Building a culture remotely is important not only for employee engagement, retention, and overall happiness but also for your company’s success. Working on your culture, even in a remote environment, will bring about many positive impacts such as:
- Increased morale, atmosphere, and relationships between team members
- Employees who are willing to go above and beyond in their role
- Increased customer satisfaction and retention
- Improved individual performance and productivity
- Increased innovation, creativity, and decision-making from your team
- Reduced absenteeism and turnover
While we are currently still navigating the implications of building a culture remotely, there are ways that we, as leaders, can help implement and maintain a positive company culture.
Ky Green, Former Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Nutrabolt and current Executive Director at The GiveJoy Foundation, is currently developing their DE&I committee while helping foster a positive, remote company culture.
Throughout this Leading with Purpose segment, we discuss how to foster culture in a remote environment, ways to increase employee engagement, specific initiatives that Nutrabolt has implemented within their company, and unique ways to recognize your employees.
Ky Green – Former Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Nutrabolt and current Executive Director at The GiveJoy Foundation
Quyen Pham – Vice President of Swoon Consulting
Gina Vicini – Vice President of Operations at Swoon
Megan Hari – Director of Marketing and Sales Operations at Swoon
Megan: To kick us off, how are each of you currently fostering culture in a virtual, remote environment?
Ky: Currently, everyone is trying to rebound from the pandemic. Work styles and many different aspects are changing for all of us. I am sure many people are trying to fight the same battle of how in the world do we create culture? How do we build community and foster a sense of belonging in a remote environment? At Nutrabolt, we have leaned on our DE&I council that we set up last year and have prioritized asking our employee base questions such as:
- How do they want to interact with us?
- In what ways can we show up, not only for them but with them?
So, what we have done internally is that we have tried to build some programs around different parts of the year based on our DE&I calendar. This calendar includes days that our council picked out to celebrate Chinese New Year, Pride Month, Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, etc. In October, we kicked off our Global Awareness Month dubbed Nutrabolt’s Diversity Month. During that time, we celebrated everyone in the office by having various events from Drag Queen bingo to trivia to cooking together. We even had a Hispanic Heritage cookbook where our employees who identify as Hispanic or Latinx shared their stories, traditions, and foods. They went into what those traditions mean, what the food means, and shared various recipes with the rest of our team. To go a step further, we invited people to pop online at different times throughout the evening or over the weekend to cook, learn and share together. We have found that what you do does not have to be cutting edge. You just have to create those small opportunities for employees to connect, pull us into each other’s lives, and build those relationships. So, that is what we have been focusing on, to create these micro instances of community.
Quyen: Swoon is on a similar path. We have done a class where our fabulous Vice President of Operations, Gina, did an Italian cooking class in her kitchen. We also had Drag Queen trivia, which seems very similar to the Drag Queen bingo that Ky mentioned. What we have found is that the more fun the event is, the more engagement we receive. So, we have to keep thinking outside of the box and make these events more innovative and fun for us to get that high engagement that we are looking for. However, over time, I find that engagement goes down if we stick to the same things or the same format. Since everyone is remote, we have a lot of things to do not only in a professional capacity but also in a personal one. So, it is figuring out how to increase engagement without people feeling obligated to go because our team should want to go to these events, not feel pressured to participate. We have realized that the more fun things are, and the more variety with our events, the more people want to come. The other thing that I have learned from you, Ky, in one of our previous conversations, is utilizing your culture champions, the people who will get the peer-to-peer engagement for you before an event. Now, I try to call certain people or encourage my team to reach out and say something like, “Hey, you would be great at this, and I would love to hear from you and see you participate.” Then, our team sees them participating in the event, and they learn more about each other that way. These people drive culture, and they are a great asset to utilize to increase engagement.
Ky: I love that you talked about the importance of breaking up the cadence. Sometimes as DE&I practitioners, we are busy, too, and it is just easier to just keep doing trivia or virtual happy hours, but you are right on the money talking about how we can break up that cadence. Here is what we have found. Even for Pride Month, or any month-long initiatives, we do something every week because that is how we keep it top of mind, but we switch it up. As far as engagement goes, two of our best events were Drag Queen bingo at the end of Pride Month and our Gender and Identity series, which we started at the tail end of Women’s History Month. With it coinciding with Pride Month, we went into sexual orientation and non-binary gender classifications. I would say that was our highest attended event, and in fact, some employees were messaging during that event to talk about how they now felt comfortable to share their whole person at work. We have seen that when you hit that mix of intentional, thoughtful conversation and mix it up with fun at the end, we notice that is what works.
Megan: More often than not, we hear about all the challenges that come from building a remote culture. So, instead, I would love to hear some positives that you have had from building a culture remotely.
Ky: Switching to a more remote work environment has allowed us to find a hidden community within our workforce. Since we are a sports nutrition company, everything is fast-paced. Many of our employees have had some relationship in the sports world. Whether their kids are really into sports, or they are, they tend to be a very gregarious bunch. We have very intense, driven, and high-energy individuals and very chill and laid-back individuals. In our remote setting, we have found that new people are finding ways to get their voices out there. We rely so much more on written content, and even in some of the face-to-face things that would happen, I think we are seeing new leaders come to the forefront. We are witnessing new talents and skills that people have. We have people working in other departments with excellent tech skills that we are starting to see come to the forefront. I think it has all been so eye-opening for us. It has led to us changing some of our work practices to the direction of a remote workforce, which was not there before. We see this wide range of possibilities now, allowing us to look for talent in more areas and truly make a dent in the sports nutrition world by opening doors to more people.
I think the other part that I would say about this is that as you are looking at your workforce, consider the idea of psychological safety. If I can be very candid, as someone who identifies as a Black male, some things about working remotely are great for me. It is convenient to sit there and turn on my camera or interact with people when I need to interact with them, but it also cuts down on the microaggressions that might happen in the workforce. If someone happens to know that they are not a great speaker, but their agendas for their meetings are pristine, or their project plans are pristine, it gives them another way to be seen, to feel like they belong. While we are talking about building culture, and trying to do this remotely, do not forget about those people who the remote setting allows for their skills to shine through a lot stronger. Look for these people and find ways to move them up in your company and give them a more significant platform through a medium that works for them.
Quyen: What we bring to the table as men and as women can be very different. For example, men are typically more vocal in meetings than women because we are raised in different ways. I think being in this little box in remote meetings helps to equalize the playing field. The raising of the hand so the team knows you have something to say, and you know that you are up next to speak really helps neutralize the ground to say that no matter who you are or what your gender is, you are in the same size box as everyone else. I think it is amazing how it works and how much more comfortable team members have gotten to where if they have an idea now, it gets out there because most of the intimidation factor is gone. The other one is from a talent acquisition perspective because we can hire people anywhere. Being remote has opened up so much for us to be able to say that now I can hire in Texas, in Omaha, wherever, because as long as you are qualified to do the job, it does not matter where you sit. It has opened so many doors for us and has really allowed us to expand on our culture to be more diverse from all angles.
Gina: As Quyen said, I oversee our talent acquisition team, and I can tell you that the hiring footprint has expanded. It has helped immensely in acquiring a more diverse talent pool in general and more opportunities other than what we would have previously looked at before becoming fully remote. Having worked remotely a few days a week before COVID-19 helped ease our transition into a truly remote environment and this past year was a big help with our productivity. Something that has not been mentioned yet is work-life balance. I genuinely believe that our team is finding more of that balance and learning what they need. Personally, from a commuting perspective, making better use of those hours each day that I would have been commuting is what fulfills me. I love it, and I have heard the same from others. I think these little nuanced things will bring a little more to the workforce and allow a little more of that mobility, but it is also finding time to see each other and meet up because that is also important for relationship and trust-building.
Ky: One of the things that I have recently enjoyed is that it feels different when I go back into the office. There is excitement when I go in and see someone that I have not seen in a while or that I have never met in person. It just makes you feel so happy and appreciative of that experience, so I hope this creates an opportunity for us to reimagine the office and the office experience because we can make them magical. Our workplaces should be these places that spark magic and joy. So that is one of the things that I am looking forward to in 2022.
Megan: Ky, do you have any other initiatives that you have implemented that have driven engagement or that have helped to drive employees to participate? I would love to hear about some of the other instances where employee engagement was high like the Drag Bingo that you mentioned.
Megan: What are some of the unique ways to recognize employees?
Gina: Swoon has always been a celebratory company, so we all get together on a monthly call for Duck Days. It is a time for all of us to come together, give peer-to-peer recognition, and recognize some of our top performers both on the production and non-production side. Everyone gets a chance to be named a Top Duck, depending on the department you work in. We also have our Swooner of the Quarter award, where we nominate fellow Swooners for going above and beyond during that quarter. I think both of those go a long way, especially with our new employees, because we take the time to be intentional about recognizing each other.
Quyen: In our micro teams, we do different things like contests, and we talk through wins that we have had. It is essential to celebrate the small successes that happen daily and not just the big ones, especially with us being remote because they can go unnoticed. It is great when peers can recognize each other for the little things. When you talk about mental wellness, a significant component is having that level of support from your team.
The other thing that I have adopted that I learned from our President, Andy Baker, is that I am making individual calls to people to genuinely check in and ask how they are doing. I try to make it more about life than work to get to know them as individuals and make a personal connection. Not only do I do this with my team, but I do it with people outside of my immediate team as well so I can build and forge some unlikely relationships. It is something that I will continue to do and encourage others to do as well because it is just five minutes of your day, and it helps pick up someone who may not have been having the best day otherwise. It lets the people around you know that they are special and important.
Ky: This is just amazing and makes me so happy to hear that you are doing that. I am a very relational person, and I believe that is ultimately how we will achieve our goals. It is all about sharing these experiences. In the past, we have done fitness challenges where team members were able to win trips out of the country, and we have also done things like cash rewards, flowers, jackets, and other various things. Still, I feel like we have found our stride during this pandemic in peer-to-peer recognition. We started a weekly call where our CEO will kick off and end the meeting, but leaders from different departments will lead the rest. Our communication person will get the slides together. We have a guest DJ spot so we can feature various employees. Someone talks about different business areas and what is going on with them, and then we end the call with employee recognition based on our core values. It is peer-to-peer recognition, so there is no pressure at all. We share the story of what that person is doing, who they are, what the nominator sees in them and relate it to the value they are being nominated for, which showcases the internal character of that individual. At the end of all that, we also do an open call to the CEO where employees can ask any question from A to Z, even personal questions, and they always answer the questions no matter how uncomfortable. That amount of transparency, recognizing employees, letting them be a part of the whole experience of what is happening in the heart of the business is how we are rewarding people. That has been our most successful thing.
Meet our Panel:
Executive Director at The GiveJoy Foundation
Vice President at Swoon Consulting
Vice President of Operations at Swoon
Director of Marketing and Sales Operations at Swoon
Want to read more? Check out our previous Leading with Purpose Blog: Leading in a Hybrid Workplace with Anna Griffin, Chief Marketing Officer at Intercom.