Even pre-pandemic, remote work was on the rise, and now it’s become a necessity for many of us. But it can be hard to maintain a strong team culture when your employees are disconnected. Use these tips to ensure that you’re keeping your team engaged.

1. Focus on what aspects of your culture are worth keeping

2020 has us rethinking everything from boundaries and schooling to parenting and career paths. Work culture shouldn’t be any different. “This is an opportunity for all of us to adopt a mindset shift of how we define culture and get creative with the ways we live out our team culture in a dispersed environment,” says Ryan Ata, EXOS regional director of performance in the Bay Area.

Look beyond holiday parties and team happy hours to the values you really want to uphold. “Having an established sense of community and shared purpose are key elements of work culture,” says Enuma Okafor, EXOS program manager of diversity and development.

Gather your senior leadership team to dig deep into the heart of the culture you want, and then discuss what needs to change, where to cut, and which new initiatives to try.

2. Acknowledge struggles and capitalize on strengths

Remote work used to be the exception, now it’s the rule. And that means you likely have teammates who aren’t used to how isolating it can be to work outside of the office. “Strengthening and maintaining connection is more challenging now, but it’s not impossible,” says Ryan. “It just requires commitment and intention from every member of a team.”

However, those challenges can also reveal unique strengths. Focusing on our shared purpose and growing into one team makes our team culture stronger than ever. Need a few ideas outside of your norm to get started? EXOS recently sponsored a virtual escape room with teams of employees from all over the United States, which wouldn’t have been possible in person.

Colleagues playing a virtual escape room on a Microsoft Teams call, team, activity, teamwork, fun, collaboration
Finding unique ways to bring your team together is an effective way to maintain your culture.

3. Find new connection avenues

When you can’t walk over to your coworker’s desk to get a quick update on a project, you need to get more creative. Whether that’s setting up a new Slack channel for a big project or learning how to use breakout rooms in Zoom, it’s important to use as many channels and features as possible to find the best path for each situation.

Besides using email, texts, chats, and public callouts during meetings, Jonathan Puskas, a vice president at EXOS who works closely with one of the brand’s corporate clients, even goes old school when necessary. “Handwritten notes get more attention than anything else today because nobody gets handwritten notes anymore, so, I send letters to reinforce when they’re doing something great,” he says.

Jonathan also has done specific activities like Insights Discovery, Strengths Finder, and thought starters at the beginning of meetings to better understand how team members view the world and how they approach problems. This all creates an environment of trust where everyone can share their ideas freely.

4. Encourage work boundaries

Man in white sweater staring out of window while working from home, stress, isolation, fatigue, lockdown, home
Keep your team's energy levels up and be aware of the challenges working remotely brings. ©Rasmus Jurkatam

Uncertainty and doubt are running high in all industries right now. This makes employees more susceptible to trying unsustainable routines in order to prove their worth. And without careful monitoring, your culture might be fostering this kind of overworking behavior.

“It’s not uncommon to find yourself working more hours every day or being connected to work emails 24/7 while working from home,” says Enuma. “You can end up thinking this is the norm and what’s expected.”

But there’s a better way.

“High performers, like athletes, need to be reminded to focus on the recovery as much as the work in order to produce the best outcomes,” says Jonathan.

One initiative EXOS has implemented is no-camera Fridays to give team members a break from endless video meetings. We encourage our team members to take a walk during these meetings or otherwise get up and get moving.

5. Recreate the water cooler

Man cooking while working from home, remote work, telework, telecommuting, teleworking
Think of different activities you can do as a team. ©Westend61

All work and no play doesn’t just make your employees dull, it also makes for a stiff team culture that strains connections between coworkers. Remind team members how to connect outside of project updates.

“This atmosphere of staying curious about the well-being of your colleagues creates a lasting connection,” says Ryan.

Some ideas we’ve tried at EXOS to strengthen team culture:

  • Establish casual communication channels where individuals can share jokes, life updates, recipes, and pictures from their weekend camping trips
  • Make meetings more fun by having riddle contests or themed background days
  • Take a virtual workout class together or do a quick stretch break
  • Host a lunch-and-learn to share new skills
  • Celebrate coworker birthdays and acknowledge other important life events
  • Sponsor a virtual 5K in which employees can join individually or as a team

In what ways have you been able to keep your team culture strong and flourishing with the influx of remote work? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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by Mariana 04.12.2020
Loved the ideas!