Company Culture

How to Maintain Culture While Working Remotely During COVID-19

April 2, 2020
November 7, 2023
Kat Myers, Head of People at Respondent
Lattice Team

From time to time, we invite people leaders to share their ideas and insights with us. This piece comes to us from our guest HR contributor Kat Myers, Head of People at Respondent.

Respondent has worked 100% remotely since the beginning. It’s in our DNA. We’ve battle-tested every tool and tactic we could find, so we know what works (and what doesn’t).

As companies make the transition to remote work, many are asking how to maintain culture. Without in-person meetings, happy hours, coffee breaks, lunches, and other face-to-face interactions, this can seem impossible.

Many of the cultural advantages of these face-to-face interactions center around connection and relationship building. If you’re deliberate, remote work doesn’t have to stand in the way of a thriving culture.

1. Cameras on, always.

Remote work isn’t for the camera-shy. At Respondent, we always use video for meetings. We do this to mimic in-person communication as much as possible. While on video, you can better read body language, pick up on social cues, and make eye contact. Call it camera culture — it just works.

2. Make all-hands personal. 

All-hands meetings are a great time for the entire team to come together, learn about the company, and bond. But video calls can feel different than being in one room together. It can feel like there are barriers to connection. Here are a few tips to encourage people to get involved:

  • Send a survey prior to your all-hands meeting asking people for questions. It can be intimidating or difficult to know when it’s appropriate to ask a question on a video call. Asking in a survey allows people to come up with thoughtful questions in advance.
  • Leave the first five minutes open for banter. If your team is large, take advantage of the breakout function on Zoom. This function will automatically split the entire audience into smaller groups. It gives people time to catch up with their coworkers just like they would if the meeting was in-person.
  • Use the chat function to get questions going in real-time. If you're using a video tool like Zoom, ask people to type in questions throughout. It can be helpful to designate someone to read and call out questions during the meeting.
  • Dedicate parts of the meeting for questions. This signals that it’s okay to ask questions because they won't hold up the meeting.
  • Survey your team afterwards. Ask employees what they’d like to see at the next all-hands. We like to survey the team using a Slack tool called Polly.

3. Create a space to talk about COVID-19.

COVID-19 is at the top of everyone’s mind. It’s changing the way we live and work. It’s causing a lot of different emotions and reactions. We set up specific outlets for people to talk about it. Suppression tends to stress people out, so give them a place to chat express themselves.

  • We recently set up a weekly chitchat session for everyone to speak openly about the virus. It’s an hour-long, weekly video chat that’s on the entire company’s calendar. We speak about what’s happening where we live, share support tactics, and any interesting articles we’ve read. It is definitely on everyone’s mind. If your company is too large to have one big video call, use Zoom’s breakout function to split the video call into smaller groups.
  • We created a #current_events Slack channel for sharing updates and supporting one another through the unique challenges we face today. We’ve asked that people only share information from reputable sources.
  • Ask “How are you doing?” at the beginning of every meeting. We recently started using the first five minutes of every meeting having everyone provide an update. This allows people to express what’s going on in their lives (e.g., “My kids are home, so you might see them pop up in the video). This helps build empathy across the group. If your meeting is too large to have everyone speak, use Zoom’s chat function instead.

4. Use Slack to celebrate wins.

We have a number of social channels to help people bond over common interests:

  • #social_general for general social activities
  • #social_cooking for delicious food that people make
  • #social_pets for wonderful photos of pets
  • #social_tv for tv recommendations and discussion 

Celebratory channels also let us honor outstanding performance and revel in wins big and small:

  • #shout-outs for giving kudos to team members on a job well done (we use Lattice’s Slack integration)
  • #respondent-wins for highlighting company wins

We also have dedicated channels to support different groups:

  • #parents for sharing resources and support
  • #diversity_equity_inclusion for sharing resources and empowering  action on DEI-related topics

For further bonding, we like to use a few apps on Slack, as well:

  • Polly for playing games like “two truths and a lie” or prompting people to share photos (we do this weekly)
  • Donut to pair people to have a casual “coffee chat” (we do this biweekly)

5. Recreate social bonding.

Scheduling time to come together for non-work-related connection is essential. Here’s what we do:

  • Monthly video lunches (we have separate ones for east/west employees)
  • Happy hours (time to have fun, grab a drink, and get to know each other)

For one recent virtual happy hour, the leadership team got together and requested that everyone come to the video meeting with silly headgear and a childhood photo. We laughed and learned more about each other. We also went through a list of questions, round-robin style:

  • What's your go-to karaoke song?
  • What’s your favorite trip you’ve taken?
  • Would you say you’re more of an extrovert or an introvert?

6. Get creative.

Remote work definitely forces us to think outside the box and find new ways to connect and build trust. Maybe your team is too large for one big video happy hour. Use Zoom’s breakout tool to allow smaller groups to connect.

Working from home and mandated social-distancing also means more time for streaming. Try Netflix Party. One of our employees started a Love Is Blind watching session for committed viewers to chat about the show in real time.

We also stay connected with the video sharing app, Marco Polo. We’ve tested this in the past and are giving it a go again. It allows people to record short videos of themselves and send them back and forth with others.

Maintaining connections and relationships while working remotely doesn’t go away, it just takes a little adaptability. With intention and some creativity, you can even deepen ties across your team.