Tips for Managing Remote Culture Fatigue
In the weeks following the initial spread of COVID-19, companies around the world pivoting to remote work focused heavily on technology. Do we have the right equipment in place? Do all our global employees have access to a laptop? What tools do we have in place for video meetings, online messaging, and collaboration?
Then HR teams, managers, and leaders went about replicating the office environment virtually. They helped to set up online baby showers, birthdays, team happy hours, social check-ins, and other connection points to keep employees engaged while remote. But now that we’re a few months into our social distancing practices, those virtual get-togethers have lost some of their spark.
On top of growing virtual culture fatigue, many of us are still trying to balance work with other priorities at home. Working parents are jugging schoolwork and the emotional needs of isolated children; roommates are sharing space; and we are all fighting over bandwidth. In light of this, smart leaders have paused to reevaluate what’s working and what is potentially doing more harm. Here are some ideas to address remote culture fatigue and still preserve opportunities for employees to connect with one another.
1. Be clear about what is and isn’t mandatory.
When sending invites for virtual happy hours or other activities, make sure employees know whether the meeting is mandatory or optional. Whenever possible, social meetups and other culture-centric events should be considered optional to create a fun environment staff want to join, rather than something they have to join.
Of course, sometimes these meetings can double as a good opportunity for leaders to catch up with employees they wouldn’t normally interact with and provide business updates. It’s fine to consider the meetings mandatory in those instances, so long as they don’t become too frequent. Employees also should have advance notice to plan their schedules accordingly. If they are truly social, then welcome their pets, children, roommates, too. This is a wonderful chance for us all to get a peek into each other’s homes and lives, and nothing reinforces social connections like colleagues holding pets and little ones as they join in to say, “Hello.”
2. Reinforce a healthy work/life balance.
Getting a chance to relax and catch up with friends at work is important for maintaining a sense of community and keeping stress down. But those benefits are lost if employees spend their time worried or guilty if they can’t attend. Leaders need to model work/life balance and show employees it is OK to have both. This is especially important when work has become home and home has become work—we need to create space between the two.
Most of us need more flexibility than ever right now. My own work schedule has changed significantly since lockdown while I’m accommodating my kids and their needs, which don’t wait until the end of the workday. I get up early to do some work, spend time on schoolwork with my children, go back to my work, and then try and get outside with the kids and take a break. I tend to work late into the evenings. Sometimes I manage to get it all done in a day, though often I don’t. For many employees in similar situations, it’s important to talk with your team leaders to set priorities and coordinate on your different schedules. Maybe you need to send e-mails late at night or early in the morning —that can be fine, so long as your teams are in the know.
3. Overhaul your meetings
Why is a meeting 30 or 60 minutes long and why do we need so many to get things done? This applies to work meetings, as well as socials. Too many meetings have been a problem for a long time, and when you are remote, it means sitting in the same chair back-to-back all day with no breaks. At least in an office space, you move from conference room to conference room, stop off by your desk or grab a drink, and chat with others along the way. That doesn’t happen in a remote office setting. Consider moving from 60-minute meetings to 45 so everyone gets a chance to break, stretch their legs, and refocus before the next one starts. If your meeting has to be longer, then build a stretch break into the schedule, and even try getting everyone to do it together.
Social meetups also lack the formality of the typical business meeting, so why structure them the same way? In an office happy hour, people come and go, so try and replicate the same at home. Open up the video room for a set period of time and let people know they can drop by whenever they are free and stay as long or as little as they’d like. Remember, the purpose is fun and engagement.
4. Learn from remote employees with experience.
While the last few months have seen unprecedented numbers of people working from home, it isn’t the first time working remotely for many employees. Even before the Coronavirus, more than 5 million U.S. employees were working from home at least half the time. And those workers with experience offer a valuable resource for colleagues adapting to the new remote work norm.
Lean on employees who have worked from home before, even occasionally, to learn what kinds of culture initiatives work and which don’t. How many meetings a month is too many? Do they enjoy having dress-up themes during virtual happy hours? Should they be company-wide or split into smaller team meetings? Talk with them to learn from their experiences, what the right balance is, and how much “culture” is too much.
There is no one-size-fits-all method to culture, whether remote or not. Many of us are still in the process of figuring out what works with so many remote employees. Too many work meetings and social meetups risk burning employees out, but there are ways we can find to work more efficiently and still have the sense of community with colleagues. We just need to be mindful of the fatigue and continue to learn and adapt. While it no doubt will take some time for leaders to find the ideal combination for their business, making sure employees know what’s mandatory or not, giving them the freedom to prioritize other tasks, and learning from those who already have experience working remotely are all important lessons for finding that right cultural fit.
Jo Deal is Chief Human Resources Officer at LogMeIn. She is responsible for leading global people strategy with a focus on attracting, developing, and engaging world-class talent. Prior to LogMeIn, Deal held HR executive roles within the mobility application division of Citrix and at Informatica Corporation. She holds a BA in Industrial economics from the University of Nottingham, England and a post-graduate certification in HR through the Institute of Personnel & Development.