It’s hard to believe, but we have spent more than 100 days working from home.
People have settled into new routines, balancing work, household, and childcare responsibilities. Many are thankful for the time to focus on family or brush up on their cooking skills, but there’s also a growing sense of fatigue. People are increasingly tired of video calls and a workday that is seemingly endless.
A recent Wall Street Journal article found many companies and employees are now rethinking remote work. Younger and new employees may be missing out on learning opportunities that come from being surrounded by experienced coworkers. Team collaboration and problem-solving is more challenging. To be fair, these issues might resolve themselves once we are back in the office, even if we’re just coming in a few days week.
What we realize now is the workplace is truly a space for connection and socialization. It’s not the building, but the people inside that make being at the office an engaging and worthwhile experience. Looking ahead to several more weeks at home, how can we help maintain that culture and connection for people?
Beyond Virtual Happy Hours
For the past several months, we have been conducting roundtable discussions with clients from a variety of industries to hear how they and their staff are holding up and planning ahead. One concern keeps rising to the top: people miss seeing each other in-person.
With everyone spread out in their homes, it takes some creativity to bring people together. But as our clients have shown, there are many ways to help people stay engaged. Some companies hold individual check-ins or events such as trivia nights, while others are helping their people with grocery shopping and other daily tasks. One client even set up storytime sessions for employees’ kids to listen to children’s books read by their coworkers.
“We created online sessions offering cooking classes or tips on how to stay mentally and physically fit,” said Benni Bueckert, senior director of Global Real Estate and Workplace Strategy at McAfee. “We also asked people to participate in get-to-know-you sessions, such as ‘20 Things You Didn’t Know About Me.’ You learn a lot about people and it’s very interactive.”
How We Stay Connected
As Co-Managing Director of Gensler, along with my partner, Steven Upchurch, we moved our staff meetings from monthly to weekly to share business and office updates. We also talk about upcoming activities and dedicate time in these meetings to focus on and spotlight our people.
Volunteering is a big part of our culture. Our Community Impact team organizes all kinds of events, such as making bagged lunches for people experiencing homelessness or writing letters to nursing home residents. It’s been a great way for us to bond with each other outside of work while giving back to our community.
In addition, our culture team hosts “Chit Chat” sessions where people answer fun icebreaker questions. We run photo contests and develop a weekly newsletter featuring employee blogs and curated playlists, podcast recommendations, recipes, and more. Birthdays and work anniversaries are still celebrated with pictures of the silver and gold balloons we normally place on desks.
While there is no blanket approach to translating company culture in the current environment, we now know that finding ways to sustain it is critical. People crave the commonality and purpose that comes from being in the workplace. In keeping the culture alive, they will not only feel connected to each other but also excited to come back together in the future.
Cindy Simpson is the Regional Managing Principal of the South Central Region and Managing Director of Gensler Dallas.