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Thursday, March 11, 2021

Maintaining Culture During a Pandemic: How We Engage With Our Team Virtually

By Tara Loftus

While we operate in a technical industry, Something Digital, now a part of Rightpoint, looks to create a collaborative environment that extends beyond a computer screen. Pre-COVID, we worked in an office space that was inherently collaborative: an open floor plan where team members could invite new hires to shadow them from their desks or walk over to offer support. We hosted various in-office celebrations and activities. Within your first few weeks here, it would be impossible for you not to have not engaged with most of the team. Extending beyond the NY office, we also flew out remote employees for their initial onboarding, and every quarter following that, providing an opportunity to strengthen those ties beyond client meetings and daily standups.

Thought: Maintaining Culture During a Pandemic: How We Engage With Our Team Virtually
Maintaining Culture During a Pandemic: How We Engage With Our Team VirtuallyTara Loftus
Thought: Maintaining Culture During a Pandemic: How We Engage With Our Team Virtually

The New Normal

When the pandemic hit, we were forced to evaluate who we are and how our identity would be shaped by a remote working environment. Fortunately, we found that while our daily routines had shifted, the culture we had created in-office not only remained intact but had evolved. We found ourselves developing new and creative ways to engage with each other. We also discovered early on that during moments of uncertainty, transparency was always key. To support this, one of the most important activities we implemented was our twice-weekly company all-hands meetings. During this call, our entire team tunes in to hear about the organization directly from our senior leaders. They speak candidly about our team satisfaction, clients, internal activities, and overall performance. Once a month, we also host a celebration day, where we acknowledge all birthdays and anniversaries that are being celebrated. 

Engaging Employees Remotely

Aside from internal communication, we have also found new ways to have fun with one another. We have participated in many different remote engagement activities such as: tournament style game sessions, monthly yoga classes, virtual coffee/happy hours, Paint ‘N Sip, and a surprise visit from an animal sanctuary. These activities, although virtual, allow individuals to escape the monotony of the day-to-day and reengage in the aspects of working in an office that we miss when we’re at home. As the lines between work/personal life began to blur, we also encouraged our team to take necessary breaks. To support this, we offered an opportunity for team members to expense either a Calm or Headspace account. 

We recognized that in addition to work-related stress, many of our team members were struggling with personal stressors. Specifically, parents who now had to take on an additional role as teachers while their children navigated remote learning. With the formation of our Parent Support Group, we provided resources to team members struggling during this time. Through our engagement with the team, we realized that solely providing information was only a sticking a band aid to a deeper issue. Instead of offering unsolicited advice, we recognized that many employees needed to be heard and provided with the necessary flexibility to address the demands they were facing outside of their work. We encouraged employees to take time off and collaborate with their managers to create a schedule that accommodated the additional demands of their new daily routine. Navigating the unknowns of remote work has taught us that not everything we implement will be an immediate success, and that as an organization, we only fail when we don’t try. Team engagement is a practice of trial and error, and with every new challenge, we learn to adapt. This is not only important to maintain our existing culture but is especially significant when introducing new team members. 

Virtual Onboarding

We were fortunate that prior to the pandemic, we had already developed a thorough and effective onboarding process that was easy to translate to remote work. This is not to say that remote onboarding was an immediate success. Much like our engagement with the existing team, we had to evolve. Initially, we had to navigate technical issues and barriers in communication. Unlike onboarding in office, a new hire was unable to wave down a colleague immediately when they had a problem. Instead, we had to set the groundwork for them and map out the appropriate avenues for optimal communication. 

During a new hire’s first week with us, they will attend various onboarding meetings with department heads to get a complete overview of how we operate not only in relation to their role, but as an organization. We will also schedule regular check-ins during their first three months to monitor your progress and address any concerns. Aside from orientations and check ins, they will also be presented with comprehensive training plans and materials that will guide them through onboarding and set them up for success. Whether they are a new or existing employee, we have made it our mission to continuously engage with the team as effectively as we would when we are working together in person. 

In Conclusion

While remote work poses many unique obstacles, we feel fortunate to have established an adaptive and functional work environment that remains just as effective whether we are all in one conference room or spread across various states and continents. As the technology we use continues to evolve, so do we, and this current crisis has shown our resilience.