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How to Preserve Culture and Stay Connected While WFH

Meredith Klee

Director of Communications @ AdRoll

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Working from home (WFH). We love to have it, but many of us rarely use it. And if we do use it, it tends to be a time of heads down projects, solo reflections, and on-and-offline spurts of productivity. Enter COVID-19. With companies of all shapes and sizes now mandating employees to stay home, working from home is shifting from a luxury into a necessity across cities nationwide. 

If you step back and think about it, it’s pretty incredible that so many businesses can send their whole workforce home and still operate efficiently — this wasn't the case years ago. But for those of us who enjoy going into the office and need our physical desk space to be productive (i.e. me), it can be a challenge to adjust.

Many of us enjoy going to an office because of the culture, the ability to interact with our teams, and meet in person — and let's be honest, the more consistent wifi and free snacks. But I've found firsthand that culture can be shared just as easily virtually. We can continue to stay engaged and connected as we do in person; it only takes a bit more creativity and vulnerability (#nomakeupmondays) than usual. Here are some tips we've implemented that you can try with your remote team. 

Create a Brew Crew

One of the best luxuries of a WFH situation? No commute. But regardless of travel time from your bed to your kitchen, everyone still has their morning routine, and that involves coffee. Rather than lay in bed and catch up on Slack or email, set up virtual coffee check-ins first thing in the morning. Go to your favorite corner shop or get your French Press ready, grab your coffee mugs, and dial in. Use the time to check-in, talk priorities, share highlights from the weekend, and get ready for the day ahead. Just because you’re remote doesn’t mean you have to sit and sip in your robe alone. As Folgers would say, the best part of waking up… is coffee with your team. 

Don't have a big team to chat with every morning? No worries, Slack's got your back. Just install their Donut app for virtual programs like Coffee Roulette to get randomly paired with another employee at your company for a coffee date. It's an easy way to connect with folks outside of your team without the awkwardness of introducing yourself (even though you've seen each other in the hall for the past six months).

Make Meetings Personal

A perk of meetings done from home is the lack of conference room shuffling. People show up on time, and you're not caught scrambling for a room. The con? It's easier to lose attention spans, especially with people hiding behind an avatar on a screen. 

So, mix it up a bit. Aaron Dignan's book, Brave New Work, has brilliant tips and worksheets for starting and cloning meetings in exciting ways. For example, start your meeting with an interesting ice breaker that each person on the call has to answer (ideal for ~10 people or less). Spend 2-3 minutes going around and answering, then dive into the agenda. It's a fun way to start the meeting and learn random facts about your coworkers at the same time. 

Slack apps like Plop and Icebreakers are other fun extensions that you can add to your usual workflow to randomly prompt questions for teams to answer too. Even for teams that have worked together for a while, they're great ways to keep the dialogue going in ways that aren't so tactical and deadline-driven. As Aristotle would say, the more you know, the more you realize you don't know — so get to knowing!

Show Face

Another key way to keep the culture going in an all-virtual world is requiring more face to face time. If you have a 30-minute presentation to share, you can guarantee about half of your attendees are going to check out and multitask, so find ways to keep them connected and engaged. Ask attendees to stay on video, or if it’s a large group, request that they go on video when they have a question or thought. Even muted thumbs-ups and head nods can serve as ways of acknowledging speakers and following along.

Leaving Easter eggs in your decks can also create some mid-meeting humor and make sure people are still following. Or, better yet, scrap presentations all together by sending the deck over later and focus the time on interactive sessions where you can brainstorm, whiteboard on your wall (at your own risk), whatever it takes. 

Slack video is another excellent tool for those of us who like to overuse Slack. If you find yourself writing paragraphs – or my favorite, the stream of one sentence consciousness — pick up the phone and call. (*GASP*! Call? On the phone?! I know, I know, that’s too crazy). Use tools like Slack video to give a quick in-message ping that feels more natural and has the benefit of a live discussion and face to face time.

Find a Collective Sound

Don’t forget the power of music and how it connects us. Music sets the mood, helps us focus, and creates an office vibe that’s the perfect level of loud for Goldilocks. But when you’re working from home, often the most fitting playlist seems to be a collection of solo ballads like “All By Myself.” 

And for those of us who don't have the joy of roommates adding to our cue or randomly changing the music on Sonos, don't worry — there are apps for that. Slack's Jukebot lets you sync Spotify and create shareable playlists everyone can listen to — and bonus, they'll even throw in surprise songs from time to time. Another way to get that office vibe is to create a music channel and start sharing playlists with your coworkers there. Discover new artists by having different employees pick their favorite songs or curate playlists based on different days or themes. Music connects us, so make sure you keep the volume up and on, even if you're home alone.

Hold Time for Happy Hour

OK, you’ve made it to the end of this post, and I’ve about made it to the end of my day. What’s next, you ask? A cold beverage with three of my closest virtual friends. 🍻 That’s right, even though we’re stuck inside and miles apart, we can still grab drinks. 

Thirsty Thursdays can be just as thirsty at home as in the office, so host end of week happy hours across your teams and use it as a way to decompress and connect. Encourage your team to grab a White Claw, shake that martini, or grab their latest kombucha brew and hop on Google Hangout. Together you can toast to a successful week, share updates from the day, and take the edge off. Did you spend a long week with a team you haven’t worked with before? Give cheers virtually. Did your direct report kill it this week with their goals? Buy them a virtual drink (and make sure to really buy them one later).

What Did We Learn?

The ability to create and maintain culture is just as important in the office as it is outside of it. Don’t change your habits or what makes your company great because you’re not all in one place — challenge yourself to think outside of the screen. Work can be hard and stressful, but at the end of the day, we all get by with a little help from our friends. 

For additional reading around how your business can prepare for a new normal, download your copy of Tips for Acquiring and Retaining Customers Through Economic Change.

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