I started a new job during quarantine at ThinkNimble, a software development agency in D.C. All the traditional trappings of your first day — the goody bag of company swag waiting at your desk, a welcome breakfast to meet your colleagues, the all-day onboarding with your manager plotting the company values on a whiteboard — were thrown out the window. In this world of Google Hangouts and home offices, I had no idea how my onboarding would go.
You can imagine my relief when it went … really well.
My onboarding experience, and the enjoyment I see my teammates (well, teammates’ little virtual squares) taking in work, weren’t created overnight. They were the product of an ongoing investment in a strong workplace culture, even before the quarantine hit.
Great culture doesn’t fall in your lap. It requires plans, prioritization, strategy and followthrough. Doing that in the middle of a pandemic can be extra tough, but I noticed a few proactive ways my company is shaping a positive culture, especially during quarantine, that helped me immediately feel like a valued member of the team:
1. Grab virtual coffee with a colleague.
On my first day, our CEO had everyone on the team put a 30-minute meeting on my calendar just to chat. This created space to connect on a personal level that would have otherwise never happened. But this isn’t a practice they save for newcomers — every week we pair up with a different member of the team for a half-hour coffee break.
Unless you’re working on a project together, team members don’t always get to communicate. Chatting with someone outside your normal bubble not only builds relationships within the company, but it can help bring in new perspectives to sticky project challenges. Happy relationships create happy teams, and studies show that taking breaks during your day is an integral way to prevent burnout, reduce stress and increase job satisfaction.
2. Show gratitude publicly.
At 4 p.m. every Friday, we all go to our respective fridges, grab a beverage of choice, and hop on an all-team video call for weekly toasts. Weekly toasts are an opportunity for members of the team to thank their teammates for their help that week and recognize one another for a job well done. At our company, this was begun as a way to counteract negative or neutral workplace interactions by intentionally setting aside time for positivity and gratitude each week. But I noticed it doing a lot more than that.
As soon as I joined the team, I was immediately aware of how positive, communicative and willing to help my new teammates were, and it turns out, the facts are on my side. Studies show that receiving “appreciation for your work” is the top indicator of workplace satisfaction. And deeper dive into this idea shows that peer-to-peer recognition is cited for increasing positive emotions, improved wellbeing, stronger internal relationships and more altruistic actions by team members.
The best part about recognizing your team members for a job well done is that you don’t have to have an official weekly meeting to do so (but I would recommend it. They’re really fun). Start now by beginning your next video call with a simple, “I wish you could all see the spreadsheet Brandon put together for this project. It is a thing of beauty that will save us a ton of time!”
3. Explore team dynamics.
Our team spent an afternoon taking part in an Enneagram workshop with Sandhya Sudhakar of Aperture Culture. The workshop identified our own Enneagram number and those of our team members. The most important thing we learned in doing this was that everyone was approaching our shared work from different perspectives. We were reminded to approach teamwork with curiosity and an openness to learn from the perspectives of our colleagues.
To get started, have your team take the Enneagram test, read through the description of your number, and have a meeting to discuss what you learned. Or hire a coach like Sandhya to lead a discussion about how to use knowledge about your results to work more productively with your team. Pro tip: This is best approached with a model of deep introspection and in a group where you feel safe. Starting the meeting with people you work with regularly, and already trust, might be useful. Or, start by writing your thoughts down to share ahead of time, so everyone gets a chance to share, if vulnerability over video is a bit out of reach on your team.
4. Play together.
As people grow, we lose our disposition to play — and with that goes our childlike audacity of taking risks, trying new things and unhindered creative thinking. The lost art of risk taking and creative thinking are muscles that need practice, and play uncovers and exercises these invaluable assets. For instance, if you look at the history of invention leading up to the first computer, you cannot deny the presence of play as a cornerstone to innovation.
Our team loved playing with Peter Williamson of Game Genius, a D.C.-based company that creates opportunities to play that improve work culture, build awareness and inspire social action. Our morning of play got us thinking critically and collaboratively on a fun problem, while also examining our team dynamic and simply laughing together.
There’s a host of online game ideas to play with your team, or give Game Genius’s facilitated games a try. We loved them.
5. Respect work-life integration.
We’ve spent years trying to define better work-life balance, and in the days of working from home, those energies have melted away into a work-life continuum. Giving space for your team to take care of the needs of life during the day takes trust, but when employees feel trusted, they’ll put forth the extra effort to get the job done.
Lead by example. Tell employees when you’re taking a half hour to care for a child, and when you’re signing off for the night, not just when you’re up late working overtime. When your team feels the freedom to care for the things that matter to them, they’ll have more peace of mind to crack the next problem on the agenda.
Remote work can lead to isolation, so we need to actively pursue ways to reinforce positive workplace dynamics. Start with these simple tricks. Set up one-on-ones with your team, praise your team members publicly, seek to better understand your team dynamics, play a game and trust your crew. It has worked well for us. And the great thing about investing in a team is that when it comes time to build a beautiful piece of technology, our clients love working with us too.-30-