Over the past year and a half, two things happened that forced us to rethink how we bond as a team and nurture our company culture.
You can guess the first one: the pandemic. Work-from-office became work-from-home and, for the most part has stayed that way.
The second has been our growth. We’ve more than doubled our team size in the past year and a half. (Thank you new and existing myHR Partner clients!) To find the best people, we’ve had to look outside of our home base of Eastern Pennsylvania. We now have team members in 9 states.
We challenged ourselves to maintain the close-knit myHR Partner culture despite being located across three time zones. Without the organic interaction that occurs when everyone meets in a central office, we needed to be intentional and strategic, yet true to who we are.
Here’s how we did it.
The biggest thing we did to keep people connected was to create twice-weekly “touch-base” calls. We split our nearly three dozen employees into groups of 5-6 people for 15-minute video conferences. They would start with a fun icebreaker (What’s your favorite sandwich?) then share what they’re working on. That’s it. Sharing their workplans naturally made everyone even more accountable. They also got ideas and support from one another. The conversations stay within the group – there’s no reporting back to management. We switch out the group members every quarter, so team members get to know one another. We surveyed our team after six months and everyone liked these calls a lot. We wish we would have thought of this before COVID!
We also replaced our monthly staff meetings with a weekly 30-minute video conference Friday at 9 a.m. Everyone attends unless they have PTO. It’s a chance for management to share updates with the team and for the team to share updates with management. We also celebrate birthdays and service anniversaries. And it’s a chance to bestow “Wows” on co-workers to show one another appreciation. We’re connected once a week instead of once a month. Again, thank you COVID!
With birthdays and work anniversaries, we used to have a cake celebration in a central location. That’s tough to do virtually. (The icing doesn’t travel well!) Now we use a service that delivers a sweet treat on the employee’s actual birthday. And for their anniversary they can select something useful or meaningful from an online catalog as our way of thanking them for their dedication.
Once a quarter, we used to have a celebration where we would bring everyone (and often their families) together – like picnics, holiday parties and employee appreciation days. We’ve replaced that with virtual events through a third-party vendor where everyone does an activity at home over video conferencing. For example, we had a cooking decorating event where everyone received a kit in the mail and employees could enlist kids, partners, family members or even pets to help. Was it the same as being in the same kitchen? No. But was it better than not doing anything together? Oh yeah! We still had plenty of fun.
Finally, once a year we are committing to meet in one location to see each other in person. We will pay for transportation for anyone who needs it. This year we will stay in a lodge where we have shared space and private rooms. One day will be a company retreat. The other day will be a chance to collaborate with fellow team members on client projects or company efforts. It won’t be cheap, but I think it will be worth every penny we’re spending. We still need to connect as people.
Overall, both of the big changes we faced in the past 18+ months have forced us to evaluate how we communicate and build camaraderie. Across the organization, we could not be happier with the outcome.