Distanced, Not Apart
How do we keep team camaraderie and culture afloat from afar?
As someone who focuses on the operations at Postlight, I think about the people of Postlight a lot. With the arrival of the coronavirus came a wave of changes to how most of our people work. First we made the move to optimize the office: no more shared snacks, an emphasized sick policy, and more thoroughly sanitized work stations. Then arrived the gentle suggestion to work from home. Finally came the Monday when we turned off the office lights for the long haul and began to get to work in our new reality.
We could solve for how to work from home; that came down to logistics. How do you work in a small space with others also working from home? Or with children no longer in school? Or pets that bark? These were solvable, documented problems. But how would we stay connected as a company in this intentionally distanced time? How could we keep our camaraderie and culture alive when in a matter of weeks we transformed to an all-remote workforce?
The very fact that we could ponder these questions speaks to the incredibly fortunate position we are in. Unlike countless other businesses, we can work from home. We are privileged that our concern is not around what to do with our employees, but rather how to make sure we all stay healthy and that the culture stays intact.
It’s only been a few weeks, but already we’ve learned a lot. Here we share some tips for how to stay together while apart.
Share. A lot
As a company, we try to be as transparent as possible. Right now that looks like slides in our weekly team meeting that say things like, “Are we okay?” “Yes, we are okay!” Being transparent also means that we ask everyone to overcommunicate, and then overcommunicate some more. We tell employees to take whatever time they need for childcare, mental health, or the care of loved ones. We just ask that everyone shares their availability — mental and otherwise — so team members who need to be aware can be.
We changed our Slack status options to be more reflective of the situation, switching out “commuting” and “working remotely” with “lunch” and “childcare.”
With this added openness about work availability, a new level of sharing began to blossom. Our team, including members who always worked remotely, updated their statuses with details that gave a more intimate view into their lives outside of work. By doing so, they have brought us all a little closer.
Awkward is okay
We do quite a few planned and unplanned activities as a company. We hold monthly outings to toast different teams, weekly company lunches, and impromptu “kitchen beers.” We have kids’ parties around the holidays and game nights when the entire company is in town. These are part of how we build community, so we turned to Zoom, like much of the world has, to keep these activities alive.
You would never actually go to a happy hour where only one person is allowed to talk at a time, but we are here now, and a company outing is not an option. So we gather on Zoom for “virtual kitchen beers” and take turns with the mic. We come together for lunch once a week and admit that we actually ate our lunches before joining the call, because eating on camera is uncomfortable. We share photos of our office setups (and dressers acting as desks). And we drag our kids and pets on camera and watch the madness ensue.
Next week we are going to try a scavenger-hunt-like game to be played out in Slack. It’s going to be a bit halted and by another measure maybe awkward, but that’s okay. The important part is that we show up and connect.
It is trivial, particularly given current events, but snacks in the office gave us conversation fodder and opportunities to create teams (are the cauliflower pretzels the best snack idea ever or an insult to pretzels everywhere?). There is a universal joy to be found in free food, and so we sent snackboxes to any team member who wanted one.
And then we started sending houseplants. First to people whose birthdays are now being spent at home alone, and then to anyone needing a little more life in their home. These are little acts that won’t necessarily make this hard time any easier, but they give us a moment to be thoughtful. Small gestures let us focus on the small things for a second, and give our brains a break from worrying about the bigger things.
Check in, often and genuinely
Check in with everyone at the beginning of the week (Let’s do this!) and the end of the week (We made it!). Check in with anyone who missed a meeting (Are you okay?). Don’t assume, check in.
Take time to see how someone is really doing. While we are all going through this together, this experience is as individualized as we are. So take the time to send a message or schedule a video coffee. Let the conversation be about how tough it is and don’t race to suggest solutions. Remind each other regularly that you are around — just a Slack direct message away — and that it’s okay if you need to take a breather because for some messages, we can’t hear them enough.
Good outcomes in tough situations
We have always considered ourselves a “remote friendly” company with much of our workforce remote in the US or abroad. Two of our partners have worked remotely since Postlight was founded. We’ve adopted tools and processes to support a distributed workforce. We try to capture all conversations in Slack. Our conference rooms are equipped with mics and cameras. But in these few short weeks, it is clear that there is so much more we can do as a company to extend our culture even after our office reopens.
There is a lot of sad news these days, but there is also the knowledge that good outcomes can always be found in tough situations. On the other side of this, we will all be different in some way. Habits are broken, priorities shifted, and perspectives forever changed. I know Postlight will be different. We will understand each other more, and we will have a deeper empathy. We will have shared this experience (and all the awkward Zooms), and hopefully become closer from being apart.
Meredith Franzese is a Managing Partner at Postlight. Say hi from wherever you are at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story published on Apr 8, 2020.