When social distancing protocols came into effect to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, office employees took their work home and became remote employees overnight.
However, one thing may have been left behind at the office. Namely, your company culture—the sum of all shared beliefs, goals and aspirations that your employees have; the “glue” of your organization that attracts top talent and inspires your employees to be productive, dedicated and engaged.
Company culture is sustained by the everyday workday: friendly banter while making coffee, lunch with coworkers, a strong sense of collaboration and the energetic productivity that comes from teams working towards the same goals in a shared environment.
Which means that now, with employees away from the office and in relative isolation, HR managers like yourself need to promote and sustain a positive remote company culture.
Think of a remote company culture as an iteration of your company culture: a version that’s adapted for the virtual, tech-driven interactions your employees are now having.
A remote team culture makes liberal use of GIFs, memes and emojis for teambuilding and instant communication. It encourages sharing ideas, research and articles through emails or Slack channels rather than randomly by word of mouth or happenstance—often the case in an office where everyone is physically present and not connecting online as much.
Building a strong remote team culture also means relying on a more structured approach to allow moments of connection to happen by providing options and opportunities for your employees to engage with each other at their own pace.
Consider using Donut (an app which integrates with Slack) to help employees make new connections within your organization. Donut matches employees up randomly for a virtual coffee or lunch break, giving everyone in your organization the chance to make connections within many departments.
Alternatively or in addition to Donut’s virtual connections, you can also send weekly questions by email or in a Slack channel and encourage people to engage and find a connection over baking tips, the latest on Netflix or a favourite author. Suggest interesting TED talks or podcasts to keep the conversation going and cater to everyone’s interests.
Stress caused by uncertainty and concern over COVID-19 might mean that your employees have adopted a “head-down” approach. This means they’re focusing on the work and only the work, interacting with coworkers only when required to get information or a status update on a project.
You can generate interest in social activities by asking your employees for feedback on what they’d like to do. Create polls in Slack or use a free online poll maker such as the one offered by Doodle.
Once you have a few suggestions, you’ll want to remove as many barriers to participation as possible. Consider funding as many activities as your budget allows. For example, if everyone is interested in a book club or discussing a movie together, send Amazon or Cineplex/iTunes e-gift cards to everyone to cover the cost.
You can also put out a call for volunteers to lead virtual events to help bolster your remote company culture. For example, our Recruiter/HR Generalist at Rise People, Janelle Dupont, is also a yoga instructor and she leads weekly online yoga workouts on Google Hangouts.
Ask your employees to demonstrate their hidden talents and you could have cooking classes, art night, trivia contests, poetry sessions and other creative, employee-led social activities that can help strengthen your company culture while everyone works from home.
If you have employees working in different time zones, you don’t need to do any complicated math to make sure you find a time that works for everyone.
Use a World Clock Meeting Planner to quickly see which times work best, okay or not at all for everyone in your organization.
Keep an eye on participation numbers for events that take place during lunch or after work. You might find that some people prefer lunch whereas some prefer socially connecting with coworkers in the early afternoon. Ask for feedback after a few events to gauge if there’s a strong preference for when to schedule events.