Preserving Culture, From a Distance
The Coronavirus pandemic has effectively changed the way we work forever. Over the past few months, millions of people around the word have shifted to working remotely, eking out makeshift offices in quiet corners of their homes to resume their workday as normally as possible.
Now, as the spread of the virus slows and government officials push to slowly reopen the economy, we’re faced with unique challenges and questions of when, and how, we can bring our teams back to the office. Business leaders around the globe are facing increasingly sophisticated issues related to wellness, finance, employment, marketing, and product development as we enter this new phase in the pandemic. However, we want to shed light on a less frequently voiced, yet still critically important, concern for businesses during this time: culture preservation.
The Power of Incidental Moments
Earlier this year, our Founder and CEO Todd Knapp was a featured panelist on a virtual session hosted by Venture Café Providence. The purpose of the session was to discuss “what’s next” after the stark impact COVID-19 has had on existing strategies, models, and infrastructures.
During the session, Todd touched upon the difficulty associated with preserving culture while your workforce is distributed. He used the phrase “incidental moments” to describe those random opportunities we have, while in the same physical space, to show our coworkers that we care about them. Whether it’s simply a wave in passing, or an unexpected act of kindness, these are the moments we experience throughout our days that inevitably help to build company culture. During a time when all non-essential employees are mandated to work from home, we miss these interactions. We miss these “incidental moments” where we show our coworkers, through our actions, that we enjoy being a part of their team. Even as we slowly transition back to our physical office spaces, these incidental moments will be burdened by social distancing and infection control guidelines.
Preserving Culture – Is it Essential?
With the deluge of issues that companies must contend with as a result of COVID-19, it’s easy to let a less tangible byproduct of business, like culture, go unnoticed. Even if it hasn’t gone unnoticed, you may be finding it difficult to find ways to connect with your coworkers during this extended period of quarantine. As the weeks of working from home continue on, working remotely may incite feelings of loneliness and distraction.
With financial and employment concerns looming, culture preservation may not be at the top of your list of action items. However, we’re arguing that it needs to be prioritized - it is an essential part of your business. Culture - the ideas, values, behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes that drive the way we feel about and respond to our working environment – is a critical building block of any successful organization. If you’ve been pushing culture-building initiatives off to the side, or ignoring them altogether, it may be time to refocus your team’s efforts. The good news is these culture-building initiatives don’t have to be huge overhauls or large investments of time and effort.
Envision’s culture is unique, and it’s fueled by the creativity and spirits of our team. Whether it’s challenging our team to a Nerf gun skills tournament (complete with flying drones), dressing up in outrageous costumes for our famous Halloween celebrations, or orchestrating a company-wide “prank day” for our CEO, our office culture is founded in these fun, challenging events. We embrace silliness, humor, creative freedom, and of course – our love for food – during these events. Our employees frequently cite our culture as one of the major reasons why they enjoy doing what they do so much. So – that begs that question: How does a company whose culture is founded on large, in-person events preserve some sense of normalcy during the pandemic?
What We’ve Been Doing
Since the start of our transition to work-from-home, HR and Marketing have teamed up to deliver a virtual game to all employees during the lunch hour every Friday afternoon. These virtual game hours are hosted via a Microsoft Teams video meeting. Here are some of the games we’ve sponsored so far during our virtual game hours:
- Team-based Jeopardy
- Riddle-based home scavenger hunt
- Werewolf (social deduction game)
- Treasure hunt with a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
- Mad libs
These games have required some level of prior planning and coordination to implement, but not every culture-building initiative needs to be this detailed. For example, every second Tuesday of the month, Envision hosts a “Cake Day” to celebrate the birthdays and work anniversaries that month. Since we can’t all gather to enjoy some sweets, we hosted a “Virtual Cake Day” where our team gathered to chat and show off the desserts they had created for the occasion.
These culture-building initiatives also don’t need to be planned out ahead of time either. In fact, the more random your connective experiences are, the closer they come to the concept of incidental moments. For example, once or twice a week, Todd will host a virtual video meeting to chat about non work-related topics over coffee in the mornings, or over a drink at the end of the day. The meeting is open to all employees, but there’s no pressure to join. Typically, these meetings will draw anywhere between 5-15 people, and it’s a great opportunity for our team to have social interaction with their colleagues that’s focused on fun and relaxation.
It’s Not Too Late to Start
Whether or not you’ve been nurturing your company’s culture during this pandemic, there’s never a bad time to refocus your efforts. While we’re currently entering a new reopening phase of this pandemic, it will likely still be several months until things are “back to normal” again. Even then, the concept of “normal” will be much different than it was before the virus came into our lives. We strongly encourage you to turn your attention to a part of your business that may have been neglected due to the hectic events of these past few months. Whether you plan a virtual company get-together, design a game for your team, or simply host a coffee hour, your employees will appreciate the opportunity to connect in a way that isn’t strictly work-related.
Recently, Envision hosted a webinar about maintaining company culture across a distributed workforce. We talked not only about how you can support your employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing during this trying time, but we also elaborated on what we’ve been doing to help our own team stay connected. We encourage you to watch the recording of the webinar on Envision’s YouTube channel. If you have questions about any of the events we planned or would like to learn more about Envision’s culture-focused strategy during the pandemic, we want to hear from you. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at (401) 272-6688.