group of hands together (remember when we could  do that?)
PHOTO: Perry Grone

We don’t need to state the obvious here: Times are tough, uncertain, even scary. It’s OK, we can be honest.

We can also be realistic and state that, for now, we’re all trying to find ways to push forward even though these are certainly the most uncertain times in our personal and professional lives.

As a leader of a growth-stage tech company, the physical reality of going fully remote was logistically not that difficult. In fact, at Taplytics we were able to affect our remote move fairly quickly and comfortably, as we sent our employees safely home when the crisis was rapidly worsening.

But while physically it was easy, emotionally, we grappled with how this crisis could impact the culture we have worked hard to build and maintain. Because nothing is more important than our people who both created and embody what we have today.

As many workers across the globe started to work from the confines of their home, there’s been a lot of great tips on personally managing through this newfound routine. However, as we look at the macro impact of the current global crisis, I wanted to think about how we can manage and maintain a great culture, even through virtual touchpoints.

1. Support With Stipends and Supplies

The majority of employees simply don’t have a built-in home system to easily transition their typical work environment into their personal space. Not to mention, many are faced with sharing their workspace with parents, partners and/or children as well. These new distractions can clearly impact productivity, so helping them set up the best space possible will go a long way to creating a comfortable space for their new normal.

We’ve seen many companies offer stipends in the range of $250 to $1,000 per employee in order to purchase items needed for a productive WFH space. Popular items include noise canceling headphones, sit to standing desks, wifi-extenders/routers for clearer video calls, webcams, footrests, comfy desk chairs, whiteboards, etc. We offered both a stipend for home office needs, as well as encouraged employees to take office items home such as chairs, screens, keyboards and so on.

Related Article: Telecommuting Basics for the Newly Remote Workforce

2. Keep the Social Calendar

Many companies enjoy lunches or happy hours as a team. It’s easy to think that pausing these events simply because we’re remote is the expectation. Yet, these social touchpoints are crucial to not just maintaining culture, but bringing a bit of sanity as we find ourselves stuck at home.

To maintain our social calendar we continue to have “e-socials.” Every Friday, we invite our team members to a virtual happy hour, BYOB of course, play music and tell a few jokes. Seeing dozens of smiles on one screen is pretty cool. Every day at noon a recurring Zoom is open for the “lunchroom” where employees jump on with their homemade meals to chat and connect. Several teams also have a “daily cafe” in the morning to gather first thing with their coffee and shoot the breeze. While it’s all via video, it still brings a sense of normalcy in an otherwise uncertain time.

Related Article: How Leaders Can Foster Good Mental Health in Those Working From Home

3. Create Slack 'Safe Zones'

It’s likely that your company will experience an uptick in chat-based communications due to the virtual reality we now live in. Utilizing Slack channels for free but focused communication is a great way to allow the “in-person” group-based conversations to continue for those who want to participate.

We created a #covid specific channel separate from our company-wide #general channel, so as to keep the news topics separate and not overwhelm employees who prefer to filter these communications from company-based topics.

Further, encouraging open communication via public team-based (i.e #engineering) and topic-based (i.e. #projectX) channels actually helps the entire company remain up to speed with current happenings, rather than waiting for a company-wide meeting or a status update from their manager.

Related Article: COVID-19 Puts Company Cultures to the Test

4. Promote Personal Time

With the news changing daily, it’s important to be both flexible and vocal about preparedness. Supporting last-minute personal time for helping employees act quickly to evolving situations — such as the need to go for a grocery run, a doctor appointment, banking needs or even exercise time during normal work hours — goes a long way in showing you care about them as human beings.

Further, we encourage our managers to constantly check in on their team and send care packages for those who may feel ill or are in strict quarantine.

Related Article: Working and Managing From Home: What's Realistic to Expect?

5. Keep Meetings and 1:1 Time Productive

Many of your previously scheduled meetings are still going forward as planned, but with many employees logging in from home, it’s even more important to set agendas and hold them on time. Productive meetings are certainly a big part of company culture, as their effectiveness can spur productivity even when apart.

Start by setting clear meeting agendas so that all attendees are prepared to contribute effectively ahead of time. Instead of hosting 60 or 30-minute meetings, consider 50 or 25-minute stints in order to allow buffer time between meetings, so employees can get a quick bio-break, glass of water, snack, etc. It’s tough to recreate the in-person meeting experience, but the break between can help employees get a physical break from their desk and get the blood flowing: a great way to re-set focus for the next call.

Through these unchartered times, it’s important to remember that we’re all human and we’re all navigating through uncertainty together. I truly believe that culture is more important than ever, so help your employees steer the ship the best way possible. And it’s quite possible that the way in which we come together at this moment will actually make us stronger as an organization, community and nation.