As COVID-19 impacts how the world works, it’s more than our business goals that we’re keeping top of mind—it’s also our culture, our beliefs, and behaviors that form who we are as a team.
Since culture is continuously forming whether we are intentional or not, we choose to actively build a workplace we love—whether that’s in an office or from our homes. Here are a few practices that can hopefully help your team persevere and even thrive throughout these challenging times. Some of these we’ve formed in response to this crisis, and others we’ve done for years, but all of them help build our culture.
To start every week, we have a team-wide Zoom call to discuss our current status and the direction we’re moving this week. Transparency is the cornerstone of great leadership, especially in a time like this.
Since there is much uncertainty in the air, team members need to know that everyone is on the same page as an organization. As your finances or goals change, consider keeping your team informed in the most helpful way possible. But regardless of these shifts, your values should remain constant. Reiterate your values to your team and offer practical ways to lean into them throughout the week ahead.
Take on a Passion Project
During our last week in the office, as we realized how quickly COVID-19 was affecting the world, we wanted to put some time and effort into a project that would boost the morale of the New Story team and beyond.
We decided to spend a couple of weeks creating a video to encourage ourselves and the world to cherish the gift of connection during these times. As we helped others appreciate the gift of home and belonging in a time they have never mattered more, we also helped ourselves gain momentum that will carry us to the other side of COVID-19, stronger than ever before. You can check out the video here.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” —George Bernard Shaw
Teams relentlessly focused on their mission tend to be the ones who carry it out, and direction on the mission runs on clear communication. With teams scattered across different time zones, receiving more information than ever before, the best leaders offer a clear, direct voice that cuts through all of the noise and helps their team have clarity on their day-to-day work. As a leader communicates, so does the team.
Here are some simple practices to help you communicate, especially during COVID-19:
- Sending voice memos or Loom videos rather than scheduling more meetings
- Automating your email to let people know the hours you will be checking it and the best way to reach you in the meantime
- Connecting your calendar with Slack so it automatically tells others when you’re in a meeting
- More frequent check-ins with your manager to ensure you’re on the same page
Once or twice a week, every team member gets on a Zoom call with one other team member to talk about life outside of work. These one-on-one interactions help us each practice empathy by getting to know each other outside of the workspace. We always make time for Hang 10s right before our Monday weekly status meeting and have been incorporating more of them throughout our schedule during COVID-19.
With 27 team members working from 27 different places, it is easy to drift into your own world and feel as if you’re working in a silo. These 15-20 minutes of catching up with a team member allow us to zoom out from our spaces where we can so often feel stuck, and realize that we’re all in this strange season together. It’s refreshing these days to hear about each other’s bread baking experiences, dog walking routes, and thoughts on the latest Netflix show. These are the conversations that help us feel a little more human, moving us a bit closer to a state of normalcy.
Every Monday, each person on our team makes their #1 priority for the week public by writing it out in a designated Slack channel called #team_focus. Our team has practiced this for years, but the simple weekly habit proves to be more vital now than ever.
As COVID-19 makes teams leaner, reducing budgets and headcount, it forces us to strip away the unnecessary and to focus on our main priorities. We don’t have the luxury of more time or funding—we must settle on one main direction and move there together. When every team member makes their weekly priority public, it creates accountability and momentum towards a unified direction. Like Zig Ziglar said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem.”
Invest in Learning
Depending on your area of work, you may be experiencing more downtime than usual. While there may be a decrease in the actual work you can produce, there is always room to expand your knowledge. This season could very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity to heavily invest in your team’s education.
For instance, our team purchased a subscription to Masterclass, a digital course offering over 80 types of classes from world-renowned experts. From storytelling to design to cooking, there is a range of lessons that will sharpen your team for their work and personal lives. Since most people are at home with more time open on their calendar, it is also an excellent season to reach out to your network to schedule some lunch-and-learns for your team. The world may be home, but everyone wants to help in some way. For many people you look up to, help could look like offering their time to teach your team invaluable lessons.
Our team has always enjoyed unique experiences that help us grow closer together. For instance, we have had nearly a dozen cooking competitions and love celebrating individual and team milestones with tacos and cake. We were planning on going to see Mulan together until COVID-19 forced a change of plans. But, amid the social distance separating us by thousands of miles, we have practiced a few creative, virtual activities that help us stay connected through the gift of fun.
For instance, one of our favorite activities is a discussion-based game known as Lean Coffee. Lean Coffee creates thoughtful conversation around topics that tend not to have a right or wrong answer, but are just more enjoyable and challenging to think through. We have also virtually scheduled a dance lesson, happy hour, trivia night, and storytelling time.
Fridays are our favorite around here, particularly at 4:00 pm EST. Not for the traditional motive of being one hour away from the weekend. We love it because of a weekly meeting that takes place. Yes, a meeting.
Friday at 4:00 pm is when we drop what we’re doing, hop on a Zoom call, and celebrate team members for displaying our core values throughout the week. In this short meeting, each team member honors at least one other team member by saying how she or he lived out a value. We say which of our six values the person demonstrated, tell a brief story about how they did so, and thank them for helping move the entire team a bit closer to the character and culture we want to define us.
While your team’s mission should remain steadfast throughout the pandemic, your behaviors to get there may need to be adjusted. Your “why” can be constant, but your “how” must evolve. Because one day, COVID-19 will fade away, and the teams who will be thriving in the “new normal” will be those who relentlessly invested in their culture.