How 3 modern companies are adapting their unique company culture to a virtual environment

How 3 modern companies are adapting their unique company culture to a virtual environment

Transitioning your company to a WFH environment overnight takes adjusting to — and the same goes for your company culture. To get a sense of how companies have been adapting to the new normal, we talked to three savvy companies (who also happen to be Breather customers) to see what they’ve been up to: Celia Zhang, the head of operations at FreeWill; Stephanie Martin, the senior manager of office experience at VTS; as well as Susan Justus and Pamela Do, the senior director and program manager of talent development at Betterment.

In these difficult times, the companies have come up with innovative ways to boost morale, maintain existing traditions, create new bonding opportunities, and keep communication lines open. Keep reading to see what they’re doing to keep their teams engaged during this time.

Moving company traditions online

After transitioning to WFH, the companies continued ongoing culture initiatives that were in place beforehand.

Virtual hot seat 🔥

FreeWill is adapting one of their beloved traditions to a virtual environment with the help of Zoom. Back in their Flatiron HQ, team members took turns being interviewed in a weekly four minute “hot seat.” The goal of the “hot seat” is to help the team get to know each other better, so questions are lighthearted, like “Who’s your favorite superhero?” or “What’s your favorite childhood memory?” This tradition has continued in a virtual setting via weekly all-team meetings, and has really helped bring the team together.

Puppy happy hours 🐶

Moving important traditions, like team happy hours, online has been vital to maintain normalcy and add levity for the team at VTS. “Our team has always been social — and we didn’t want to lose any piece of that!” said Stephanie Martin, the senior manager of office experience. They make the happy hours feel extra special with activities like trivia and sometimes the dogs of VTS even make an appearance.

Building community 🤝 

Relationship building, iteration, and efficiency are a few of Betterment’s core values. Pamela Do, the talent development program manager, said that she’s seen these values come through in organic community building and skill-sharing that’s been happening during this time.

“It’s been cool to see people using Slack and Zoom to create their own community online,” Do said. “People just started sharing tips on what their office space looks like, what they’re making for lunch with the stuff in their pantries, and a lot of parenting resources, too.”

Creating new virtual traditions

Moving to remote work has led the companies to get creative and plan activities intended to be both impactful and meaningful during this time period.

WFH Cribs 🏡

At Betterment, working from home has led to a new, much-loved tradition: “Cribs” home tours (à la retro MTV), Susan Justus, the senior director of talent development at Betterment, told us. The series takes place every Wednesday and gives the whole company something fun to look forward to that wouldn’t happen under normal circumstances.

Activities for families 📚

Meanwhile, Martin said at VTS they have scheduled activities twice a week to keep “Little VTS-ers” entertained — and to give parents a break between balancing meetings and any other childcare obligations. The kid-friendly activities include things like scavenger hunts and interactive read-alongs.

Donut break 🍩

Zhang said it’s been exciting to see all the new ways the team at FreeWill is connecting in this new environment. To encourage connections, they’ve turned to Donut, a Slack add-on that randomly pairs colleagues together for a chat. This allows people who might not have connected otherwise to get to know each other better, especially newer team members.

Defining new “business-as-usual” norms

The companies also established new routines and workplace norms to help each other stay connected and informed.

Saying hello and goodbye 👋

Early on, Betterment implemented a WFH strategy group that meets every two weeks to help establish company-wide best practices. The group aligned on some basic Slack ground rules from the get-go. Namely, they agreed on updating your status throughout the day to show your availability as well as greeting your team when you sign on and off. These gestures go a long way in making the team feel connected and on the same page.

Camera on 📸

At VTS, “face time” is the name of the game. It’s the company’s best practice for all meetings to be video meetings. “Having video on is an important tool to use to empathize and watch for cues for a productive, inclusive meeting,” Martin said.

Regular company-wide check-ins 📹

At FreeWill, different team members take turns hosting a daily morning video where announcements are made, shout outs are given, and good news is highlighted. The check-ins allow the team to align on business updates, share victories, and just say “hi” to one another. “The team members are feeling like they’re in touch with everyone else through all these cultural initiatives, and it has definitely helped bring everyone together,” Zhang said. “It’s also such a highlight to watch all the morning videos — so much creativity goes into them!”

Fostering a culture of empathy

All three companies agreed that putting your people first during difficult situations and leading with kindness is important — now more than ever.

Going the extra mile 🏃‍♂️

For FreeWill, the sense of team was reinforced when a coworker with a car drove back to the office in Manhattan, collected monitors and other key supplies, and distributed them to other coworkers. Similarly, Betterment’s transition to working from home was eased when members of the IT department made sure everyone had a WiFi-enabled workspace.

Flexing the empathy muscle 💪

Betterment recently launched a remote learning management system, which has been heavily utilized given the circumstances. One of the courses offered encourages managers to lead at the axis of empathy and productivity, Justus said.

“Empathy is a different muscle to flex versus engaging with an employee in the workplace,” she said. “Obviously, those are important skill sets, but people don’t pay much attention to them the way that they need to now. We’re trying to provide tools and best practices on how they can guide their teams and be more of a listener, an advisor, someone who can actually pay attention to how the person is doing before going directly to the work that they need to execute.”

Embracing flexibility 💜

Throughout this crisis, VTS is prioritizing embracing flexibility and the safety of its employees. “Since day one, it’s been important to our leadership that the employees know that they have our support and flexibility to do what they need to do for themselves and their families. Their work team will be here to help and, along the way, we support each other,” Martin said. “We know we don’t have all of the answers, but I truly believe that as long as you focus on your people — you’ll never get it wrong.”

Breather provides frictionless access to a network of private, productive meeting and office spaces available by the hour, day, month, or year. Our flexible terms give you the freedom to only pay for the space you need, as long as you need it. From WiFi to whiteboards to modern furnishings and plenty of natural light, every space is equipped with everything you need to do your best work.

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