Millions of people have been getting a crash course in working from home during the pandemic, and for all the funny Zoom meeting interruptions by pets and children, we’ve been getting the work done.
The social impact of this crisis will be studied for years, but the impromptu mass experiment in working from home may shape the future of work in unexpected ways. One thing we’ll need to think through is how to create and maintain strong company cultures when we’re not all under the same roof.
It’s not a new challenge. Remote work arrangements have been growing in popularity for decades, but now that more of us are working from home than ever before, it’s a great time to identify some best practices. Here are three things I’ve learned:
We Need to See Each Other
At my company, the all-remote experience has been mainly positive. We’ve stayed incredibly productive, and morale is high.
That didn’t happen by accident. We HR professionals and managers took deliberate actions to maintain contact with employees and engage people as human beings. Frequent meetings with our cameras on is one way we incorporate the human element into the work-from-home experience. Sure, it means you have to comb your hair and tidy up the visible portions of your workspace, but we find that the benefits of seeing each other’s faces outweigh those minor inconveniences.
We also make a point to ask how people are doing, inquire about their families, and engage in casual conversation instead of keeping strictly to business during our weekly meetings. The chitchat that used to happen in the company breakroom is important for team-building. It can be replicated virtually, but doing so takes conscious effort. One technique we use is “Tell me something good”: To close out meetings, we ask everyone to share something good that happened in their life recently. The news doesn’t have to be work-related; it’s about making human connections.
Giving Back Generates Priceless Returns
Another lesson we’ve learned is that nothing brings our people together and strengthens our culture more than our giving initiatives. We are a graphical user interface (GUI) company, and our vision is to have our technology reach and enhance the lives of every human on earth. Our charitable work reflects our company values and provides a way for employees to use their time and talent for a good cause.
Before the pandemic struck, we worked with underserved local schools, providing mentorship and training to help at-risk kids explore new career possibilities through technology. When COVID-19 shut everything down, we reached out to the schools to find out what they needed and purchased devices to enable remote instruction. We also donated meals so that children who rely on schools to feed them could continue receiving nutritious food.
Giving back to our local communities through STEM-focused mentorship and training, equipment provisioning, employee donation matching, college scholarship facilitation, and other charitable work generates priceless returns for our culture. Giving back makes employees proud to be on the team. We have plans to expand this work, and our ultimate hope is that we inspire some of the people we serve to one day become part of the team and to continue to pay it forward.
Inclusivity Inspires Closer Connections
We’ve also found that executive support for efforts to reinforce our company culture is critical. At my company, we’re fortunate to have leaders who talk in terms of “we” and “our company” instead of “me” and “my business,” taking an inclusive approach. That tells employees they have a stake in our success and encourages and empowers people to take the lead on projects they’re passionate about.
An inclusive culture doesn’t happen overnight, and our leadership team laid that groundwork years ago. As a result, teamwork is in our corporate DNA. Employee retention and satisfaction scores were high before the public health crisis, and our continuous work in building a tight-knit culture has helped us weather many challenges, including the enforced isolation of the last several months.
We see the results in the work our employees do and in our charitable giving initiatives, where our people support the causes that speak to them and find a company that is responsive to those efforts.
Getting Back to ‘Normal’
Will the working world ever get back to normal after COVID-19? No one knows for sure what happens next. We probably won’t ever return to the pre-pandemic version of normal. As profoundly disruptive as the past few months have been to people’s lives and work, the pause also provided an opportunity to identify what matters most, including our shared connections.
At my company, we learned that face-to-face connections and seeing each other as human beings as well as coworkers is important, even if our interactions take place on a screen. We found that a shared purpose strengthens our ties as a team, and we learned that an inclusive culture is the key to moving forward together — even when everyone is apart.
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Teresa Freemire Martinez is the director of human resources for Altia, a growing international software company based in Colorado Springs, CO. Teresa has been a successful HR leader within growing technology environments for more than 20 years. Teresa infuses a creative and collaborative approach to company leadership for value-driven employee engagement.