Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In March 2020, companies around the world were forced to rapidly shift to remote operations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. And while the pandemic wreaked havoc on life as we know it, one positive takeaway that looks poised to become our new normal is the corporate world’s shift to remote and hybrid work models.
It’s clear — and many major corporations globally have taken note — that remote and hybrid work can work as long as employers are open to rethinking long-held assumptions. If done right, both employees and employers can reap the benefits. The ways corporations foster an environment of collaboration in remote and virtual settings are the key to success.
My startup Crockd, a creative mindfulness brand that leverages creative experiences as a catalyst for connection and conversation, has been fortunate enough to host over 800 virtual team-building events with over 300 companies in the past 18 months. We’ve witnessed incredible company cultures that have thrived in the shift to remote work, and also those that are struggling.
Here are the biggest tips to successfully craft corporate culture in a remote and hybrid world.
Related: Why Remote Work Makes Teams (And Leaders) Better
- Muted mics during virtual events – Virtual team-building events shouldn’t allow for the mic to be mute. It may make sense during work meetings and presentations, but during social events, the subtle sounds that everyone hears build connection and morale. For example, a kid screaming in the background or walking into the room helps to build empathy and understanding. The same happens when you hear dogs barking, cats meowing or a lawnmower buzzing outside. Muted mics during social events make it harder and harder for people to find common ground.
- Friday afternoon events – The best companies know that after a week of virtual meetings, the last thing teams want to do is get on another virtual call that feeds into their free time right on the cusp of their weekend. The most progressive companies set virtual events, workshops and sessions mid-week to break the grind and bring teams together — free from impatience and resentment.
- Alcohol reliant events – At Crockd, we’ve heard countless times from our corporate clients that teams don’t want to drink virtually online. In fact, many have noted that virtual happy hours lead to fewer people attending virtual events. Employers should keep in mind that often employees are dialing into virtual events from home, where there are distractions and responsibilities. Employees may have their kids around and often don’t want to end a call tipsy.
- Faceless moments – It goes without saying that when cameras are off, no one feels engaged. “Cameras off” creates a domino effect and vicious cycle of fewer people engaging. No one wants to feel like they’re talking to themselves, and being able to see peoples’ faces and how they respond to your ideas and what you’re saying is often key to really connecting.
- “Voluntold” – When people are being “voluntold” to host or organize events, it’s unpleasant and it definitely shouldn’t be confused with proactive volunteering. It’s often the same people who have to organize virtual events, and these employees typically have enough on their plates so they end up choosing the lowest effort options, which often aren’t the most engaging. Hire an external person to organize and lead your virtual events and sessions — your employees will thank you.
Related: 4 Reasons Why Smart Companies Are Going Remote
- Invest in offsites and team-building events – While small, virtual team-building events will continue to grow as a trend, in-person offsites allow companies to bring people together without inhibiting the freedom that comes with the remote and hybrid work models and will become increasingly important for employee engagement. For virtual team-building events, companies like Escapely offer convenient escape room experiences, perfect for team building as the activities promote communication skills between team members, as well as problem-solving abilities while boosting employee’s morale
- Hands-on, physical experiences – Gifting everyone the same physical experience makes it easy for teams to connect over a shared experience. The physical element where-in employees focus on using their hands to create something helps to break the virtual fatigue that comes with staring at a screen all day, and allows people to enjoy moments of silence along with some good laughs and conversation. It’s good to give your employees opportunities to unwind, not take themselves too seriously and get out of their heads. Plus, they can be a great way to get teams into a better state of “flow” to encourage creative collaboration ahead of strategy meetings.
- Create hype – Whether it’s playing hype-up opening music ahead of a team meeting or virtual event or hiring a dedicated “hype woman” to MC or cheer people on, a little hype goes a long way. Recently, a financial team event that Crockd hosted had an ex-cheerleading coach cheering everyone on, including people, celebrating small wins. At first it felt strange, but it really kept the mood up. Make it fun, make it exciting, make it different and hype up your employees.
- Breakout rooms – Instead of organizing multiple small virtual team-building events, the best option is to bring everyone together in one room before randomly breaking out into small groups. The random part is incredibly important. It allows people to network with people from different areas of the business, enabling those “watercooler” moments and stimulating creative collaboration.
- Avoid hard stops – For social team-building events, avoid giving teams a hard stop. Give employees the freedom to stay longer than the designated 60 minutes.
- Encourage open conversations – According to Microsoft’s recent Work Trends Index, the remote work model has resulted in work becoming more human — and this is a good thing. Of the 31,000 people surveyed across 31 countries, 40% said they felt more comfortable now than they did before the pandemic being their full selves at work. We’re all human, we all have emotions and we all experience trials in both our personal and professional lives. Openness and compassion go a long way in building bonds between employer and employee.
- Team gestures – We’ve seen teams create their own “Zoomisms” which are incredibly unique to them. For example, when everyone is on mute, to celebrate something, teams can raise their arms above their heads and dance. It’s fun and helps relieve the virtual monotony of constant Zoom meetings.
- Branded care packages – Tangible, tactile items are a real treat and way of connecting in this virtual world. Putting together useful, high-quality branded care packages for employees is a way to thoughtfully bring elements of your corporate culture into their remote work environment.
- Remote can be anywhere – Working remotely doesn’t necessarily have to mean working from home and employers should reinforce this point to employees. Encourage your employees to find the best remote work setting for them — or even switch things up.
Overall, the shift to remote and hybrid work has been largely positive, as long as both employers and employees are remembering their “why”. Businesses need to be deliberate about reminding people of their mission and vision. On exhausting days, people need to know why they are doing what they do. It’s not enough to rely on work perks and great people — employers need to be proactive in re-energizing employees, rewriting the norms and creating remote and hybrid work environments that complement employees’ human needs to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds.
Related: The Importance of Returning to the Office After Remote Working