What happens to the culture of a company when one day, all the sudden, business goes virtual? No more chatting on the way in the door each morning. No more catching up at the kitchen Keurig. No more dropping by someone’s desk on the way to the conference room. Being in the people business, at Mix Talent we’ve felt this as much as anyone.
“Not being together in the office hasn’t impacted our business negatively, but we miss each other dearly,” says our head of strategy, K.C. McAllister. “We’ve had to be creative about some of the things you get out of being in an office together, like human connection, trust, and empathy. Plus, of course, the business benefits that might get taken for granted, like having someone hop on a client call with you for on-the-job training. There are so many informal moments throughout the day where we benefit individually and as a business from being together.”
So how do you maintain company culture when everyone is virtual? Even when you’re all together in-person, McAllister says it’s not simple.
“You don’t really create a culture. It’s built by the people in your organization. It’s how they interact, how they engage with each other. You can’t control it. But you can support it, nurture it, and hire people who will make it stronger.”
After winning the culture-focused Best Place to Work award two years in a row — one of which was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — we’ve got a few ideas about sustaining an award-winning culture in a virtual office.
Stick to your values
Before opening our doors, we put a lot of time and effort into our four values: Care, Solve, Win-Win, and Deliver. We call them our MixOS (Operating System) because they are not just words on a wall. We use them to guide our behavior in every area of the company, from new hires to new business, and we’ve leaned on them even more since business went virtual.
While they are all still crucial to what we do every day, during the quarantine we’ve put even more emphasis on care — caring for each other and our communities. We’ve found safe, healthy ways to bring it to life, like volunteering at a local food pantry, hosting an impact-themed pumpkin carving contest, and branding the World with Care Challenge, where we chalked positive messages around our neighborhoods and shared them on our social channels.
Act with intention
Not being around each other all the time forced us to not take normal interactions for granted. Whether it was brightening someone’s day or teaching them a skill, we had to be more deliberate and intentional.
At Mix we’ve worked harder to be in tune with our team’s needs. Surveying everyone to understand their individual challenges helped us find the best ways to support them. One result was giving everyone three weeks of Hello Fresh meals to help balance work, virtual schooling, and other aspects of home life.
We continually look for new and interesting ways to bring everyone together and help people stay connected, including virtual retreats with our more than 60-member team. From inspirational speakers to team scavenger hunts to a mixology class hosted by a bartender, we work hard to keep up the camaraderie that’s the backbone of our culture.
McAllister says, “We’ve also been putting together additional targeted training programs, and we’re looking for access points where people can get some of the cross-training exposure you would naturally get in the office. We’re scheduling more small-team meetings and more 1:1 shadowing sessions with leadership to make sure everyone is getting the coaching they need.”
Leverage your tools
At Mix, we are all about finding or building the best tools to help our clients, and we quickly realized that we have to rely on more tools internally now too, to make up for face-to-face interactions. It helped that some of our teammates were already remote so we had several tools in place, but now we’re using them to an even greater degree. For example, Slack was already great for internal communications, but we’re being more deliberate about creating channels now, for all kinds of things, like a kudos channel for celebrating each other’s accomplishments, an inspiration channel, or just local topics, like a great place to try carryout — to make sure people stay connected, even when they’re not in meetings.
Be patient, flexible, and forgiving
Just like the rest of the world, none of us has been through this before, so we’re quick to offer each other lots of grace. Having strong values is a north star, but it doesn’t mean we have everything figured out. We don’t have all the answers, and everyone has jumped in and helped us figure it out as we go along.
We doubled in size from our first year to our second. While we’re incredibly proud and excited about this growth, we’ve had to consider how it affects our team in every way. Every person a company hires is going to change the culture, at least a little bit, says McAllister.
“Culture is organic, it’s always evolving. As soon as you hire three new people you’ll have three new personalities and three new sets of experiences. That creates a little shift to the culture.”
This makes our staying connected with each other, knowing what’s going on across the organization, and making sure we’re rooted in our values even more important.