Strategies for Maintaining a Healthy Culture in a Remote World
As the Controller at KiteTech, one of my roles is to oversee all HR functions including interviewing potential job candidates. Honestly, the interviews are just as much for me as they are for the prospective employees. As a recent interview was concluding I jokingly apologized for all of my pointed questions and offered to answer his questions. The applicant looked me in the eye from across the screen and asked a question that I have been asked often…”Andrew, what is your favorite part of working at KiteTech?”
I smiled. As much as I was interviewing to see if he would be a good fit at Kite, he had begun interviewing me on why he should want to work here.
My answer was simple. Our culture is focused on relationships, and we go to great lengths to ensure our employees are well-connected.
When everyone went home two years ago, a topic that frequently came up in our leadership meetings was “How do we ensure our employees feel connected with their teammates?”. We heard from some peers that their employees were not doing so well and were dealing with the consequences of extreme loneliness. We wanted to make sure our employees did not feel isolated, alone on the proverbial “remote work island.” As we brainstormed how to encourage employee engagement, we realized that the only fix was through intentional strategies focused on relationships and connections. Below I share some of the strategies that we found most effective in maintaining a healthy, highly engaged culture.
Strategies for Maintaining a Healthy Culture
Engage Employees Daily
Mother Teresa once said, “Loneliness is the leprosy of the modern world.” Humans need human interaction on a daily basis or loneliness can quickly seep in. One of the best ways to ensure your team does not become a lonely and isolated team is to be intentional about engaging with employees daily.
One of our Core Values is “Embrace Teamwork.” Each employee connects daily with their teammates through daily huddles, one-on-one’s with their supervisors, and attending company-wide meetings. Whenever we attend video calls, we always keep our cameras on. We believe that face-to-face interaction throughout the day is key to having a healthy remote work experience.
Occasionally a cat will slink up and jam the keys, or a nephew will run up calling out, “Uncle Andrew!” but this has never been a burden, but instead has helped develop an even greater personal connection. Throughout each day our employees chat over Microsoft Teams to solve technical issues, highlight employee successes, and post funny comments. The office banter has merely transitioned from over cubicle walls to over computer screens. Engaging employees daily can be the difference between loneliness and success in the workplace.
Your Personal Takeaway: Make it the norm to have cameras on during every video call.
Express Employee Appreciation
Teams rise or fall based on if their members feel appreciated. Often employees leave jobs early not because they want a higher salary or a different position. What they want is recognition for a job well done. They want to feel like a valuable member of the team.
One of our favorite tools to ensure employees feel appreciated is Bonusly. Sent in the form of a public tweet and often with a meme, Bonusly encourages employees to publicly recognize their peers by sending bonus points. The points can then be redeemed for gift cards. Personally, I have laughed out loud just from visiting Bonusly. Today, I witnessed memes of dancing stick figures, a cat typing away on a computer, and of course SpongeBob!
On a serious note, as a manager, your employees need to know you value their efforts as part of your team. I often ask myself if I am being a “first-class noticer.” Am I being intentional about noticing others’ efforts, especially those not on my direct team? It is important for our teams to communicate, especially to express gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.
Your Personal Takeaway: Make it a daily habit to notice one person in your organization and show them appreciation with a thoughtful email or public encouragement. Bonus: Find someone that is outside of your direct team to thank them for their efforts!
Encourage In-Person Events
Regardless of how you interact virtually, nothing replaces the in-person connection. Giving a high five, a pat on the back, or a random comment as you pass in the hallway can be mood-defining and an encouragement to employees.
A few months after we started working remotely our employees began asking for opportunities to connect in-person. Once it was safe, we began hosting Happy Hours at local restaurants and scheduling lunches when people were in the office. Even though our employees were spread throughout the country, we wanted to encourage in-person connections. Our West Coast employees occasionally meet up for dinners and hikes and we even hosted our “KiteTech West” employees in Maryland this past March!
Your Personal Takeway: Schedule a Happy Hour with your local employees. If you are feeling extra generous, pick up the tab!
Embrace Mutual Interests
Relationships strengthen when people are able to relate on a personal level and connect outside of the work atmosphere. Though an employer cannot force employees to be interested in similar hobbies, it is important for employers to know their employees’ likes and dislikes and develop opportunities to connect over these hobbies.
Many of our employees share mutual interests and KiteTech encourages employees to embrace these similarities. Our employees have started leadership book clubs with colleagues, organized faith-based small groups, scheduled video game tournaments and even a virtual art class. A night would not be complete without our employees battling over their favorite video games like Fortnite or League of Legends and tuning in to watch each other stream Slay the Spire!
Your Personal Takeaway: Ask some of your employees what they enjoy doing outside of work and schedule yourself to connect over that hobby…you might even find a new hobby yourself!
Employ Remote Culture-Building Tools
One of the keys to building a healthy remote office culture is through being creative with the remote tools that are available. Though employees may not be able to interact in-person, especially for offices like ours that are spread throughout the country, it is important to employ culture-building tools that are suitable for a remote workforce.
A few years ago, KiteTech leaders put together a Fun Committee to be in charge of planning different fun events. Made up of members from different departments, the Fun Committee has led the charge in ensuring our employees are connecting through monthly online events. Some tools that our team has used include virtual movie platforms to allow our employees to remotely watch a movie together and virtual escape rooms. Thankfully, we have always escaped! We also have hosted holiday parties and monthly birthday celebrations over Teams to ensure our employees are connecting regardless of their location.
Your Personal Takeaway: Plan a virtual hangout by watching a movie together, trying an escape room, or laughing hysterically while playing an online game (Jackbox Games are my favorites!).
Maintaining a thriving work culture in a remote or hybrid world can feel daunting. I would love to tell you that every event and tool has been a success, but it has taken some trial and error to learn what works best for our team. It’s important to stay intentional about trying new initiatives to keep your staff engaged and your culture healthy. I hope that the strategies shared in this article provided you with some fresh ideas for your business, and if you choose to implement one or more of our takeaways, we would love to hear about it in the comments.