our culture of service and have a significant impact. It also allowed new team members who joined UBS during the pandemic to connect with the organization and its spirit – even if they spent months without meeting in person with a colleague. In fact, more than 30 of our teachers are employees who started working for UBS during the pandemic.

Volunteering has long been an effective tool for employers to boost morale, productivity and content, and return. Virtual mentoring programs allow companies to expand the reach of such efforts and provide employees with ways to stay in touch with each other and their communities.

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