As your company adjusts to WFH as the new norm, I’m sure you’re bombarded with tips and tricks to help you make the transition effective. I’m lending my voice to the chorus because Trusona has been a remote-first organization since day one—and, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, we seem to have been “practicing” for this moment all along. Based on that experience, here’s my take on four critical steps that can best support a virtual, distributed workforce while strengthening corporate culture. These might not be the most obvious steps, but they’ve worked well for us since our inception.
1. Create a virtual water cooler
Some people look at me funny when I say this, but it’s my number one piece of advice: Enable your remote team to interact informally throughout the day.
At Trusona, we achieve this in a couple of ways. With Zoom, we’ve created a “water cooler room” that’s on all the time, running in the background. When our employees join the room, they can see what their teammates are up to, say hello, gripe about the news, ask a quick question, or chat about the weather—anything and everything employees do in the physical world when they bump into each other in the elevator or the communal kitchen. We also have a Slack channel where we share non-work-related content, stupid jokes, and the like.
This approach provides a virtual means of connecting our employees across the country, and around the world, and making them feel integrated. Sounds a little weird, but it promotes collaboration and bonding even when employees aren’t meeting in person. Think of it as “ambient cohesion.”
You may be tempted to ask, “Do we really need this?” The answer is yes—don’t skimp. This is a must-have for reinforcing your culture and making your team feel like they’re part of a whole. Whatever video conferencing or collaboration package you use, make sure it has a solid meeting room backbone that can run for at least eight hours without touching it.
2. Don’t spend your day in meetings
This bit of advice may sound antithetical to what I’ve just said but hear me out. There’s a big difference between interacting throughout the day and sitting in non-stop meetings.
When people are in meetings all the time, it actually cuts into productivity and efficiency because they’re not able to carve out blocks of time to think deeply, reason strategically, write with precision, work without interruption—or simply decompress.
Think about it: When you’re physically in an office environment, you’re not always talking to other people. Sometimes you’re heads-down, sometimes you take a walk, sometimes you make a cup of coffee and look out the window—but you’re still working.
To make this approach applicable for a remote workforce, you might say, “We don’t have meetings on Fridays” or “Our core hours for meetings are 10-4.” At Trusona, we also try to cap meetings at half an hour instead of a full hour. When a meeting is scheduled for an hour, no one wants to be the guy who says, “We’ve accomplished what we needed to do—let’s shut this down”—so people try to fill the time. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in shorter increments with a focused agenda.
Of course, you’ll have to flex these guidelines to accommodate meetings with customers. But for internal meetings, less can deliver more.
3. Turn off the video (sometimes)
Here’s another point that may be a surprise: You don’t always need to be on video.
Yes, seeing colleagues face-to-face is important. But, at Trusona, we have employees based in Japan and Costa Rica—and there can be issues with bandwidth. Instead of fussing and troubleshooting and dialing back in when we encounter these issues, we simply turn the video off. Or we ask our employees to dial in instead. When everyone is working remotely, you’ve got to accept the good, bad, and ugly—and keep pushing forward even when there are technical issues.
The collaboration is important, not the channel. Ask yourself, “Could I pick up the phone for a one-on-one? Could I send an email or a Slack message instead?” All of these tools are still at your disposal, even though we’re living in a video world.
4. Get creative
Your employees aren’t just working remotely, they’re working remotely alongside a new crew of colleagues—spouses, partners, kids, pets, and maybe even extended family members who are sharing the same space, 24×7.
In this new normal, you should keep up your team bonding activities but be sure to pull the family in. Instead of a virtual happy hour, we recently organized a virtual “game night”—featuring bingo and a scavenger hunt. It provided a chance to have fun and unwind that was more inclusive for everyone in the house.
We’ve also applied the same creative thinking to our “Perk of the Month” program. Before Covid-19 hit, we gave our employees monthly perks like restaurant gift certificates and movie tickets. Today, we’ve flexed this to focus on Uber Eats gift cards and books that are delivered from Amazon.
Different things will work for different companies. The point is not to abandon these programs—but to make them work for a distributed and expanded definition of the “workforce.”