Just a month ago we were a team of 30+ employees. Dedicated, hard-working, and tight-knit. We knew how lucky we were to be working at such a company with such a committed crew.
And then coronavirus entered our lives, along with a host of unfamiliar phrases like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve.” Just like everybody else, we had to adopt a new language and a new mindset, and adapt quickly to an increasingly uncertain environment with variables that were unimaginable only a few weeks ago.
And here we are 30 days later, a distributed team spread across multiple cities and time zones, with our culture intact and workflow going strong. How did we do it?
Adopt and Adapt
Employee morale and well-being have always been our number one priority. In the rapid and scary first few days of the COVID-19 outbreak, with news reports trickling in and fear understandably growing, we ramped up communications with our team to address any and all concerns.
Never downplaying the situation, we instituted a generous work-from-home policy before it was mandated, which encouraged employees to take from the office or acquire whatever equipment was needed to weather this storm as productively and comfortably as possible. We wanted to make sure our employees felt seen, heard, and safe, and we stressed how we’re all in this together. This kind of flexibility, compassion, and trust has, in turn, created a remote team that consistently delivers and continuously connects.
One of our employees giving the rest of us #homeoffice goals.
Keeping Up with the Communications
We send out two company-wide messages a week to keep employees informed and uplifted. Transparency, with a little bit of heart and a whole lot of gratitude, has kept the team closer than ever.
On Mondays, we send out a message from the partners, who set an inspiring tone for the week with their clarity on company performance, while keeping us aware of significant developments with our clients.
On Fridays, the Director of Culture and Outreach (that’s me) closes out the week. I end on a lighter note with curated resources to help with working from home, managing stress and anxiety, and fun distractions such as virtual museum tours or at-home concert schedules (and dog gifs, because dogs make everything better).
This counts as exercise. Change our minds.
Let’s Get Together
Just because we’re far apart doesn’t mean we can’t work closely. Almost all communications take place via video call – so we have every opportunity to see each other’s faces. We’ve traded conference rooms for Zoom rooms and hanging out in the kitchen with Google Hangouts.
Much of our old working life has stayed the same, except now it’s virtual. And although we mean business, we’ve made sure to include moments of levity in every meeting: icebreakers abound with personal check-ins aplenty.
Not only do we strive to maintain the same level of interaction as we would in person, but we’ve gone out of our way to create new opportunities to connect. There are still the weekly coffee chats and happy hours, but now we have a twice-weekly group stretching/breathwork program and a robust Lunch & Learn series. If anything, we’re getting more in touch with more members of the company than ever before.
An example of how we adapted our favorite culture events: We converted our annual Easter egg hunt to the virtual realm by hiding eggs in our own homes. Can you spot the egg? 👀
These times are indeed strange, unprecedented, and unpredictable. But actively bolstering our individual and collective teams has anchored our morale throughout the madness.
We’ve even been able to build productivity and promote resilience. But there would be no remote collaboration without individual connection. And fostering a remote company culture (enhancing what was already there before) has been the key to our ability to remain sane and keep the business fully operational during such a stressful time.
We don’t know how long this will last. Or even what the world will look like at the end of it. But we’re proud of the steps this team has taken. And we’re ready for whatever comes next.
The company that Namastes together, stays together.
Hana’s Top Tips for Building Remote Culture
- Maintain an open-door policy: give everyone the chance to be heard, and let the team heavily influence your evolving culture.
- Create collective experiences: whether via virtual hangouts, group chats, or online team building activities, find a way to build collective inclusivity. Get creative beyond the classic happy hour to keep things lively and unexpected.
- Make time for small talk: start meetings on a lighter note with icebreakers or non-work related questions, ensuring that everyone has a chance to participate. This makes it easy for people to speak up later on and helps teams stay connected on a personal level.
- Suggest a dedicated work environment: encourage separation between your team’s work and home life to foster a professional mindset and help prevent burnout.
- Promote time management: create “availability norms” – resist the urge to be on-call 24/7 – and make sure you get plenty of downtime.
- Communicate clearly and regularly: set regular check-ins, and establish new communication routines. But give people the head-space to work and recharge.
- Share resources: be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to cope with the stresses of our new lockdown-life.
- Be positive and optimistic: everyone is feeling the heat right now. Your job is to lead with positivity and a steadying hand.
- Focus on the now: don’t push things off, assuming that they will be taken care of when the office is back together in person. Understand that all teams are in a state of transition and deal with issues as they arise.
- Support the outliers: many will find working from home a challenge. Identify those likely to struggle the most, and strategize on how to support them individually.
Hana Lee Goldin is the Director of Culture and Outreach at Iron Creative and, when state and federal law permits, a certified Forest Therapy Guide.