Six weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic and Kayla has the basic operations of her remote work routine down. She’s become used to not seeing her coworkers and friends while alone in her studio apartment. She’s adapted.
But some parts of Kayla’s work experience are still missing. In the office, the team all goes out to lunch together for teammates’ birthdays. It’s a favorite bonding activity for everyone in her department.
This spring, birthdays have come and gone and no one has enjoyed lunch together.
Meanwhile, Brandon just closed a huge deal.
In Brandon’s workplace, when a check comes in from a client, the salesperson accountable for the win rings a bell. The whole team stops what they’re doing to offer a high five. The camaraderie of the moment is motivating for the whole crew.
But when Brandon closes deals, he’s in his home office, not with the rest of the team since he lives on the other side of the country.
“The power of rituals and symbols is that they become cultural artifacts that you can take with you through different times. The people might change, but they can become stories whether you were there at the time keeps cultures alive even as they change and adapt.”
Damon Klotz, Work Culture Evangelist at Culture Amp
Workplace celebrations are important for recognition, but they also are a way to create community. Coming together for birthdays, work anniversaries, and moments of achievement is a way for coworkers to step outside of day-to-day work and connect with one another on a personal level.
In the office, celebrations come in the form of a physical gathering. A team assembles in the kitchen to share a cake. A manager and a direct report share a meal at a favorite lunch spot. The whole company goes to a happy hour.
Maintaining culture becomes trickier when a team isn’t physically together. Yet, in a remote setting, these cultural norms are even more important. Remote work can be isolating, so any moment where employees can connect with each other is even more impactful.
Companies who find themselves working in a remote context must make an extra effort to adapt their in-office norms to make them work virtually.
Luckily, teams who have had remote employees for a long time have lots of ideas for the organizations that find themselves new to operating with work-from-home employees.
Note: Some team names have been given pseudonyms to maintain their anonymity.
A personal message from people that matter can go a long way. When the employees at Hilsoft Inc. celebrate work anniversaries, they open their online workspace to find a collection of thoughtful notes from their closest colleagues in their feed. The message is scheduled in advance to ensure that it’s the first thing the team member sees in the morning.
Instead of gathering for an in-office celebration, many remote teams choose a specific time to jump on a video call together (via Zoom or Google Hangouts, perhaps). They spend this time going around the circle and sharing favorite memories of the birthday person. It's a great way to make sure the isolated employee gets lots of love during their special day.
At Awesome Company, every department has a unique subculture. Rather than decide everything from the top, the organization chooses to let teams determine how to celebrate. Teammates coordinate birthdays in a temporary Slack channel (with everyone except the birthday person) and receive a budget from People Operations for whatever celebration they choose.
When an employee has a birthday at 15Five, they receive a $500 stipend toward an online personal development course. In the spirit of celebrating the person and not the job, the team member chooses a learning opportunity unrelated to their day-to-day job.
At Remarkable Company, leadership knows a note from the CEO can go a long way in making an employee feel appreciated. Before each work anniversary, the CEO receives a direct message reminder, tasking them with writing a few thoughtful words about the employee.
At growing companies, there are few chances for top leadership to reflect on the individual contributions of individual employees. At TenantBase, the management team uses birthdays as a recurring opportunity to foster a more in-depth personal appreciation. As the day approaches, the CEO, COO, or CTO writes a thoughtful card to thank the birthday person and remind them how important they are to the company.
Bluebird goes the extra mile with their birthday cards. In advance of the special day, dedicated “culture crews” run around and collect submissions for a Kudoboard— a tool that allows employees to post notes, videos, photos, and gifs all on a shared card. The card is presented to the birthday person during the team-wide celebration.
When your team starts growing, channels become crowded. Great Company wanted to recognize birthdays publicly across the workspace but needed to make sure the messages didn’t become lost in #general or #random. They chose to create a #celebrations channel as the primary location for sharing the love. The manager of the birthday person is in charge of creating the post on the morning of the special day.
Find more remote-friendly ideas in the People Operations Playbook.
Building celebrations for remote work isn’t always quite as easy or natural as those that happen in person. But these moments of community are important to keep people engaged and connected while they work away from the rest of the team.
P.S. At Gather, we’re helping leaders build communication and coordination workflows to help remote teams continue to celebrate together.