One of the greatest changes that companies have faced amid the Covid-19 pandemic has been the shift from an in-person to a virtual work world. This shift has affected companies small and large across the world and has had lasting effects on everything from daily working procedures to company culture. Our Director of HR, Tracie Wolfe, shares Human Element’s experience through this shift — where we started, what we learned, and where we are today.
When I am interviewing job candidates, the question I get asked most is “What do you love about working at Human Element?” I love that question. My answer is always the same – it’s all about the people that we work with and how we put the human first in everything we do.
I started working at Human Element in April 2019. The office then had a very casual, fun, collaborative atmosphere: employees cooking meals together in the kitchen, nerf gun wars going on in one of the wings, groups of teams working in conference rooms all over the building, someone going out for a run or walk, groups heading out for lunch, and chit chat everywhere. When the pandemic hit, Human Element’s office life changed forever.
The Beginning of a Virtual Work World
At first, we had operative remote working solutions. In fact, we even planned for that as an emergency option not knowing what the pandemic had in store. Virtual meetings were easy for us – maybe even fun at first. Our work is technical and since we were already working virtually with clients, this was an easy shift. But we started to realize what was missing: the special team vibe we had in the office was disappearing quickly. The unknown of the pandemic, the legal and health aspects of whether we could or would reopen ever again, and the efforts to make short-term changes with unknown long-term effects were very difficult. We were in an abyss like the rest of the world, trying to figure it all out.
Looking back now over the past 3 years, I am amazed at how far we have come in being able to bring that culture back virtually. It hasn’t been easy. But today, our virtual world is our new reality and it’s working extremely well.
We make it a priority to engage with our employees and hear their ideas on a regular basis. We incorporate small group breakouts to allow for more intimate interactions as well. A few months ago, we did a virtual escape room in small groups and it was a great way for everyone to work with team members that they might not work with regularly. We implemented new tools (including the super fun and engaging Hey Taco) to enhance the ways we appreciate each other, which we already did pretty well. Now employee interaction is ongoing and constant throughout the day. Sharing jokes, memes, pictures of our furry co-workers, recipes, and more are just some of the ways we keep the interactions alive.
Joining a virtual meeting is easy, but being present and contributing to a virtual meeting or in the organization’s day to day can be challenging in a virtual work world. We created a Culture Club that brings team members together to create social events and activities for everyone to engage in as a group. Our holiday party is one example where we didn’t think we would be able to recreate the same vibe, but we did. Virtual variety shows (live and recorded) have been a big hit. Using Cameo to bring guest appearances that were personalized to the team were received incredibly well. Sending each employee meal credits for a food delivery program like Grubhub allows us to have group meals together like we used to. We are continuously looking for ways to replicate what we are missing over the computer screen.
Being engaged virtually takes some finesse and intention. Some things we have learned are that turning our video cameras on in meetings is critical to being present and engaging, as well as facing the camera as if you are looking directly at your audience. In addition, giving our full attention and minding our own body language is more important than ever on a screen. However, we also recognize that not everyone is comfortable on camera, we can’t always be “on,” and we have learned to be okay with this too.
We have found that more people speak and share when meeting facilitators intentionally allow space for everyone to raise their hand and share their voice, or provide smaller group settings for that to naturally take place. Some of us have even learned when to step back and listen so that we give space for quieter or more introverted team members to speak.
Connecting On and Offline
Being together in person is still a desire for many, but not necessarily all. We have maintained our office space so that those that are local can still come into an office and work directly with others. While we downsized our square footage, it allowed us to move into a fresh space with new energy to create a path for new memories. We don’t require office presence but we do encourage it. For quarterly leadership strategy sessions, we alternate between bringing people into the office and doing that meeting virtually. So far both formats work well for us.
We also look for other ways to connect in person. For example, three of our team members living in Florida met for a Meet Magento conference and got to spend time together in person for the very first time. Helping our team members find those connections with others working in close proximity is something we want to continue to work towards. A basic human need is having those in-person connections with other human beings so we will continue to promote these interactions.
Inclusion is Key in a Virtual Work World
Inclusion is very important and finding ways to provide everyone with a space they can thrive in is crucial. However, it has been incredibly challenging to do virtually. Making sure that we aren’t excluding anyone unintentionally with stories of the “old Human Element,” having an imbalance of virtual vs. in-person participation on meeting calls, and making sure that everyone is accounted for in work and recognition are super important to ensure inclusion and acceptance of all. We work hard at this because we all agree it is important.
Once a quarter, we dedicate a lunch hour in which we get together to celebrate our wins, we call this Lunch of Champions. We set aside this time to recognize and appreciate everyone’s hard work and contributions to their development and the organization. We have added many new components to the structure of this meeting to celebrate our humans and different milestones, as well as taking the opportunity to get to know one another better.
Where We are Today
I am so proud of the ways in which our team has put the human back in Human Element. Through the efforts of the entire organization, we are able to think outside the box and keep things fresh and exciting. Little by little, we have been able to create a new Human Element experience that we can all look forward to every day. The examples shared in this blog are just a few of many that we are incorporating into our company culture. We strive to make our organization an employer of choice for all of our team members.
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