Five tips for creating effective culture initiatives online, in person or bothCategory
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If you think culture is important in creating a more cohesive, collaborative work environment, and can also have a positive impact on productivity, we couldn’t agree more. But like many businesses last year, we were faced with a new reality that begged us to ask the question: What do you do when all your most impactful culture initiatives with the team have been in person and you are now working 100% remotely?

Prior to March 16, 2020, and the realities of the lockdown, we had a number of special all-agency initiatives that took place on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis, all in person, to keep the team motivated and connected. That all changed very quickly when we closed our offices and everyone started to work from home. Everything we did in person now had to be done virtually.

Our Approach

We decided early on that we would check-in with the team on their recommendations and test out a variety of approaches. If something didn’t work after one or two tries, we replaced it with something new. Let’s just say, the all-agency coffee chats didn’t last long. We also found some successes, like the video birthday greetings – though not the week when we had four birthdays in a row, there are just so many ways you can wish someone a Happy Birthday. And team challenges whether trivia, scavenger hunts, or our own version of online Jeopardy were big hits. We also executed a very successful ‘Retreat Remix’ which was a full day of virtually planned activities including guided meditation, sushi-making course, and a cocktail/mocktail challenge.

We also wanted to keep the momentum going with planned activities on a more regular basis and kept them fresh by introducing new activities and themes in between the ones that were getting the most response. Another thing we did was brand our team bonding/building activities to give them purpose and personality and to encourage participation.

Keeping Good Company is one of our core values at Talk Shop and also the name we gave our re-imagined culture initiatives. Nicknamed ‘Keeping GC’, we rolled out a collection of team-hosted and group-facilitated activities scheduled once a week, from ½ hour to 45 minutes blocks, to get the whole agency together or specific offices and teams. We only have one rule: good vibes only! We also wrapped in an annual retreat as mentioned, a wellness day off, a fitness challenge and some personal time too, to make sure we create space for the team to reflect, recharge and practice self-care. We’ve been executing this 100% online up until now, and are looking at introducing a hybrid model when we return to the office in the fall.

In addition to these planned activities, we also:

  • Recognize the team with acknowledgements and gifts for special milestones

  • Create a slack channel dedicated to recognizing individual and team accolades and accomplishments, to replicate our in-person ‘sunshines’

  • Throw in a few ‘surprise & delight’ treats to acknowledge team on a more ad hoc basis

  • Continue to host our version of an annual award show, which recognizes employees, nominated by their peers, who have exemplified one of our core values

  • Offer all employees regular access to an online coaching platform to support personal, professional and mental wellness needs

We’ve seen an increase in engagement and extremely positive feedback in our most recent employee engagement survey, which we were both surprised and proud about given that all these initiatives were conducted online. But we didn’t get there overnight. Over the past year, we learnt a lot about ourselves, our team and about what works and what doesn’t.

Here is a recap of what worked for us and the approach we are going to continue with as we return to the office in a hybrid model:

1. Ask your team what they want to do: We polled the team to find out what kinds of activities they were interested in, and were extremely open to ideas or thoughts they offered up. And continue to offer up.

2. Create an Events Calendar: Scheduling activities for the month, quarter or over the course of a year gives the team something to look forward to and enough notice to plan around.

3. Change it up: Keeping the activities fresh and changing them up on a regular basis can help increase interest and participation. If something has a low turnout, try it out with a different spin or ditch it altogether for something new.

4. Align with your Company Priorities: At Talk Shop, we place priority on team health and mental wellness, so we make sure that there’s a mix of activities that supports that from mindfulness meditation, coaching, yoga and workouts, to scheduling in some personal and free time, to a full mental wellness day off for the whole agency. Supporting the team’s mental wellness positively contributes to culture too!

5. Have Fun: don’t forget that these are the times during the work week to take a break from work, have a laugh, learn about each other, and bond as a team, so make sure activities aren’t too challenging or stressful.

Whatever you have done or plan to do moving forward to ensure your company culture stays strong in person, virtually or in a hybrid model, know that when you make any investment in your team, everyone wins.