Managing from Afar: Culture Continuity Ideas to Keep Employees Engaged

2020 has been the year of added and unforeseeable pressures, especially for team leaders. Many managers are directing distributed employees for the first time – seemingly overnight. Connected, yet disconnected. Stressed out like never before. Blurred work/life boundaries. Isolated Gen Zers. Working-from-home parents, sharing space and time with kids, partners, pets. All this plus establishing structure and maintaining morale.

The very concept of company culture is being tested. How does culture translate when not confined to a place? How do managers continue the best aspects of culture as the glue that keeps employees tethered to what made the company a happy, supportive workplace? Here are some ways we’ve heard in our conversations with leaders and managers in the marketplace:

Anticipating Needs to Keep Remote Employees Successful

One of our clients realized that a part of their culture was creating an environment where employees were used to having access to whatever software, hardware, or office gadgetry they needed to get their job done. The IT team and Operations teams always had goodies to make the workplace efficient and productive. Now, in a remote environment, the company has empowered work-from-home employees with a monthly stipend to outfit their remote workplace. Whether it’s an expanded keyboard, an extra monitor, a better chair, an online training session, or tool – employees can use or rollover (and accumulate) their improvement dollars.

Customizing Culture Connections to Age & Stage

Managers are creating opportunities to meet up and connect with colleagues based on the unique situations of employees. One company has a “Bring Your Kids to Zoom” meeting. The event acknowledges that many employees are trying to cope with childcare and even homeschooling while working, as many face situations where traditional support systems are not available. At the virtual get-together, employees’ children get to know each other while parents use the time to commiserate about a shared, taxing experience. Another company has one for employees and their pets.

A digital agency has instituted a pub-style Trivia Night for isolated younger employees. Others have purchased virtual Escape the Room sessions for employees to opt-in. Another offers a Water Cooler Break, designating a time and virtual safe space where employees can meet (no managers invited) to talk about anything but work, in a relaxed, unsupervised atmosphere – recreating those casual conversations that happened spontaneously in the office.

Company sports leagues and trips to professional sporting events were frequently a feature of corporate bonding opportunities. When organized sports aren’t available, managers have gotten creative. One team leader arranged a virtual 5k series, raising money for charity as a group. Counting step challenges are common, as are group yoga and workout sessions. Many encourage the employee to include family members and roommates to join, acknowledging that connecting as many humans as possible at this time is a good thing.

Never Underestimate the Power of Food

Unlimited coffee. Break room drawers full of snacks. The occasional catered lunch. Perks that many of us took for granted in a brick and mortar office. Some of our clients have recreated the experience by sending snack assortments, gourmet coffee selections, and meal delivery vouchers to remote employees. One agency sponsors a monthly online cooking class.

Bringing a Bit of the Office Home

As offices sit abandoned, so do the plants and other cultural mementos within. One company instituted an “Adopt a Plant” program, where green-thumbed employees could volunteer to care for an office plant during the pandemic. It’s an opportunity to adorn their living space with a welcomed distraction while bringing a bit of the office into the home.

The pandemic is a period of disruption on many levels and requires creative thinking to deliver employees comfort through familiar company characteristics. Overcompensating when it comes to connection and communication is essential to achieve cultural continuity in extraordinarily uncertain times.

For more insights to help you manage through today’s uncertainty, click here.