05/12/2020 Steve Lovell

Culture in quarantine: Keeping company dynamics strong during COVID-19

Remote work can be isolating, especially for teams not accustomed to this model before the pandemic hit. Many of us are learning how to engage in our workplace dynamic in a completely different way, and managers are re-learning how to lead in this new, fractured landscape. 

In recent history, Company Culture has graduated from buzz term to a legitimate factor in attracting and retaining the right team. One huge concern felt by leaders in the midst of our sudden work-from-home world is how to keep the best of workplace culture alive and well as we’re working on our own separate islands. Adding a focus on culture building and maintenance can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re already juggling the responsibilities of managing a remote team, but it IS doable – and well worth the effort. 

Lay the foundation

Does your team know what they’re working toward? Sure, but do they really know? Beyond the grind of day-to-day projects, do they have the greater mission in mind? When employees are in the weeds, getting individual work done, they can easily feel siloed and disconnected. Keeping teams connected to the greater ‘why’ is a powerful way to maintain culture and keep morale high. It reminds people why they’re here, even if the physical ‘here’ has changed. Communicate the company mission, values and goals clearly and frequently. Reiterate them at all-company meetings, and bake them into company-wide communication. When everyone is working with the same ultimate goal top of mind, where they work becomes almost irrelevant. 

Make time for facetime

One-on-ones, team huddles, all company meetings, virtual happy hours….in this new landscape, building in opportunities for face-to-face communication is critically important. Video conferencing software is our most reliable tool for maintaining connection – USE IT!  Check in weekly for a one-on-one with your direct reports (sorry, Slack doesn’t count), and initiate team huddles several times a week. These meetings help to keep everyone united and accountable to one another. Regular all-company meetings may feel cumbersome, depending on the size of your team, but they are a hurdle well worth attempting. And don’t forget about happy hour! Devoting some time on a Friday afternoon to discussing wins from the week and plans for the upcoming weekend – with beverage of choice in-hand – is always a good move. These moments of face-to-face connection help stave off feelings of detachment, and keep the team connected to one another and the broader culture. 

Foster connection

The value of the social systems forged in the workplace is not to be diminished. For those accustomed to spending the majority of their waking hours in the company of their office mates, the transition to remote work can leave a significant void. Unfortunately, these interactions can’t be perfectly replicated via a screen, but technology can help us to create spaces that replicate the office environment. Here at LinkUp, we’ve implemented a virtual “break room” where people can socialize with whomever they happen to “bump into” there, giving people the opportunity to chat with co-workers who might not be on their direct team. Slack channels dedicated to different non-work interests can be another great outlet. Try creating dedicated channels that employees can opt into to shoot the breeze about cooking, books, or what they’ve been binge watching during quarantine. Providing avenues that replicate the friendly and familiar vibe of your office is a great way to extend company culture to the work-from-home model.

Employee spotlights are another fun way to extend company culture to the work-from-home model. Develop a fun questionnaire for all employees to answer so people can share information about themselves. Each week, spotlight a different employee or two and share their answers via Slack or email. This (often hilarious) method can help bring new employees into the culture as well as share new information amongst coworkers who have known each other for awhile. Because you may think you know someone, but you definitely don’t know the three movies they’d bring with them to a deserted island!

A culture of giving

Corporate volunteer opportunities are a long-favored way to assist with team building and morale. These become trickier to create with remote teams, particularly during a pandemic. But there are still plenty of opportunities  for companies to unite for the collective good – you just have to get a bit creative. Invite employees to volunteer for a “clean up” shift around their neighborhood where they pick up litter (while donning personal protective gear, of course). Start a company fund drive for a local food shelf or other organization. Some creative googling will reveal if your city has any ‘mutual aid networks’ (think Craigslist for COVID-based needs) that have other opportunities to help. With a little savvy thinking, you can extend your company wide philosophy of giving through the remote work period. 

This new way of working can feel isolating and scary for employees and managers alike. Demonstrating a commitment to maintaining company culture shows your team that you’re there for them, and provides a welcome constant in a time of relative uncertainty. There’s no reason to abandon the culture you worked so hard to build, or even put it on pause. With a bit of creative thinking, you can carry it forward and keep it strong until we can all return to shared spaces.