Flashback: It’s March 2020. You drove-thru your favorite coffee spot before arriving at the office. As you make your way to your desk, you’re chatting with your coworkers about their weekends. You’re looking forward to your 11am – your team’s weekly meetings are always a good time, with the first few minutes spent poking fun at each other and getting some Monday morning laughs in. On your way to the meeting, you run into Erica, from accounting, and she invites you to happy hour later that week.
It’s business as usual… until it’s not. I’m sure we can all remember the day we went home. We assumed it would be a couple of weeks at most. Yet here many of us are, May 2022, still working from home full time – it feels normal now, most of us have even come to prefer it! From a work/life balance standpoint, it can be an excellent benefit for employees; however, it’s important that you remain intentional about building your team culture without those organic moments of socialization that were unavoidable in a shared office space.
Here at Avenue, we continue to have conversations about our team culture to find creative ways to have human-to-human interactions, without a central office or a regular in-person meeting space. Below are the top five ways we’re keeping our team engaged.
Optional Chit Chat Time, Preceding our Daily Huddle
With a virtual workforce, it’s hard to have that unstructured time to socialize informally, like you naturally would at the office. We recognized the need for this, as virtual meetings don’t always lend the time or format to do this organically. With this in mind, we have pivoted to starting our daily huddles (a quick connect to share focus and challenges for the day) at 9:05am, with the option for team members to hop in the Zoom line at 9:00am for some unstructured chit chat time.
Because these first five minutes are optional, the time together feels more natural, as people pop in voluntarily, based on their capacity. If a scheduled Zoom call devolves into team members chatting, as the meeting leader, it can feel like you’re wasting your meeting participants’ time. Providing this optional time before removes those feelings and fosters unstructured conversation between employees. A small change like this can really make the difference in your team’s individual relationships.
Slack (#lifestyle channel)
Another way to keep the organic conversation going is to utilize your company’s internal communication system. Our team uses Slack and we’ve built a #lifestyle channel as a repository for fun, non-work related items! You’ll find our team sharing their Wordle scores, linking to the latest Taylor Swift conspiracy theory and sharing book recommendations in this channel.
Between the #lifestyle channel and our DMs, we find that we’re facilitating that human element in our work relationships, not only getting down to business, but also sharing the hobbies or interests that make us uniquely us. It’s an easy, low-maintenance way to provide space for more connection over shared interests and hobbies.
Meal Delivery Gift Cards
During a big project or push, or even just a casual lunchtime meeting, it was always fun to host lunch for your team at the office. Now that we’re all working from home, we’ve shifted to sending out virtual gift cards for use on meal delivery sites. At least once a month, for our company “Lunch and Learns,” we’re sending gift cards to cover lunch and delivery for all team members.
It’s a small way to spruce up a meeting, plus sets an informal tone, which is the environment we’d like to facilitate during lunchtime meetings and our monthly Lunch and Learns. We also like to do gift cards when new employees join the team. Just as you might take your newest employee out to lunch on their first day, we want to treat them to lunch (virtually) and provide space for them to get to know the team and settle in!
Quarterly Outings and In-Person Meetups
Although we’re a remote workforce, our team members are all located in the Portland-region, which allows for the occasional in-person get-together! Each quarter, we plan an in-person day of quarterly planning and goal-setting, plus time to unwind and celebrate team wins together. In the past, our team has visited wineries, a fruit orchard, a tulip festival and, for an annual retreat and planning destination, Kauai!
In addition to these planned quarterly outings, our team is planning to lean into more frequent in-person time. We’re working toward a balance between at-home independent work (most days), while also identifying times where meeting in-person would be beneficial for work efficiencies. For example, as we onboard new clients or focus on larger scopes, our team has identified days and projects to meet in person for, to grind out that work together so the team can reap the benefits of the natural flow of in-person work.
Most importantly, we need to ensure that our employees feel connected and appreciated, especially when we don’t have regular in-person contact with each team member. Here at Avenue, we try to be very intentional about celebrating special occasions. Whether it’s a work anniversary, a holiday or a team member’s birthday, we’re always looking to do custom, creative gifts to show our appreciation for our employees, not just as workers, but as the humans that they are!
We’ve been known to order bouquets from local florists, pick-up giant balloons, send gift cards from our team’s favorite local spots and do surprise door deliveries! It’s easy to overlook the need for that special, customized touch when you’re working behind a screen; however, we would argue that’s what’s needed most to motivate your team and share your appreciation for all they do.
We’re always looking for creative ways to engage our team, grow team member relationships and show our appreciation and recognition for the unique presence each team member brings. There’s no one-size fits all solution to engage your employees, and we find doing a little bit of everything has been a good fit for our team. At the end of the day, we recognize that it’s an on-going conversation as our company grows and evolves, and we look forward to continuing the journey down the hybrid/remote-work road to make sure Avenue remains a great place to work!