I always felt that a big part of the enjoyment of work is the people I get to work with. The day-to-day fellowship, water cooler conversations, lunches out, and drinks after work may seem small at the time, but those organic side chats with coworkers offer insight into one another’s lives and create connections that often become strong friendships—friends that understand a huge part of your world because they live it with you. If you’re lucky, these coworkers become your trusted comrade(s) in arms as you slay the corporate beast, create the best product, or design a system of delivery that changes the face of business ;). And if you’re extra lucky, your colleagues become friends you learn from and walk away better at your craft for having known them.
So, what happens when all of sudden you are in the throes of a pandemic and the world of face-to-face interactions and organic moments of camaraderie and bonding are taken away?
At a time when we really needed our support groups the most, we were cut off. For some, this meant not being in physical proximity, but for so many others, it meant completely losing jobs. During this pandemic, we have all experienced, fear, isolation, and in one or many ways, lost or become distant from our network of important people.
And even though LeadingAgile was very fortunate to be able to thrive throughout this pandemic, it has also opened up issues we hadn’t really thought about before, specifically related to hiring and culture.
Overcoming Hiring and Onboarding Challenges
We’ve always placed importance on face-to-face interactions; there is only so much you can tell about a person over the phone. Call me old-fashioned, but I like being able to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye. This may seem antiquated in this day and age where everything is done online, but we valued it and tried to have at least one face-to-face meeting with a person before they were brought on. But during most of the past year, this was impossible.
So how as a company that values in-person hiring interactions overcome the challenges presented by quarantines and a pandemic?
For starters, we made Zoom a mandatory part of our interviewing process. Having multiple “virtual face-to-face” touchpoints, though not in person, has enabled us to build stronger connections to individuals than phone calls alone.
As a remote company, where the majority of our people are working on teams together at clients nationally, we already had our administrative onboarding down to a science well before the pandemic came along. We never had to worry about the human connection piece because we were able to handle that in person at our client locations. We would assign a new person a mentor or “buddy” to be a go-to for questions, and we had an onboarding to the team itself. This all changed with the pandemic.
Imagine the stress of not only starting a new job but also never getting to actually “meet” your coworkers. Deliberate and frequent communication not only needed to happen between team members but also between the company and the employee to ensure all of our new team members were set up to be successful from the start.
So to ensure success for our new people from “go”, we added more Zoom meetings so there was time to see one another’s faces, and added welcome calls as well as 30, 60, 90 check-ins. All of these were helpful yet still weren’t quite enough. We still saw our new hires struggling somewhat because they were not naturally able to form the connections they could easily have in person. It’s easy to say, “Let’s go to lunch or grab dinner,” when you are embedded with a client and working away from home with your fellow consultants on a team. But with the pandemic, our consultants were suddenly all working from home.
Using Tried and True Remote Tools
Connecting the entire team across every part of the company has always been important to us, and as a remote company, we were a little ahead of the game when the pandemic hit. We knew what worked in a lot of ways already. We had already run through our share of remote work tools: Yammer, WebEx, Slack, Zoom, and so forth, finally establishing Zoom and Slack as our best means for connectivity.
An all-company call 3x a week helps us keep people connected to operations and revenue, marketing, sales, recruiting, etc. During those calls, we discuss what we are doing right and what we need to improve on. And although we may not physically be in the same location—our employees have always been able to gain insight into what’s important to us as an organization with that real-time information.
Every employee has a group called a Pod made up of a small cross-section of employees with a leader dedicated to mentoring and advocating for their pod. They meet on an agreed-upon cadence and can reach out to other Pod members for questions, help, and a friendly voice.
We also invite our people to create and join Communities of Practice (COPs). COPs are self-organized interest groups where people can get together and share ideas and knowledge around topics that they’re passionate about, for example, product, or design. They provide a touchpoint within the organization for people to share learnings, best practices, ideas, and generally connect with peers at the same time.
Overcoming New Culture Challenges
Culturally, we faced a new challenge we hadn’t before, specifically with the majority of our team being on the road 4 days a week. These folks had formed strong friendships with their team/account mates, grabbed dinner together every night, and often spent time sitting together in the hotel lobby till the wee hours talking through problems—personal and professional. Their teams were their support system when they were away from home and family solving really hard problems. Suddenly, they were all working solo at home, solving all the same really hard work problems, but with a totally changed work-life-family balance, all from home. We wanted to help continue to enable and sustain those supportive connections as best we could.
So what did we do? We got creative.
First, we started doing more virtual events that hinged on having pure fun together, like pub trivia or 3 Truths and a Lie. I’m even told there is a murder mystery in the works. We learned that you can do a lot with Zoom!
We are still going ahead with our usual annual or biannual all-company get-together as well. And even though it’s via Zoom this time, we have made plans for it to be fun, interactive, and still enable that same type of connection and culture – and help usher in our newer folks.
We also welcome and encourage our teams to think of new ideas and schedule/facilitate their own fun events outside of those we plan. Many of our teams started weekly happy hours so they had a way to regularly connect outside of work hours.
I have also started doing a lot more personal check-ins with people. I believe it is human nature to need, on some level, to feel valued and supported. And I wanted to make sure that people in our organization knew their jobs were safe and that we understand that this is and has been a hard time for everyone. A little empathy can go a long way.
We are definitely still making adjustments and adding to our repertoire of remote culture-building and hiring/onboarding activities as we learn exactly what works for us and what doesn’t. But with our past experience as a mostly remote team pre-pandemic along with what we’ve learned this past year, we’ve arrived in a pretty place despite the unique challenges the pandemic has presented us with.