There's no getting around it, COVID-19 and the pandemic it sparked off will impact company culture, leaving you wondering how best to engage your remote employees. If your organization and employees haven't felt it yet, they definitely will soon. In the early days, it was all about operational triage: the stress of supply chain interruptions, reworking cost-containment strategies and of course — creating a safe workplace by making it possible for your people to work from home. You've likely got your own list of "survive to fight another day" action items that you deployed before the dust even settled. Now, we're all contending with a new challenge: creating and maintaining a strong company culture in the wake of a global pandemic.
While it's true that the impact of COVID-19 on company culture is inevitable, whether the impact will be negative or not definitely isn't. Everything depends on what leaders do next. Your culture has the potential to weaken or flourish in light of all of all this drastic change. And while it may seem a little cliché to roll out the line, "we're all in this together," the truth is that no company is immune from having to adapt. That includes us!
How Personiv Is Choosing to Engage Remote Employees & Manage the Impact of COVID-19 on Company Culture
Here at Personiv, the stakes feel especially high: one of our cultural pillars is "A Focus On People". We have a mandate to invest in our people, and we take it very seriously. Traditionally, that investment – which includes facilitating professional development, creating a workspace that centers our team's well-being and providing plenty of opportunity for engagement – has taken place in person.
But things like face-to-face mentorship and training, group wellness activities, celebrations that recognize our team's hard work and the corporate social responsibility initiatives we're so proud of get a lot harder when everything goes virtual. You can't really practice safe social distancing and take 50 trekkers into the Himalayas to raise money for charity, after all. We've had to get creative to continue to strengthen our company culture during the COVID-19 crisis. We want to share what's worked for us here – and invite you to borrow anything that could work for your organization, too.
These are our top 17 ways to engage remote employees:
Have 1-on-1 meetings without breaking social distancing guidelines
Use LinkedIn Learning and other online coursework to facilitate professional development
Don't let the impact of COVID-19 on company culture tank morale
Host a regular game night to keep people connected during the pandemic
Allow your team to showcase their talents with regular competitions
You Can Still Build a Strong Company Culture With a Remote Team
Start With Strong Community Guidelines, And Model How To Follow Them
Strong communication has always been the bedrock at the foundation of synchronized, effective teams. Virtual communication has its own challenges. Guidelines for participation and etiquette should be established early and modeled often by leadership. This includes everything from muting your mic on a large conference call to setting work hour statuses to let your team know when and if you're available.
As a global team, we've had a bit of a leg up in this regard, since communicating across time zones has always required a little creativity. Like most organizations, though, we've had to change our approach to collaboration and communication in order to stay connected even if we're no longer in proximity to one another.
1. Enhance employee experience with a community platform or social network to engage with your remote employees
To get everyone on the same page, it's important to have a place where everyone can gather, even if you can't get to the break room anymore.
We use Microsoft Teams to communicate with one another, and very recently rolled out company participation on Yammer, Microsoft's social networking service. This allows us to keep up communication in real-time on a large scale while protecting sensitive company information. It's also where we host some of our online engagement activities (more on those in a minute).
Our "All Company" community lets team members from all four of our global sites stay up-to-date on company updates or simply socialize online. Yammer allows members to form groups, too, just like you would expect to find on Facebook. Our people can find their online homes by department or team, join online learning groups, and even barter and trade with one another in off-topic groups.
2. Host monthly and quarterly "town halls" that keep everyone current on company – and employee – business
One of the more anxiety-inducing parts of attempting to work productively during a pandemic is a feeling of being left in the dark. Recent research from Alight tells us that the number one expectation employees have during this time is clear and consistent communication, but only 42 percent of survey respondents say that they think that their company is doing a good job of that.
Our monthly town halls don't attempt to cover every single thing that's happened in the past 30 days. Instead, they're a time for each individual site to hit important items of business. They also create a unique opportunity to reward top performers.
We also take this time to recognize that the people who work with us have full lives when they aren't working. Our town halls often include giving out awards for contest participants (more on those soon) and can even be an opportunity to wish newlyweds and proud parents well.
3. Get together over breakfast with virtual check-ins at the beginning of the day
When you have larger teams, there's a lot of ground to cover – that can't necessarily be done during monthly or quarterly touch base meetings. Our teams take 30 minutes at the beginning of the day to discuss the previous days' work and set some goals for the workday to come. This doesn't just take care of business; it sets a boundary between the beginning of the workday and the sometimes-chaotic reality of working from home while managing family obligations.
4. Create a culture of motivation by goal-setting your kudos
When everything feels like it's been upended, it can be especially difficult to stay motivated and on-task, especially when most of the work that has to be done is suddenly being done at home. Making a plan to reward peer- and client-recognized work well done can keep everyone striving to do their best.
On Yammer, both clients and teammates can interact with one another and leave "praise posts" that publicly recognize a team member's good work. Here at Personiv, we don't see any reason to let that go uncelebrated, and we do it as a team. The teams that see the highest number of praise posts each month see their efforts rewarded with cold, hard cash.
5. Regularly recognize and reward the achievements of your people to engage your remote employees
There are so many ways to do good work and just as many ways to show that good work is appreciated. Whether it's a sales quota met, a CSAT score exceeded, a well-deployed campaign or any other accomplishment that makes leadership sit back and say "wow," why keep that reaction under wraps?
Whether it's monthly, weekly or even daily – and whether you're handing out attaboys, gift cards or bonuses – it's important to do it publicly and regularly. Work well done is one thing, work well done under the extenuating circumstances like these is a whole other. And that's worth celebrating.
6. Get creative – literally – with those Zoom backgrounds while working from home
One cultural phenomenon that's come out of the shift to remote work is the rise of the "Zoom background" that's accompanied the sudden need for video conferencing. For us, it's Microsoft Teams and for others, it's Google Meet, but whatever you call it, you can definitely play around with it a little.
Recently, our teams had a friendly competition to showcase their work from home setups. Anyone especially proud of a well put-together home office was invited to turn it into a custom background on MS Teams and post it on Yammer for all to see. Our clients chose the winners and the top 3 backgrounds earned a cash prize.
7. Take company-sponsored clubs online while working remote
What values are central to your company culture? Whether it's a dedication to the community work in, a commitment to eco-friendly initiatives or continuing education, you likely have some kind of club or group within the company that's dedicated to keeping up with those values outside of work time.
For us, some of those groups include a Rotaract Club dedicated to doing community service work for underserved communities (all part of our focus on giving back ) and a Toastmasters club for developing leadership skills (our focus on people). Both clubs now meet virtually each week so that neither club has a chance to languish.
8. Have one-on-ones without breaking social distancing guidelines when you engage with your remote employees
A critical part of professional development – a cornerstone of many company's cultural values – tends to be best nurtured through face-to-face interactions. So what do you do when public health guidelines make that kind of one-on-one development all but impossible?
Like most things, you take it online. That's how some of our teams have chosen to make sure they stay aligned on this important part of Personiv's company culture. Each month, team leads "sit down" with their direct reports to discuss performance, goals and just check in with one another to see how everything is going.
Prioritize Activities That Engage & Nurture Your Remote Employees and Reflect Your Values
Your employees aren't just workers. They're your people – and they're whole people. They have aspirations and goals within the workplace, and plenty going on outside of work too. It's important to look at initiatives that acknowledge that. What we call "company culture" on a broad level depends on how engaged each employee is on an individual level.
That means prioritizing not just things like professional development but making it company policy to encourage your employees to engage in self-care. An authentic, empathetic and top-down approach to physical and mental health send a clear signal to your people that those things matter to you, too. These initiatives also build resiliency, which is key to maintaining a strong company culture in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
9. Use LinkedIn Learning and other online coursework to facilitate professional development with your remote team
Employees worry about how they'll differentiate themselves in a time where there just isn't a lot of face time to be had. Using LinkedIn Learning, Coursera and other online learning platforms to continue to develop skills and make professional progress is one way to help them accomplish that goal.
Here at Personiv, individual teams choose the LinkedIn learning topic they'd like to pursue and complete and present the topic and what they've learned at the course's completion to their team leads. This helps everyone stay sharp and ensure that employees are recognized for putting in hard work, even when everyone is working apart.
10. Host regular, virtual wellness classes and events to further engage with your remote employees
There's not a whole lot to do outside of work right now. People are bored, anxious and even depressed. Exercise has a role to play in and out of the workplace that it really hasn't had before. In a world where you can't really catch a movie or eat at your favorite restaurant, people can turn to indoor and outdoor physical activity to stave off boredom and mitigate some of the mental health effects of being cooped up for months on end.
At Personiv, we've turned this into a unique opportunity to reap all of the above benefits and stay connected to boot. Weekly online yoga classes and a month-long step competition keep everyone moving together, and one of our clients even hosts a virtual aerobics class three days a week for anyone tired of bingeing Netflix.
It's important to note, however, that no one likes "forced fun". If you plan on making wellness or fitness events available to your team, plan on making participation voluntary. Make it possible for employees to take advantage of the benefits, but don't make it compulsory.
11. Don't let the impact of COVID-19 on company culture tank morale: make fun a priority when you engage with your remote employees
Speaking of fun, it's important to put it on the calendar. Really. Work is a huge part of our lives, and that includes our social lives. It's a rare – and joyless – office that has no off-topic chatter, laughter at lunch hour, or opportunities to talk about something non-work related.
That's why we make sure to offer smaller opportunities at the beginning of each workday and larger opportunities during the week or on a monthly basis to just goof off. It's a chance to catch up with colleagues, play games like charades or bingo and just feel normal for a while.
12. Host a regular game night to keep people connected during the pandemic
In that same vein, why not hollow out some time where the only purpose is to play? Play – especially game play – is good for people: it decreases stress, increases brain function, strengthens bonds and gives people a chance to practice goal-setting.
It's not hard to see how each of those benefits can keep your company culture going strong. One of our teams hosts a game night every week, where participants can play virtual favorites like Pictionary, Bingo and Charades or put puzzles together.
13. Allow your team to showcase their talents with regular competitions and engagement opportunities
You hired your team because they're good at what they do. Give them a chance to show off and sharpen their saws with the opportunity to participate in contests and other events that serve that specific purpose.
Two big hits here at Personiv are our "Artsy Monday" and "Top 10 Websites" competition for our Digital Fulfillment team in Manila. For the first, team members can create art in any medium they like, tag it #ArtsyMonday to post on their team's Yammer page, and then see their work displayed in a public brochure.
For the second, our web designers can submit their works in progress for evaluation in creativity, originality, visual impact and composition, and winners receive public kudos, gift cards and cash.
14. When you engage with remote employees, make learning lucrative with quizzes and prizes
Ongoing training is a reality, no matter the circumstances. There will always be new protocol to be implemented, new software to learn – and if you're able to still focus on growth during this strange time – new employees to onboard. In a time where everyone feels in the weeds when it comes to their to-do lists, training during a pandemic presents yet another opportunity to strengthen company culture in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.
Riddles, quizzes and puzzles test our team's knowledge on everything that falls under this "maintenance" category. If we hand out prizes for trivia whizzes during game nights, why shouldn't we hand them out for trivia whizzes who could sweep a "Final Jeopardy" category dedicated to our clients?
15. Take the time to build soft skills as a team
One truly positive impact of COVID-19 on company culture is that it can help you identify rising leaders being made in its crucible. Leadership isn't just about taking charge in tough circumstance, however. It's also about soft skills. Each week, our rising leaders across multiple teams attend daily soft skills training to help them settle into – and then excel – at their newfound roles as team leaders, trainers and newly-minted managers.
16. Solicit feedback monthly and keep track of how remote employees engage with a "happiness meter"
Want to know how you're doing throughout all of this? Ask.
The people with the clearest picture of what impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on your company culture are your people. The ones that you're hosting game nights for, setting up aerobics video calls with and congratulating during those monthly town halls.
Our teams regularly solicit feedback from everyone on how they're doing, how they're feeling, and what they think is working or could work better. We call this our "happiness meter", and we tend it regularly and honestly to make sure we're always holding ourselves accountable to them.
17. Two words: Dance. Competition.
Everything lately has been so serious: turn on the news, Google the statistics and read the latest public health guidelines and you'll see it. It's solemn and grave because it has to be. Unfortunately, that isn't the best atmosphere for a strong company culture to thrive in.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your organization, your customers and especially your people is just to cut loose. That's one reason we decided to host a dance competition. Anyone who wanted to participate could do so – in pairs, if they wanted – by creating a 3-5 minute video to be recorded over Teams. Using their head and shoulders to showcase their moves and whatever props and backgrounds they wanted to showcase their creativity, our team had the chance to just let go for a little bit.
Our clients got in on the fun and passed down the final judgement on dancers and winners were given a cash prize. We may be biased, but we think it's worth trying out, no matter your business, industry or location. Everyone is fond of saying that "we're all in this together", but a little friendly dance competition might just be the first time it actually feels like it.
Company culture thrives exactly as much as you allow it to. Here at Personiv, our people are our culture, and that's why so much of what we do centers the experience they have while they're with us, whether that's as a client or a part of our world-class team.
Our team and the work they do are our superpower – the "people power" behind the solutions we offer, and they're why we've been able to offer those solutions to our customers, creating relationships that last decades. And we know they'll be how we'll be able to continue to offer them, decades after the coronavirus pandemic ends.
Get in touch today to see how we can put that people power to work for you.