I’ve already touched on how vital culture building can be to a company. Still, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it changed the landscape for businesses both in the short term and possibly more permanently. As the United States economy begins to open up again, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned. I think we’ll find that the new normal brought on by the pandemic doesn’t have to make us cringe but instead can be celebrated when thinking about the workplace.

For instance, at LSEO, we get to come into work every day at a beautiful five-story building. However, one of the main lessons that the past couple of months have taught us is that people are fully capable of churning out work from home. It’s been fun to hop on a Zoom call and get a laugh from pets, children, or other daily obstacles that rear their heads while trying to sit through meetings. People are ditching offices for basements, bedrooms, and, if you’re lucky enough and the weather is permitting, the porch!

Employees’ health and safety are paramount for most organizations, but those things have never been put into the forefront the way they have been recent. Many companies have instituted staggered start and stop times so that herds of people aren’t coming and going from the building at the same time. Once you get to work, your employer may have started using a non-contact thermometer to ensure that people who show a fever are not entering the workplace.

To this point on safety, let us not forget that the hottest fashion accessory on the market today is the mask that you’re likely wearing everywhere you go now. I recommend finding something that is not only comfortable, but that also suits your style. For example, I’m a fan of the band Phish, and someone bought me some custom masks that make it a little more fun to mask up every day.

Additionally, once you get into your workspace, you’ve probably noticed that everyone now has an array of cleaning and disinfectant products at their desks. Hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes, and other disinfectants are as common as a coffee cup or stapler now. We’ve also talked about how to stay safe physically, and if you haven’t lived under a rock for the past three months, I’m sure you know how to wash your hands, socially distance, and not touch your mouth or eyes.

Taking all of the physical precautions is essential, but, as employers, we have to make sure not to forget about the mental aspect of our health or the health of our employees. There is a balance that can be razor-thin at times, and some places are opening sooner than others. Still, if you’re faced with making a decision that can impact the mental health of someone on your team, my advice is to ask yourself how your decision is going to impact the mental health of that individual.

Now that we’ve gotten the doom and gloom part out of the way, let’s talk about how we’ve started to interject culture into the remote working environment. I also want to discuss how we’ve made the culture better and how we can celebrate the new normal we’ve created.

Virtual Happy Hours

It seems that just about everyone is doing virtual happy hours now, and that’s because they work! I know that my team works hard, and working from home often meant they were plugging away outside of the standard 9 to 5. LSEO’s employees always went the extra mile and worked extra hours when needed.

To relax after all that hard work, we always found time on a Friday to get on a Zoom call, check-in with one another, crack a few jokes, and have an adult beverage. One way to spice up the office virtual happy hour is to bring some entertainment to it. A fan favorite at LSEO was playing Kahoot, where I would design personalized trivia games for us to play. The winner was always awarded a gift card. Another way to add to the entertainment value is to use a virtual talent booking agency and have a musician or comedian do a quick set.

Happy Hour has to be different due to social distancing, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't exist!

I spoke about virtual team meetings with Manny Hernandez CEO of Omni, Inc. He told me: “Set up virtual coffee breaks and lunch dates. Take time to connect and talk about things other than work. You’ll be surprised how much you have in common with others. It’s natural to pause your work, change your scenery, and gather with colleagues over coffee or lunch at the office. To simulate office behavior, try doing the same, only virtually. Create a channel on Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other communication platforms of your choice and call it something fun like ‘Lunch Bunch’ or ‘Coffee Chat.’ Intentionally create small groups, allowing for more in-depth conversation where all voices are heard. Do your best to engage other team members as it would have been in a physical office.”

Celebrate Employee Success

Working from home presents another set of challenges when it comes to positive reinforcement. Typically, you could walk into a co-worker’s office or over to a desk and verbally give someone a compliment or a high-five or a “job-well-done.”

That’s going to be a bit more difficult going forward now, but you must still show your gratitude to employees for good work. We’ve done one fun thing at LSEO to implement a Marketer of the Month award (MOM) that is awarded on the first Friday of every month. Each of our department directors chooses a deserving recipient in his or her department and writes up a paragraph or two about why that person deserves the MOM that month. Once I receive all of the nominations, I create a survey to send out to the entire team so we can vote. We bought a cheap trophy from eBay that the winner gets to hold each month. Winners also receive a gift card to the vendor of their choice.

Personal success is great, but what's even better is celebrating it with the people that helped you get there.

The prizes for this kind of award don’t have to be cash. Along with the trophy and gift card, I also give each winner a write-up on his or her LinkedIn profile, announcing to the world how great they are. Luckily for me, my team rocks, and it’s easy to swoon over them while writing up these pieces.

Some other fun ideas might be to give the winner a preferred parking spot for the month or have a supervisor wash the winner’s car. Whatever the perk is, make sure you’re handing something out as a show of gratitude for the people burning the candle at both ends to serve your clients!

I talked to ToppCasinoBonus.com CEO Josefin Björklund a few weeks ago, and she told me, “Before COVID-19, we used to celebrate our employees’ successes and life events. We have continued celebrating our employees by hosting virtual onboarding sessions and sending ecards to employees on their birthday through emails.”

Break the Ice and Jumpstart the Day

Every morning, I try to jump on Slack before anyone else and send a simple message of “Good Morning, Team!”

I’m sure that I could be more original or write something with more substance, but I’m just trying to convey that I’m here to help, I’m part of the team, and I’m putting in just as many hours as you to achieve our mutual goals. Early on in my career, I decided that I would never ask anyone to do more work than I was willing to put in, and my team knows that I’m ready to stand side by side with them and dig proverbial ditches when they need to be dug.

I’m extroverted by nature, but a lot of my team isn’t. This simple message is an excellent way to open the lines of communication with everyone. Once I say good morning, the memes start flying, the jokes start getting told, and we’re off and racing to work. I genuinely believe that my team members look forward to reading my message every day. It’s the pseudo start of the day for everyone.

John Howard, CEO of Coupon Lawn, shared with me how important getting off on the right foot is for his team. “I have this game with my team every morning just to energize them and keep them close. It is a great way to involve everyone, even though they are working separately. It could be sharing some funny jokes, sharing youth photos, and so on.”

Promote Personal and Professional Development

Another way to boost morale and make sure everyone is pushing toward the same goal is personal and professional development. Employees will be looking to move up the ladder in title and compensation, so they’re going to need the right mix of hard and soft skills to achieve their goals. Some employers will assist with ongoing learning by paying for employees to take classes or reimbursing them for their tuition payments.

Here at LSEO, we’re continually going through leadership training. The world of organizational development and leadership training has come a long way. If you hire someone to work with your employees on leadership, make sure the consultant has the knowledge, skills, and education to provide the best services. The person should also have the ability to connect with your team. All too often, consultants are good with people but have no formal training in the research that makes leadership development training effective. If they do have the education–and yes, you can have a Ph.D. in leadership studies–then it is essential to make sure the individual can connect personally to those in your organization.

As individuals, we should always be growing. Whether it's at our job or in life, it's important to continue to gather new skills.

Reinvesting capital back into your business is an excellent way for any organization to flourish, but not all development has to cost money or be solely professional. Abby Mackkinnon of Hoot Design Co. has an exciting idea that I love. She told me, ”Our office has swapped out our weekly book club for a weekly podcast discussion (via Zoom). Each week, a different employee finds a podcast for us to listen to, and we come together to discuss what we learned from it. The podcasts have ranged from COVID-related topics to enneagrams. It’s an excellent way for us to continue to bond as a team, and it provides social interaction at a time when many of us are alone.”

Tying It All Together

I think we all agree that culture is vital to the lifeblood of an organization. But it has proven somewhat difficult to implement or continue a company culture during a pandemic. These times are challenging for us all, both personally and professionally. As strong individuals and companies, however, we will push through and become better versions of ourselves. We don’t know what the future holds, but I can assure you that we’ll all be better prepared to think on our feet and adapt the next time quickly a seemingly impossible challenge presents itself. The experiences we are all having now will see to that if we are willing to heed their lessons.

As a leader, your team is looking to you as more than just someone to whom they report, or someone to answer a work-related question they have. Instead, they’re looking for you to be a calming force when the world goes and gets itself all crazy again. In a remote setting brought on by pandemics or other unfavorable circumstances, your company’s specific perks may have to change, but your culture must survive, no matter what.