Staying Connected in a Remote Workplace
Like many other companies, our team at SpinDance transitioned to an entirely remote workplace for fifteen months due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. We have just returned to an optional work at office arrangement. While we have always had the flexibility to work remotely as needed, the majority of our team was in the office at least three days a week prior to the pandemic. Thankfully our organization and the work we do were easily adaptable to a full-time work-from-home situation but one area that is difficult to keep alive is culture.
I recently listened to a speaker, Dr. Randy Ross, who stated, “Wherever people gather you’re going to have a culture.” I believe this to be true for gathering in person or over a virtual meeting. However, as we have seen throughout the last year, culture changes when you can’t have physical contact. This shift in the way we work has forced our team to get creative in how to stay connected and maintain our culture in a 100% remote workplace environment.
For the last 2 years, SpinDance has established “guilds”. (We learned of the idea from Spotify.) Guilds are groups of people across the organization that have a shared interest. Many of our guilds focus on different engineering-related topics however we have a few others. I have been a part of shaping, leading, and participating in our #SpinLife guild since 2018. The SpinLife guild’s vision is to intentionally focus on the satisfaction and well-being of the SpinDance team through fostering a culture of community, teamwork, and giving back. While the pandemic has challenged us to get innovative in living out this vision, I am really proud of how we have been able to continue to stay true to who we are and not let our culture fade out in this new work environment.
We’ve instilled our community as an organization through events, keeping up with traditions, recognition, and commitment to engagement. Some of these things happened organically and others were planned, they all contributed to keeping our team connected and nourished our culture for the last year.
A key element in virtual engagement is keeping the camera on. It’s tempting to turn it off but it is the closest thing we have to true face-to-face interaction. It went without saying as we moved to remote work that cameras would be on as much as possible. Rarely do my colleagues turn off their cameras and if they do I know it’s likely because of a child deciding they too want to join the fun. Being able to see your team instills a sense of camaraderie, captures non-verbal cues, and forces you to stay engaged in the conversation. As a way to help facilitate some of the missing “water cooler” conversations, we started “Employee Spotlights” on our shared Slack channel. A question would be sent out to the team for each person to answer and we would share a few stories and photos a week. We learned so much about our team through these spotlights like how remote offices were set up, experiences that have shaped us, and what we were up to during the first months of the lockdown.
We have done our best to keep as much consistency as possible through this transition. We may not have been able to have our Monday morning pastries from a local bakery, but we still gathered as a team every Monday morning for a team huddle. It’s great to start the week off seeing the entire team together and reminding ourselves that we are a part of something bigger than the bubble we interact with throughout the week. Once a month we also sport our SpinDance apparel as a way to feel united. Additionally, we redesigned our annual Employee Appreciation Day and Christmas Party to be virtual events and had a great time celebrating together.
The idea of virtual events was intimidating at first and hard to picture however I am so proud of the ingenuity of our team. We’ve had team trivia every other month throughout the last year and it has brought much-needed community and laughter across the team. As a way to utilize our volunteer hours safely, we set up a couple of clean-up events in our local parks. With the change in seasons, our team has met up for morning walks accompanied by breakfast tacos. We maintained our commitment to “bringing better into the world” not just through the software we have produced but also through matched company donations to charities and a fundraiser for Kids Food Basket this spring. These are just a few examples of how we have adapted our value of community and teamwork under new circumstances.
Team Member Recognition
Being a consultancy it’s difficult for every individual on the team to know what’s happening across the organization as we are working on a large number of projects at a time. Acknowledging the effort our team is delivering and the milestones we are achieving is really important to us. A key tool we have created is our “Awesomeness Nominator”. Employees anonymously submit stories and accolades for their colleagues and we share them at our weekly huddles. This existed prior to the pandemic but we changed up how often we announced the nominations received. Hearing these shout-outs is an encouragement to our entire organization and helps us all keep a pulse on what everyone is up to. Additionally, we’ve made sure to find ways to replace our celebratory project closure happy hours and lunches with gift boxes sent to our employees and handwritten notes. We’re eager to find any way we can to ensure our employees know how much we appreciate the work that they do.
While the last 15 months have presented us with many new challenges in how to keep a feeling of connectedness across our team, it has been a great opportunity to explore new ways to keep our culture afloat. The culture has certainly shifted a bit, just as we have all changed while living through this global phenomenon. Reflecting on our team today we are still a group of people living true to the company values: Be a friend, mentor and learn, seek and communicate truth, make good decisions, and deliver every day. SpinDance is still one team committed to working hard, working together, and making the world a better place.
About the Author
Colleen Laskowski has been a Program Manager at SpinDance for three years. While keeping projects running smoothly consumes the majority of her workday she especially loves connecting with the SpinDance team and helping shape the company culture. She has spearheaded many culture-focused initiatives over the past two years and continues to challenge us to be the best team we can be. Colleen has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management with a focus on Leadership from Hope College and has worked in the project management space for 8 years.