It’s difficult to talk about our work lives and employee culture without acknowledging the elephant in the room: the coronavirus.
Within a few weeks, the pandemic has single-handedly shifted the paradigm of remote work from nice to necessary. This new normal hasn’t just changed how we hold meetings, complete tasks, or maintain day-to-day operations. It fundamentally changed how we connect with one another, professionally and otherwise. That elephant might be forcing us to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintain social distancing for now. But, unfortunately, coronavirus doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
If you’re like me, you’re probably prepared to work remotely for some indefinite amount of time, but where does this new normal leave us and the relationships we’ve worked hard to build? Answer: in a pretty similar position, still focused on the daily culture of our teams. Both before coronavirus and right now, building culture has never been about happy hours, daily check-ins, or team lunches; building culture is about creating a sense of belonging.
Similar to other organizations, the GovLoop team wasn’t exactly sure how we would maintain a healthy culture for a 100% remote workforce. But we quickly realized that there’s no magic bullet because where our focus needed to be was on staying connected with one another.
Here are some of the ways we’ve been virtually nurturing our culture and strengthening connections:
- Daily icebreakers
One of the easiest ways to engage with your team is to simply pose a question and watch the fun responses come in. We assigned each day of the workweek to different functional teams for varied perspectives, but this could be as simple as creating a list of icebreakers that one person is responsible for posting daily. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to ask something that might not seem like a great icebreaker at first; odds are you’ll need as many ideas as possible. Run out of ideas? Check out this list from the GovLoop team.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Complete the sentence with words, a photo or both: My weekend was great because…
- What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?
- What’s your favorite conspiracy theory?
- If you were the protagonist of a novel, what would the title of the book be?
- Post a song that gets you going in the morning.
- Team lunches
Every other week, we hold time to eat lunch together and catch up. These lunches are great ways to strengthen your personal connections and avoid the stresses of work for a bit. Plus, the only requirement is a virtual meeting invitation. Assign yourself, or someone especially sociable, to lead this virtual lunch and consider conversation topics in advance for when there’s a lull. We even had a colleague recite a poem! With technology serving as the finicky middleman, virtual group conversations can create new challenges. A little planning goes a long way as these pay dividends of sincere human interaction that your team is missing.
- Happy hours
Alternating these with team lunches on Friday afternoons, virtual happy hours are the best way to end a remote workweek. Set a theme (our most recent theme was college, as you can maybe see below), choose a background and grab a drink. Your team might have virtual meeting fatigue, so don’t be afraid to cut these short when conversations come to a natural conclusion. Your job is done if the team comes together and shares some laughs!
- Celebrating birthdays (and other important dates) together
One thing we did prior to becoming a fully remote team was celebrating team birthdays with a card and desk decorations. Luckily this wasn’t difficult to replicate virtually! We discovered GroupGreeting, which offers cards at drugstore prices to be virtually signed, sealed, and delivered to the birthday govie on your team. You can even schedule these to ensure no special date is missed. As for the desks, we have been using stock images of desks as our medium. With the power of the internet and Photoshop, it’s easy to create a virtually decorated desk. We’ve had fun including something non-decorative that would likely exist on their real desk, like their go-to lunch order or a beloved pet’s photo.
- Just checking in
No, not that scary message from your boss when a deadline is fast approaching. Simply check in with your teammates organically and often. Come across a new song by an artist they love? Send it, and let them know they’re on your mind. Need a new show to binge? Just ask. Don’t be afraid to start up a conversation with someone you work with because by doing so, you are directly affecting and improving your team’s culture.
The coronavirus put a spotlight on how we improve team culture, and I’m hopeful that some of the ideas we’ve put to use lately will come in handy for your team too. To embody culture is to care about your team, so don’t lose sight of that goal to build and maintain relationships. At the end of the day, we all want that same feeling of belonging no matter how we all get there.