I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you the benefits of a strong company culture, right? Culture essentially means: How are we connected? What is the personality and unique style of your workplace? What is the thread that brings and keeps us together working towards common goals? (And technically, the types of goals chosen are part of that culture.)
Now, more than ever, we need a sense of connection in our teams and with our peers. But how can we build and maintain that connection and culture when we are working remotely?
First and foremost, we have to remember that culture exists whether we do anything to build it or not. And when we neglect to pay attention to how we are keeping our teams present and connected, our culture becomes one of emptiness and disconnection.
Building and keeping culture alive in virtual environments may be a little different than in-office. (But you’re used to a lot of differences now!) Here are a few ideas and reminders to spark your creative thinking and keep your people connected.
Identify the events and rituals you did “in person” and look for ways to replicate them virtually.
If your team had a rockin’ coffee bar at the office (and it was well-loved first thing every morning), send everyone a pound of fancy ground coffee in the mail. Or have a “Coffee Chat” virtually every morning where people bring their cups and socialize before the start of the workday. Maybe you did a weekly group guided meditation that you could do virtually. Maybe you had a gym at the office, and now you share friendly “push-up challenges” or compete on who has taken the most steps each week. Keep the little things like this alive. It’s where the company’s personality is.
Use physical props to connect.
Sometimes the environment and the “things” in the office make up a good part of the company culture. If your office was known for a lot of greenery, can you send everyone a small houseplant? How about a nice branded water bottle or something useful for their desk at home? (Note I said useful. Don’t send people junk that they will throw away.) Perhaps you mail everyone a fun company t-shirt and have Friday be t-shirt day. Everyone can show up to the virtual meeting with their swag or snap a selfie that gets made into a fun collage image to share. Even sending handwritten cards to your people periodically can be a nice, personalized touch.
Keep communication EXTRA-open.
When you aren’t in the same location, seeing people often throughout the day, it’s more important than ever to keep the channels of communication clear and open. Depending on the size of your company, consider a company-wide Q & A session to address concerns or simply share the latest updates. Make sure you ask for feedback from the employees. Ask them what would make them feel more connected or what could be improved. The very fact that you ask and value their opinions will make them feel more connected and cared about. And be sure to communicate and check in with people often.
Make their mental health and awareness a priority.
Working from home, isolated from in-person contact can be a challenge (even when you’re not in the midst of a pandemic). Making virtual counseling services available and creating a place to share resources is important. Additionally, keeping plenty of social opportunities (that are non-work-related) for people to connect virtually can be helpful in making people feel less alone. Randomly selecting small groups or grouping people based on shared interests for video social hours can be fun. Virtual happy hours, team-building exercises, or game nights (through online game platforms) are also good ideas — depending on the type of company you are.
Keep celebrations, acknowledgments, and rewards going strong.
Find a new way to celebrate birthdays (if that’s something you did in the office). Do birthday shoutouts on your team communication platform or mail the birthday person (or everyone) a paper hat and noisemaker and cheer them on at the next video call. Acknowledge people for efforts with a personalized virtual reward system that works for your company. Or send them one of those good ole handwritten cards. Periodically, have special themes for your video meetings or even dress-up in costumes (if that’s your style). Do a virtual show-and-tell where there is a simple theme and people choose an item from their home to bring to the call. “Ugliest coffee cup,” “Pet day,” or “Oldest item in your pantry.” Fun shouldn’t be a bad word at work. People having fun leads to people caring about the company, being invested in their work, and higher loyalty.
No matter what you choose to implement, don’t neglect your company culture — especially when people are working remotely. The little things will go a long way.
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” –Dale Carnegie