Connect. Overcommunicate. Unplug.

Three key methods for fostering company culture during quarantine. Article originally shared on Linkedin.

Like at most companies, the abrupt transition to working from home full-time during the COVID-19 crisis has come with its fair share of challenges. Whether it’s something simple like not having a second monitor, or living and working out of a small city apartment, or parents having to multitask being simultaneous caregivers, teachers and employees, it’s been an adjustment for everyone to find their balance between work productivity and physical and mental well-being. And then of course, there’s the biggest worry of them all: keeping you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

You never really know how scenarios like these will impact a company and its people until you’re in the thick of it. As the Head of Talent & Culture for GYK Antler, I went into our remote work life with both uncertainty and optimism — not knowing exactly how we’d all adapt, but hopeful that if we could put the right levers in place and set the right tone for our community, we could really surprise ourselves and one another. And man, have I been surprised.

Is anyone else just blown away by the resilience of their people during quarantine? I’ve seen our employees come together to support one another, adapt quickly and without question to technologies to keep us connected, and find new ways to collaborate to continually bring the very best they have to our clients and company. It’s been inspiring and humbling — I’ve truly been so proud of this team.

Since we’re all navigating these unchartered waters together, I wanted to share three key methods we’ve embraced in the spirit of fostering company culture and ensuring our people feel connected and are empowered to perform at their highest levels — without sacrificing much-needed balance during this time.

Connect

We’re a company of “people” persons and simply said, we’ve all been really missing “our people.” It’s the quick chats over coffee, hallway high-fives, debating answers to a “would you rather” poll or enjoying a Friday happy hour together — the small moments throughout the day we were immediately missing upon going remote. To encourage interpersonal, small group and company-wide connection and combat feelings of isolation, we’ve implemented a few new touchpoints:

  • Weekly Town Halls & Happy Hours — Our first remote week, we hosted a company-wide happy hour focused on giving everyone a chance to share their stories, funny anecdotes of working from home and challenges — with no formal agenda; just time well-spent together. After receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback, we made it a weekly happening — a one-hour Zoom get-together where the main focus is having fun and learning more about one another. We think of a different challenge each week that employees can participate in — whether it’s creating their own cocktail, sharing artistic depictions of our Managing Director and Executive Producer/Director, to hosting a “formal” town hall which required everyone to dress to the nines (I may or may not have broken out my wedding dress!). It’s about getting creative and making it fun. Now more than ever, it’s important to give employees a chance to decompress, relax and have a laugh.
  • Custom Slack Channels — With instant messaging becoming our new main form of quick turn communication, we created specific channels for various topics our people are interested in. From health & wellness to “what’s cooking” to pets to a channel specifically made for parents to connect (and vent!), these unique groups help unite employees with similar interests and experiences.
  • Individual Outreach — While our virtual company meetings are great fun and enable people to enjoy each other in a community setting, it’s also really important to me to ensure people feel supported as an individual. My team has been doing regular 1:1 check-ins directly with each employee — simple exchanges so we can offer support where needed. Additionally, we recently had our Culture Club team members send handwritten cards to every employee and include a packet of flower seeds that surprised employees at home on Earth Day — adding a personal touch and reminding people “we’re all in this together.”

Overcommunicate

During unsettling times, we want to get ahead of any speculation or misinformation, so we’ve been communicating, communicating and communicating to ensure everyone is on the same page. A few highlights include:

  • Regular COVID-19 Updates — We established a COVID-19 taskforce that keeps a pulse on ever-evolving information and policy updates coming from local (New Hampshire and Massachusetts) and national government. That team works together to dissect and aggregate the most relevant information and share both weekly and breaking updates with the company in a digestible format.
  • Business Transparency — We kick off each of our weekly company meetings with a brief update from our executive leadership team, who share the state of the business so our people always know where we stand.
  • Open Door (Zoom) Policy — We’ve always had an open door policy but have reinforced that access to leadership more than ever. Whether it’s connecting with our CEO or someone’s direct manager, we want our employees to take us up on the offer to ask any questions or hear any concerns they may feel uncomfortable addressing in a company-wide meeting.

Unplug

Phone calls. Texts. Zoom meetings. Slack messages. Skype calls. It’s enough to make your head spin. It’s inevitable that between work, family, home and safety obligations, we’re all eventually going to hit a wall and just be “over” looking at our screens. And while we might be at home — occasionally working on our laptops outside in the sun or wearing pajamas during business hours — this is definitely not a vacation. However, we’ve noticed people haven’t been using their PTO days as usual — it feels counterintuitive to some to use a “vacation day” to stay home when they’d be home anyway. That being said, it’s more important than ever for people to take a break, care for their wellness, recharge their batteries and equally as important, be away from their screens and devices!

For this reason, we introduced a new perk called an “unplug day.” This day is additive to PTO and is for people to use during this quarantine period, where we encourage our people to fully unplug from work —  no Zooms, no checking email, no calls — and reconnect with themselves, spend time with loved ones and re-energize the best they can. I think it’s been really successful in serving as a gentle reminder to people that their well-being is of utmost priority and if you’ve got the time, you should use it!

I recently read someone compare this situation — being thrown into full-time work from home — to people trying to run a marathon they didn’t mentally or physically prepare for. This analogy has really stuck with me and has been something I’ve kept in mind as we engage our employees. At the end of the day, we’re all humans doing the best we can amid a global crisis, and a little kindness, compassion and empathy go a long way. While I’m truly proud of the way we’ve communicated, collaborated and connected as a company during this period, I’m humbled to see the spirit of our teams and the ways they’ve supported one another and our clients — and as an HR leader, I’m honored to be there to lend an ear, offer a helping hand and cheer them on.

***

With 25 years of Human Resources experience, 14 of which at GYK Antler, Tina is a people expert. In addition to advertising, she has experience in the retail and moving industries, and was also the first female entrepreneur to own an Edible Arrangement franchise. When she’s not juggling the needs of our people finding the best talent or improving employee-focused policies, you can find her printing and sharing inspirational quotes, planning events, or on a beach in Maine with family and friends.
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