April 10, 2020

Culture & Connectivity While Working Remote

Gina Harris, MBA

Get comfy. We’re all working from home for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 has indefinitely flipped the way we think about and conduct our work. So, for the second article in our mini-series “Making the Most of Your Office Environment,” we decided to look at office culture for your at-home workers.

Building and sustaining your company culture takes more than one person, but we sat down with our HR Sherpa, Beth Keeling, to get her expert insight on why connection while working remote is so important for your business.

Bonus: we also (virtually) sat down with our IT Sherpa Mary Compton and President Brad Erwin to discuss the tools that helped our quick transition to an all-remote workforce—just a week after completing our new office HQ in downtown Springfield. 

Why Culture & Connectivity Matters

A positive workplace culture attracts talent, drives engagement, impacts your employees’ happiness and satisfaction and affects performance. During the pandemic, your employees are looking to you for guidance, security and reassurance. The things you do right now to stay connected to them and to continue cultivating your company culture will influence the way your team feels about your business and their work—now and in the future.

How to Connect Your Newly Remote Workers  

“The pandemic has given our team the opportunity to connect in ways that weren’t acceptable before,” says Keeling. “We now openly admit when we’re hitting a wall on our projects and take comfort in knowing that we’re not the only ones mentally struggling.” When you support your people, they’ll take care of your clients and daily operations. And supporting your people during COVID-19 means attending to morale and their sense of belongingness.

Create Shared Experiences

It’s easy to establish fun company traditions in an in-person work environment. But when you’re all working from home, you have to get creative. Our team started with a virtual health challenge for the month of April. Here’s how it works: we have a simple excel spreadsheet that all participants have access to, and employees jump in to update their goals and progress. Our health challenges include activities like working out, daily meditation and drinking more water. Then Beth emails the team bi-weekly inspiration, tips and equipment-less exercise routines to keep it going.

There are dozens more ways you can create shared experiences for your office. Initiate book clubs and discussion boards, make themed, collaborative playlists on Spotify, play online video games, or schedule a virtual crafternoon. Including remote company traditions will create stronger bonds and help keep your company culture intact.

Plan Virtual Team Huddles

Seeing your teammates face-to-face, especially in a time of isolation, is powerful. Yes, do plan a weekly all-team meeting to discuss the progress of your projects. But remember that it’s easy for your communication to become purely transactional when you’re working remotely.

So, be intentional about checking in on things other than business. We have groups that “meet up” for coffee once a week, and we just celebrated an employee coming back from maternity leave with a virtual happy hour. Use these moments to ask how your people are doing and be honest about how you’ve been fairing. Human connection starts by treating everyone as a human.

Make Room for Random Moments

Enable and encourage your people to use IMing software like Slack or even social media to randomly pop in with each other throughout the day. Our team has a private Facebook page where we share photos of our pets, at-home workstations and silly, viral gems like this one. It may be simple but—I’m telling you—it gets us through the grind.

Plan a (Future) In-Person Retreat

More than ever, your team needs something to look forward to. Planning a future in-person retreat, hike or outing to strengthen team relationships can signal to your employees that you’re focusing on the brighter days ahead. Better yet, get them involved by having them submit ideas for ways you can all celebrate when you get back together.

Send Physical Packages

Send handwritten notes, send paychecks in an illustrated thank-you card, send books, snacks, buttons, a $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza… The idea here is to connect with your remote workers in a physical way, while adhering to the new social distancing rule. Plus, who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned piece of snail mail?   

Celebrate the Hero

“Don’t forget to celebrate your employees for the hard work they’re putting in and for the extracurricular ways they are giving back to the community,” says Keeling. One of our employees has sewn over 60 masks for local hospitals in the last two weeks, and others have stepped in to help by sending her the needed supplies to continue her work.

Effort like that deserves to be recognized and goes a long way in boosting morale. You can use any of the ideas above to acknowledge your star workers in front of their peers, one-on-one or on social media. The key is to recognize them in a way they appreciate.

How Designing for Flexibility Made Our Transition So Much Easier

While we didn’t know we were planning for a pandemic, we had already taken the steps necessary for a flexible workforce by designing our new HQ to match the evolving workplace in 417-Land. Our measures provided opportunities for our team that weren’t there before, and it put our firm in a position to go remote immediately.

Our Design Process

During the design process, we thought about the ways our business was currently running, and how it’s trending for the future. We knew our architects needed the ability to take drawings in the field and collaborate across different design hubs. And those same tools we invested in unknowingly helped prepare our team for the current situation.

“We looked at what’s happening within our team and the general work culture in Springfield, and changed some of our business operations,” says Brad Erwin, president and principal architect. For example, over a six-month period in 2019 we transitioned from desktops to laptops to give employees the opportunity to be mobile and work where they feel most comfortable and productive within the new space on College Street.

“Our preparedness is a testament to how important a collaborative, thoughtful design process really is,” says Compton. Tools like remote camera access and building security access facilitates deliveries from FedEx, UPS, and USPS into a protected, designated space. Further, we can direct receipts from contractors and suppliers to keep our projects moving forward while at home.

The Evolution of Business Operations

As we mentioned in our first article, Conference Room Upgrades You Need in 2020, those on the front lines of workplace design have to anticipate the ever-evolving needs of teams while creating a cohesive brand environment. When you do that, you’ll be ready for anything life throws your way.

Executive Summary

The personality of your business is influenced by everything: your leadership and management, workplace practices, your policies, the people you hire, your mission and even your physical office environment. It’s important to continue working on your company culture (in big and small ways) with a temporary all-remote workforce, because the only way we’re going to get through this pandemic, is together.

So, continue to plan team huddles and create shared experiences. Intentionally make room for silly moments, send snail mail, celebrate your employees and plan for the future.

More About Paragon Architecture

We partner with businesses, schools and municipalities throughout Missouri to design buildings that inspire employees, support student learning and energize communities. Our architects and interior designers are passionate project managers, ready to advocate your vision from the first sketch to your final phone call—and beyond.

We call our collaborative process The Paragon Approach™. Think of our team as your architectural Sherpas—highly skilled and experienced guides you can count on every step of the way. Ready to learn more? Contact our team.

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