How to Maintain Office Culture While Working From Home

You’ve worked hard to build a reputable, engaging and thriving culture for your employees, customers and clients. You’ve debated your mission, vision and the all-important values, and you and your team are humming along. You’ve ridden waves of economic growth and decline over the years and all is, hopefully, pretty good.

Then COVID-19 comes along and demands that everyone work from home, be a professional, parent their kids and teach them at the same time. The world is facing global economic disruption the likes of which we’ve never seen. What gives?

In a matter of days, your culture and business is like sand beneath your feet. You aren’t sure what’s coming at you or what the next day will bring.

Maintaining a thriving culture in your organization right now may seem like a low priority. But, as they say, culture eats strategy for lunch. If you hope to weather this storm and come out on the other side strong, a thriving culture will propel you and your business forward.

A word or two (okay, lots of them) on culture

Often leaders will say they have a great environment for their employees. After all, they’ve purchased ping pong tables, host frequent happy hours, and invite a guru in for guided meditations. Of course these are all good things, but in times of crisis—particularly when we have to stay distant—a ping pong table might not do your organization much good.

But if you’ve focused on your mission and vision, reinforced your values through intentional decision-making and paved a way for your employees to collaborate, debate and thrive, you are likely in a great place to leverage the spirit of your culture through these difficult times.

Table stakes: Video, video, video

A culture is built on interaction and the organic nature in which we all work together. You must sort out a way to video chat with your team. There is simply no substitute right now. Conversations are much more fruitful when you can react to body language and pivot your approach, just like you would at the office.

Video is awkward, yes. But who cares? Get comfortable with it. And if your company doesn’t have video conference capability, take a look at Zoom, Google Hangouts or Slack. And don’t just rely on video for bigger meetings—a simple video hangout during your one-on-one with your team member is just as valuable.

The simple act of seeing a colleague will likely improve morale, giving you both energy to keep facing this uphill climb. If you are like us, you just want to have a beer with a friend sometimes. Hop on a video conference and share a beer or glass of wine together.

Maintain rituals and norms

Work really hard to keep the rituals, common events or meetings that your team has come to love going while we are all apart.

GS&F has a weekly Friday morning meeting where everyone assembles in our lobby for a company-wide check-in. We highlight shout-outs, major wins and challenges we’re facing while reconnecting in person. At first, we simply couldn’t tackle the Friday meeting given the sheer amount of disruption we were all facing. The second week into our new normal we revived the meeting online, and it was a major win. The team is still talking about that meeting. Check out how we made it happen!

The familiar is comforting right now, so don’t let distance and distraction keep you and your team from maintaining the norms and rituals that are the foundation for a great culture.

Leverage your organization’s “why”

Underneath the visual indicators of great culture, there are guiding principles at work. Your organization’s mission, your vision for how you want to make an impact, and your team’s “why” are the beating heart of your organization.

Resist the temptation to shrug off these critical components of what makes your organization thrive. Instead, leverage every ounce of inspiration from your guiding principles and base every decision you are making on your foundational attributes. Aligning impactful decisions with our organization’s spirit and principles is perhaps the toughest thing we do as leaders. It’s easy when there are no consequences, but when the stakes are higher than ever relying on these guiding lights should give you comfort as you stay true to what makes your organization great.

Maybe, just maybe, this disruption will reveal that we’ve been at our best. Even if it doesn’t always roll in our favor, at the end of the day we’ll know we’ve stared this monster down the best we know how.

Your team will respond in kind to your focus, your intentionality, and your drive to ensure what makes you, you. Perhaps on the other side of this, we can come out stronger and more inspired than we’ve ever been.

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