Creating Culture while Remote

For a company that did not have a remote culture but now does, this article documents how we are working to replicate the strong culture we had in person now that we are remote. In addition, how we hope to continue to build connectivity with staff moving forward.

Close up view of business people putting their hands together in an overlapping stack

As the Team Success Coordinator at Tamman, part of my job is fostering and helping create a positive work culture. This is as fun as it sounds. Now though I face a novel challenge since, like many people who work in an office environment, COVID-19 has forced us to work from home.

In the beginning, I was really stumped on how to keep us connected. On a normal day in the office, I’m walking around and organically chatting with my co-workers. It was so easy to come up with ideas, troubleshoot issues, or just randomly grab a coffee down from down the street. Now, our current form of communication is mostly Slack and sometimes video chats. I miss my colleagues and friends.

Jessica, one of our developers who is experienced with remote work, suggested creating a virtual lunch table. I thought, “Great! Let’s do that!”. I jumped on that idea and scheduled one session each day for the whole workweek. The first session was great with 11 people attending and we had a blast! Some people were able to converse with each other for the first time in what felt like ages. However, this initial enthusiasm dissipated quickly, and by Thursday or Friday, I found myself eating alone on camera most of the sessions. I felt totally defeated in less than a week.

Most people were spending their lunch breaks with their families or taking a legitimate break from sitting in front of their computer, which I understood completely. Why would you want to sit in front of the computer screen during your break after being glued to it for eight-plus hours? Sounds very unappealing when it’s not for leisure, right? However, that was my goal. To make the unappealing appealing. I redoubled my efforts and got back to work. I would create a positive virtual community to rival my in-person one and no amount of social or physical distance would deter me.

If you’re someone in your company who is trying to build a virtual community, it might be challenging but don’t give up.

I started to research and think about other remote activities that could work for my team and their interests. I want to make logging on the computer a fun thing to do. As the days went on, I experimented with different types of sessions and times slots. Eventually, with helpful suggestions and eventual epiphanies borne through perseverance, I was able to come up with a list of fun activities.

  • Remote Lunch Table: These are now held once a week on Thursdays. This way the team has most of the week to themselves and they have the freedom to join on the least busy day of the week for most people.
  • Game Time: A lot of us like to play video games. We can all take a break and blow off some steam by playing games with each other or separately while video chatting with each other. A lot of us have been playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
  • Netflix Party: Once a week a group of us watch a show on Netflix while we work using the free Netflix Party extension for Google Chrome. We also hop on to a GoToMeeting session so we can laugh together and talk about what’s happening in the show. It’s like sitting in a room with someone while there is something playing in the background.  Currently, we are watching Parks and Recreation.
  • Dungeons and Dragons: This has been a fun team-building exercise since we have to make decisions so we can move forward together. We mostly play together after work using the app Discord.
  • Question of the Day: Every morning, I send a question to my team via Slack about anything! Just to get them thinking about something other than work. Here are a few questions that I have asked and some of the team’s answers.
    • “If you were immortal for a day, what would you do?”
      • “I might go shopping without a mask”
      • “ I would run into burning buildings and save people and pets. Just for fun.”
      • “Possibly, I would enter Fukushima and help them put a lid on that crazy nuclear disaster! Then, if there’s time, I would play with all of the interesting animals at the zoo that might otherwise eat or kill me.”
    • “If you could write one new law that everyone had to obey, what law would you create?”
      • “A law that makes it illegal to make fun of Windows OS users & those that have not seen ‘ The Matrix’”
  • Virtual Coffee Breaks: This is my most recent activity. For some of my team that just need a quick fast pick-me-up. It’s not a lunch hour commitment and does a nice job of connecting us for some laughs. 

This is by no means a final list. I am committed to innovate and try new things to try and find at least one thing that appeals to everyone across our company. We’re connecting in other ways with pictures of pets and mugs. It’s nice to get a glimpse into people’s lives that we wouldn’t have seen before, and I appreciate that. If you’re someone in your company who is trying to build a virtual community, it might be challenging but don’t give up. Try to alter different aspects of events like changing the time, or scaling it back. People will appreciate it, even as they navigate this new regime themselves. They may not participate right away or at all, but trust me, people appreciate the effort.

Overall, as someone who’s never worked remotely before, I’ve learned the challenges that come with working from home while confined by COVID-19. However, with a little persistence and creativity, we can still find solutions to stay connected and fulfill that sense of camaraderie.

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