Cultivating Company Culture in a World Gone Work-From-Home
Tuesday, March 10.
That’s when the first companywide message went out to our team addressing COVID-19.
At the time, we thought we were merely being proactive. That these were simply precautionary measures. A few minor hygiene reminders that would keep us all safe and we’d be good.
Over two months and countless emails later, we now know just how hopeful and Disney-eyed that sounds.
By that Friday — Friday the Thirteenth, no less — we were already instructing team members to pack up everything including their monitors. This was not a drill. This was not a test. We, like so many, were about to set sail into uncharted waters as remote work unbeknowingly became our new normal.
As every early-issued state and municipal stay-at-home order was extended, it soon became clear to our team how extremely fortunate we were to work for such an already flexible and agile company. Video and teleconferencing technology were well in place, and thanks to having a handful of fulltime team members who are ordinarily remote, an overall familiarity had previously been established for everyone, making the general transition and the shifts in day-to-day processes more seamless. Aside from the fact that all of us were now working from home, our team had been able to carry on largely unfazed with business as usual, something we know not everyone or every organization has been as lucky to experience.
Even with being fortunate enough to forge on through such uncertain times, there was still no accounting for the toll this pandemic was taking on the wellness of our team, which goes much further than just their tangible health and safety.
At a company like OneSpace, where even our introverts are extroverts and culture is as much a part of our core business as productivity and profitability, we knew focusing on team engagement was more crucial than ever before. What we didn’t know was to what great lengths everyone on our team would go to in order to keep that engagement intact.
So What’d We Do?
Before we answer that, it’s probably best we provide a little background.
At OneSpace, every new employee completes a quiz that “sorts” them (think Harry Potter) onto one of seven “Values Teams” shortly after they’re hired. Those teams are then tasked with serving as an example of their assigned company value by way of their day-to-day actions and through various team-building activities. Our core values include being approachable, being an expert, putting the team above self, being results-oriented, being a positive force, being respectful and reinforcing that OneSpace is more than just a job.
Every team also appoints a captain for the year, all of whom are responsible for meeting together each month to help coordinate plans and events for the company. Realizing that we’d be stuck at home for longer that initially anticipated, the captains quickly got to work on how to keep the company united.
The outcome was a rotating calendar where every week, a different Values Team takes ownership of planning something to help rally their colleagues together.
The following is all just a taste of what these teams have helped organize.
Art Recreation Challenge
After learning of the recent Instagram challenge that had quarantined users across the world submitting their reimagined version of famous portraits and works of art with random objects found around the home, OneSpace decided to get in on the trend. Team members were given a week to submit their recreations, with their fellow colleagues then voting on a winner.
Submissions spanned everything from Picasso and Van Gogh to Rousseau and Caravaggio, and made use of sheets, towels, pantry items, etc. We were just glad to see the team appeared to be well-stocked on plenty of fresh produce despite the ongoing crisis.
Below are a few of our favorites.
Andrea – The Girl With A Doll by Henri Rousseau:
Mirsad – Boy with a Basket of Fruit by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio:
Lauren – La clownesse Cha-U-Kao by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:
Virtual Spirit Week
Since 2016, team members have participated annually in our own version of a high school spirit week, where employees take part in a variety of daily themed activities and competitions while also traditionally raising money for a local cause.
Now, whereas we typically don’t hold the event until summer’s end, we’re doing a lot of things we don’t typically do these days, and so we made an exception for a special virtual edition of the weeklong spectacular.
Throughout each day, team members shared photos, videos and/or musings relevant to the theme at hand via a dedicated Slack channel set up specifically for the annual event. Themes for this remote iteration included Monochromatic Monday, the never-dull-and-ever-entertaining TikTok Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Cult Classic Thursday, and as always, closed out on Friday with OneSpace Day. At the week’s end, the winning team (based on highest participation) received a gift card for Instacart to hopefully help save them a trip out to the grocery store during the pandemic.
Here are some of the moments shared by the team, who didn’t hesitate to pull in assistance from pets, kids and significant others alike.
Kelsey in All Yellow on Monochromatic Monday:
Stefano as Dustin from Stranger Things on Cult Classic Thursday:
Alan (and Gilbert) on OneSpace Friday:
If your office is anything like ours, it’s typical to hear sounds of communal Spotify playlists reverberating throughout our formerly shared workspaces (may they forever rest in peace).
With music being about one of the only things you can get away with sharing at the moment void risk of a public shaming, one of our teams decided to help keep these melodic vibes flowing while also supporting local musicians. They arranged for a weeklong music series called Bound to Play. Each day, a different artist from a variety of genres closed out our workday by performing a short concert via Zoom. Following the performances, team members could donate to a virtual tip jar of sorts that all went back to that day’s artist.
Artists included Vincent Varvel, a professional musician and guitar instructor at Washington University; Luisa Sims, an Americana, Folk, and Blues artist and songwriter; Amy Greenhalgh, who plays viola and violin with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and is an adjunct instructor at Washington University; Hal Pascale, lead singer of Cherokee Moon; and Johanna Ballou, a solo, chamber and collaborative pianist who performs across the United States and abroad.
Somewhat of a frequent event held at OneSpace, our good old fashioned trivia nights were always held in our open lounge area. Given that use of our office wasn’t an option this time around, we checked in with our regular host for these events — who coordinates other trivia nights around the area — about whether he’d be open to trying a virtual one.
Using our video conferencing system, Highfive, he was able to arrange five rounds of trivia for us with ten questions each. Meanwhile, employees got their respective teams in order, which were open to spouses, partners, kids, roommates, etc. Each team also set up their own private chat or video meeting outside of the one being used by our host to enable them to discuss and sidebar on their answers throughout the event. At the end of each round, they’d email their responses to our host to review and tabulate scores, with the winning team solidifying their ultimate nerd status. To be clear, being labeled a nerd is high praise at OneSpace.
Never short on finding a reason to celebrate, this group was certainly not about to let any amount of social distancing keep them from still being, well, social.
As we tried our hand at organizing various virtual happy hours, we also wanted to make sure to keep things interesting. To help, local bartenders were invited to hop on the video conference, who could then show us how to make a few luxe libations.
Similar to the music series, there was also a virtual tip jar so team members could help support these friends in the service industry.
Eat Local Challenge
Taking that service industry support a step further, the entire team was challenged to still eat local — only safely, of course — in order to help struggling restaurants within the community that were all but shuttered by the virus. Team members were then invited to virtually share their grub by posting salivate-worthy food porn to Slack that would leave their colleagues both jealous and hungry.
Ordinarily, we offer a daily lunch delivery service, where team members can choose to order and have lunch picked up for them from a predetermined restaurant de jour selected from a rotating list of local favorites. The same idea was applied to the challenge as well, with us featuring a OneSpace local favorite and often frequented establishment each day.
As we’ve mentioned a few times already, our team uses the messaging platform Slack for a lot of our communication, particularly when it comes to quick announcements, updates and conversations. In order to help keep communication focused, we leverage a mix of private and public channels designated to specific projects, teams, subject matters, etc.
With everyone working from home, that meant not being able to do those quick drivebys or simply popping over to ask your neighbor a question. It also meant use of Slack was sure to be on the up and up.
Given the influx in Slack messages, we wanted to make sure none of our previous channels would get bogged down with distractions and talk of all these other goings-on.
To help, we created additional channels dedicated specifically to sharing news or event updates relevant to COVID-19. That include a #wfh-tips channel, where team members could share their own personal accounts or outside articles that offered advice for how to navigate working remotely, especially for those completely new to the experience.
We also set up a #keepingcommunity channel, where we ask team members to share the bulk of their event-related photos and other musings, as well as news or stories that they might otherwise have shared with their colleagues around the proverbial watercooler.
And while started prior to the pandemic, one of our team members continues to provide a #dailydoseofpositivity, whereby she typically requests that our colleagues share something good or uplifting with the rest of the company, also typically supplying some sort of prompt. Past examples include sharing favorite songs or artists team members are feeling at the moment, telling us something fun they did over the weekend, listing off what shows they’re currently binge-watching, etc.
Other Internal Communication + Resource Sharing
Outside of our Slack efforts, we’ve perhaps never been more focused on transparency and communication than we are at this moment. And here my dad thought communication was just a made-up major.
Aside from now-weekly emails to the team outlining any new developments they should be aware of — both regarding our business as well as COVID-19 — we’ve also spent a great deal of time getting input from the entire team to help ensure we’re communicating with them effectively and that we’re putting together the best plan possible for any potential return to work.
As part of that, we’ve benefited greatly from leveraging Culture Amp, which we’ve used for pulse checks regarding team engagement. We’ve also used the tool to survey the team on how they’ve gauged our company response thus far, as well as to get a sense of how they’re feeling about various proposed protocols as they relate to a return-to-work plan and to understand what is truly realistic or viable for them individually.
Additionally, we’ve put together cross-departmental planning committees to continue researching what needs to be done before our team can even think about safely returning to the office. In the meantime, we continue to share several health and financial wellness services available to our team members, and have also kept our schedule of standard companywide meetings (now virtual), where aside from business updates or software demos, we also go through team shoutouts, anniversaries and more.
Thinking back through all of the ways our team has come together in such a relatively short amount of time (although it’s certainly felt like an eternity), two things become apparent:
- We are an oddly competitive group who will push to make anything a contest, even if only for bragging rights.
- When you think about why it’s so essential to spend adequate time vetting the right candidates for your company, this team has clearly showcased it. Their hard work, which is all apparent to everyone from the top down in the organization, isn’t just about doing their job. It’s about actually caring for the company, their clients, and most evidently, for each other. That’s the kind of person we look for when hiring, and who we continue to want by our side long after this crisis ends.
Now whether your company is struggling similarly with keeping your team motivated and engaged or not, we hope these ideas help. Even now as stay-at-home orders are beginning to at least soften, there’s still a lot of unknown, and for many businesses, it may change the very core of what was previously normal. Like, will you even have an office?
No matter the challenges encountered, if you trust in the team you’ve worked so hard to assemble and the values that you hopefully work as hard to protect and instill in them, it opens all new doors and opportunities in a world that can seem to have shut so many.