Company Culture from the Couch
It has been five and a half years since I sat down for the interview for my current job. And while on most good days, I’m lucky to remember what I had for breakfast, I distinctly remember the word “culture” coming up quite often during our discussion. This is a word that I had truly seldom heard, if at all, from previous companies that I had worked for. I was not entirely sure what it all meant, other than I gathered it had something to do with how everyone got along and how the company treated them.
Not long after starting my job here, I quickly began to understand what culture meant to this company and its employees. It meant inclusiveness, morale-boosting, pride in our work, and a certain measure in not taking ourselves quite too seriously. There were Friday Fun-days, and potlucks, drones, and flying blow-up sharks to help make out afternoons in the office interesting, waffle Wednesdays, and of course the occasional office challenges that took the concept of getting work done and friendly competition to a whole new level. Almost every week there was something fun or tasty going on and it made for great team building, as well as morale-boosting when the work seemed impossible. There is strong merit in the idea that a happy employee is a productive employee and ETE, as well as its office, sure went to lengths to achieve that.
Then came March 13th, 2020. Friday the 13th, if you will. Dun, dun duuuunnn! Covid-19 had made its way to Southeast Wisconsin and we were told over that weekend by our leadership that we were going to be staying home and working remotely. We all thought it would just be a few short weeks and then back to our familiar stomping grounds we would go. However, after some time, it became fairly evident that we would continue to be working remotely for the foreseeable future.
So now what would we do? How would we keep up with each other and continue the fun and family-like work atmosphere we had worked so hard to achieve? Especially when a great deal of that revolved around our mutual love of food and gathering? Well, we first started by doing Friday Happy Hours after work via ZOOM. We gathered around with our favorite beverage and just shoot the proverbial, you-know-what. In the first several weeks it did help us to stay connected on a more personal level and lighten our spirits to see familiar faces. But after a while, the interest in these distanced “social” gatherings began to lose their intrigue. Then it was decided we would transform these simple, yet necessary gatherings into something a bit more involved, a bit more elaborate. We had GAME NIGHTS! These ran the gamut of online type programs such as House Party or JackBox to trivia nights. The level of comradery that was able to be achieved by these “gatherings” really helped to not only preserve the already established connections and culture we had cultivated in the office but also to help create new bonds with our newer employees.
Of course, the culture within a company is founded on many levels. As a team lead, it was not long before I realized the importance of maintaining a level of connection within my own team. Ensuring connection on these smaller levels is really the most important in creating and maintaining a positive cultural environment for a company. I soon began to incorporate fun, lighthearted elements into our daily and weekly meetings, as well as organizing a weekly “social” hour (15-20 minutes in reality). Some of the things I did were scheduling the 2nd half of our weekly meetings to be dedicated to a team-building activity, such as a game, or individual one-on-one sessions to give team members a real opportunity to get to know one another. Not only has this helped to break up the monotony that is remote working, but also helped to boost morale and thus productivity.
Building culture is definitely hard work and requires continuous effort, but whether in an office or through an internet meeting room, it can survive and thrive. What are your teams doing to stay (but not quite within 6 feet) close?