In the remote era, where face-to-face meetings aren’t routinely possible, how do you cultivate a strong company culture?
Before the global health crisis hit, our experiential travel company, Moniker, planned creative corporate retreats, off-sites, and incentive trips for clients worldwide. Think ‘Amazing Race’ using tuk-tuks in Thailand or sailing on the Amalfi Coast. Or maybe hosting a game of ‘Survivor’ on the beaches of a Caribbean resort. Things changed rather quickly when global travel restrictions started piling up back in April. Soon, all (literally, all) of our clients began to cancel one-by-one until what initially looked like a banner year of sales and growth for our company became one chilling glare at a giant zero for the rest of 2020.
The Eureka Moment: Company Culture
As the old saying goes…
“Out of crisis comes clarity.”
As the situation unfolded, we realized what we were to our clients beforehand wasn’t a travel company. Instead, we were a one-stop-shop for them to outsource culture-building experience(s). We were co-architects of their company culture. As companies moved into a remote-work setup, engagement became more of a challenge. So, clients would lean on us to boost morale. We would help them maintain strong engagement and keep their teamwork and company culture strong in a remote world.
We decided to create a limited series of nine virtual concepts over six months, from scratch. With no prior experience, no existing product, and quite frankly no idea of how to do it, we crossed over the $100,000 sales milestone in a short span of three months. Now, after seven months, we have just crossed the $1 million mark. Along the way, we’ve learned several things both large and small companies can do to engage employees, jump-start team (re)building, and cultivate strong team cultures in the new remote-work era:
1) Shared Team Experiences
It could be as simple as introducing a company-wide, at-home fitness challenge. Perhaps rewarding employees or teams when they meet critical deadlines or hit work milestones works in your company. Or maybe facilitating a bi-weekly virtual ‘Coffee Chat’ so the group can discuss a book or movie everyone has watched. An optional after-hours ‘Cooking Club,’ where people can learn new recipes and techniques from colleagues with different culinary backgrounds, was quite well-received.
Whatever you choose, finding new ways to get people participating in something outside of work helps foster a strong sense of camaraderie. Don’t be afraid to get partners and children involved either. After all, involving employees’ families creates a more personal connection to their colleagues and positively impacts team morale.
2) WFH Swag
Gone are the days of getting dressed up for work or attending meetings with company-branded stationery. The reality is that most of us in the work-from-home setup have embraced a much more casual approach to work attire and have carved out a little niche in our homes as our new office space. We’ve also gotten wise to “below-the-screen” (vs. “on-camera”) wardrobe, where comfort is king.
Consider getting everyone some premium-quality, company-branded jogger sweatpants, Or maybe comfy indoor shoes, or a ‘go-to’ work top for team meetings and client-facing calls (a black crewneck sweater with your logo works well). Not only is this swag practical, but you’re also taking some of the thought out of what to wear to “work” each morning.
3) Non-Traditional Rewards
Just as appreciated as physical items and gifts, non-tangible rewards are another great way to let employees know they are valued. Acknowledge hard work or major milestone achievements with a day off for everyone. Or give teams some flexibility with the option of starting later one day or shutting down the laptop early on Fridays around the upcoming holiday season.
It’s also important to acknowledge that working from home comes with its own set of challenges. The reality is, even after several months of experience, some remote workers struggle to separate their work lives from their personal lives. Show you understand this problem by encouraging them to take a vacation (even if it is just a staycation). Then respect that time by leaving them alone during their PTO.
4) Ask for More Frequent Feedback and Encourage Input
For companies used to providing employee feedback in person, change your approach by engaging employees more frequently. Also, adapt the conversation to a remote-first situation.
Consider introducing quarterly or even monthly “Pulse Checks,” asking about their opinions on work performance or the business and asking for insight into their mental, financial, and physical wellness. Please encourage them to share their thoughts on how they are adapting to the new setup. Ask if there is anything that would help improve their situation (a second screen perhaps?). Finally, solicit ideas on how to improve morale. Most importantly, be upfront and sincere about your willingness to incorporate their input into implementing changes going forward.
5) Virtual Team-Building Activities
In addition to the shared experiences mentioned above, consider hosting monthly or bi-weekly virtual team-building events. During these events, be sure to mix up teams of employees who don’t often work together. Also, introduce a few games to lighten the mood and break up the cycle of daily work.
There are thousands of options out there – a simple Google search will turn up everything from pub quizzes to escape rooms. At-home scavenger hunts and improv comedy classes are popular. Are you feeling more adventurous? NASA-inspired lunar disaster scenarios and virtual murder mysteries can bring teams closer together, even when far apart.
6) Show Appreciation
Unfortunately, we underappreciate the simple gesture of a personal thank-you — a powerful motivator and culture-building tool. According to a Glassdoor survey on workplace retention, 81% of employees work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work. That is a staggering number for what can be as easy as a personal note of sincere thanks or shout-outs during a team meeting.
Sure, mass messages are an effective means of communicating. But they don’t necessarily come off as thoughtful when used to show appreciation. Instead, opt for a personal phone call or draft individualized messages in Slack or e-mail. In the process, show you’re paying attention by point out the specific contributions made by the employee. This gesture often leads to significantly higher productivity and engagement down the road.
As we adapt to the remote-work era, these are several ways companies can show appreciation and boost morale. For more ideas on building strong cultures in a virtual world, check out Moniker’s blog here.