Preserving company culture in the age of WFH

Water-cooler chats, all-hands meetings, lunch and learns, and after-work happy hours can often contribute to a healthy company culture. But no one truly knows when our offices will return to normal. The sudden shift to remote work and Zoom calls has made it difficult for companies to maintain a strong sense of office cohesion and to cultivate team-building activities for their employees. While it’s difficult to recreate the interpersonal aspects of the in-office environment, there are ways to maintain a unique and enjoyable office culture remotely.

You really have to commit to being remote. I think that’s helped us maintain a cohesiveness. – Robert Grazioli, Founder & Designer at Density

Promote socializing

The days of strolling through the office and talking to people are on pause. As such, introverts may find it difficult to take the proactive step of scheduling a friendly virtual hangout or calling a coworker just to catch up. Plus, many office interactions happen in passing; you can’t schedule “casual.” Companies should be mindful of this new dynamic and make an effort to establish social spaces where employees can simply enjoy each other’s company and maintain their bonds.

Our executive team at Density has scheduled a weekly, voluntary meeting called “Remote” where any and all employees can sign in and talk about whatever they want. It’s a mid-week social hour that the team can rely on. They also host a weekly game of virtual Trivia. Employees are randomly paired off and the winning team gets a GrubHub gift card to help ease the WFH food prep stress. Not only do these virtual hangouts help coworkers stay connected, but they also offer a time to not talk about work. Have fun, get creative, and when in doubt, ask your employees for ideas! (Sidenote: offering food as a prize is a great motivator.)

Cut everybody some slack

Slack is an incredibly useful platform. It’s also entirely overwhelming, and quite often disorganized. Putting up guardrails so team communication doesn’t break down is important. Consider encouraging employees to message mostly in public and team channels so the conversation can stay open to broader feedback and influence. While some communication needs to be one-on-one for either collaborative or interpersonal reasons, most project comms can be aired out over the proverbial roundtable. This way no team members feel alienated if kept out of the loop, even incidentally. Although many decisions need to be private, executive teams can try this as well. Doing so will maintain a more inclusive work environment and allow employees to feel included in the scope and direction of larger company goals. 

Try a Pechakucha

A Pechakucha is an incredible way to allow employees to speak to and educate their colleagues about a topic that they are genuinely passionate about. This short-form storytelling medium that consists of someone giving a strictly 20 slide presentation on something that they are passionate about, the catch is, they only have 20 seconds per slide. While roughly six minutes does not seem like a lot of time to teach people about a topic, it is unbelievable how much information is transferred when you are truly passionate about the topic. This format can be done virtually and allows employees to learn something new.

Resist surveillance

On its face, productivity tracking software seems to make sense. You might want to make sure your newly remote employees are putting in the hours they normally would at the office. However, just like learning, everyone works differently. Working from home may actually help certain employees find a better balance between “on” and “off” hours. Their final work product may be better because they took some time in the middle of the day to go for a walk or play with their dog.

If a company is literally monitoring how many hours you’re on Zoom calls or how many hours you’re on email, that doesn’t necessarily translate to results. And it can create a really terrible culture. – Leanna Castello, VP of Customer Success, Density

One benefit of a remote team is that it’s hard for any employee, whether they’re the CEO or a contractor, to skate by on time spent face to face. Which is to say, just because someone is in the office doesn’t mean they are actually getting the job done. WFH should have a results based dynamic, where the job is either done or not. Progress is either made or it isn’t. Some team members may work 9-to-5 like they would in the office, but some may be night owls and shift their schedule to better fit the way they naturally work. Either way, overly surveilling your team members and keeping track of “hours spent” will likely foster distrust and negatively affect company culture.

Host idea blasts

Similar to an open forum, these “Idea Blasts” are meant to spark meaningful and collaborative conversations throughout the company. The general format of these Idea Blasts goes as follows: there will be a general prompt or problem that needs to be solved, it does not have to be directly related to the company, and randomized teams of employees will be broken into groups for a set amount of time to discuss creative solutions to the prompt or problem. These Idea Blasts are meant to bring together members of the company who don’t necessarily always interact with one another and promote a fun and creative way to collaborate.

Ask for feedback

No one understands your company’s culture better than the people experiencing it every day. Empower your employees to provide constructive feedback on how it’s going. Some employees may respond well to the above activities and social-hours, but some may not. What’s the old saying about best laid plans? Company culture is not a one-and-done project. Maintaining a healthy, productive, supportive work dynamic is an ongoing process that needs regular updates, management, and tangible goals. The last thing you want is for your employees to feel unheard. Google Forms, anonymous surveys, virtual Q&A sessions. You can use these to glean insight into how your efforts are or are not paying off and how you may be able to improve.

Company culture is paramount. If you foster a collaborative and engaging work environment, your org will produce better products, attract top talent, and better yet, keep them around to grow with the business. The above list is by no means exhaustive, but it may help get you started. If you treat your team well, the distance between desks won’t matter. Happy Zooming!

Webinar: Robert Grazioli, Co-Founder at Density, and Leanna Castello, VP of Customer Success discuss working from home and how to maintain company culture.