15 ways communicators are injecting culture to reach a remote workforce

Our collective brainstorm netted many creative ways to unite and motivate employees from afar. Take a look at how your peers are reaching their remote workforce and chime in with ideas of your own.

Cultivating culture remotely

Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2020 as part of our year-end countdown.

It’s Groundhog Day for many of your employees working remotely—yourself likely included. They wake up to see the same walls and share the same space with their quarantined partners day in and day out.

So how are you breaking up those days with a dose of company culture? Putting a smile on employee faces, motivating them, and reminding them that culture isn’t limited to an office space? I asked and boy, did you answer!

As a reminder, here was the challenge.

The idea nearly everyone mentioned? Friday virtual happy hours!

I will continue to update this list, so please share what you’re doing in the comments section below or directly to me at roulaa@ragan.com.

1. Mat talk corner. Scott Circle Communications kicks off Monday mornings with a “Mat Talk Corner” (a nod to Netflix’s “Cheer”) led by a team member who shares some fun and stress-free activities planned for the week, says Dee Donavanik, vice president. For example, in honor of National Poetry Month, the team shared their favorite poems with each other via its #WFH Slack channel. It also recently did a “scavenger hunt” challenge to encourage staffers to get outside and step away from their desks:

2. Zoom bingo, anyone? Scott Circle has also increased video calls including some virtual “team lunches” and happy hours. “We also try to inject fun into our current ‘new normal,” Donavanik says. For example, it has a Zoom bingo card where the winner gets a choice of prize from the moderator including a recipe, a knock-knock joke, or a photo from her personal camera roll.

“We’ve also instituted little games on Fridays during our “team lunch” hour where we get a glimpse into people’s home lives (without being too invasive/personal) – last week we had people submit a photo of their pantry and we had to guess who the owner was, and this week we plan to do bookshelves.”

3. Watch/read/listen together as a team. This has connected employees at thinkPARALLAX. “It can either be a show (guilty pleasure: Tiger King), a podcast (The Daily is a team favorite) or a book.,” explains Brianna Ralston, account strategist. “We individually watch, read or listen and talk about it during our team happy hours, company meetings or on Slack.”

For instance, its working mom Slack group is discussing the book “Fair Play” as well as podcasts from Harvard Business Review on how to manage work and family during the pandemic. Employees also share different book and TV show recommendations during team meetings and collect favorites on a company Google doc. “Some team members also have a Slack plug-in to show what music they are listening to at home,” Ralston adds.

4. Slack groups. Agency thinkPARALLAX was using Slack prior to COVID-19, but has formed new Slack groups to improve corporate culture and employee well-being remotely, such as a workout-from-home group, parents group and recipe channel group.

In the workout channel, the group decides on a weekly workout and health challenge. For example: a water challenge combined with 30 pushups a day. “Employees use a tracker document to share their progress of the various challenges and we report at the end of the week how we did,” Ralston says.

“This has made me feel better connected, supported and motivated during these uncertain times away from my colleagues” she says.

5. Virtual step challenge. Employees at the Red Charitable Foundation had to do 140,000 steps in two weeks for its in-house celebrity (an employee who hosts its internal video series) to donate $10 in their name to charity. “Participants had to post ‘proof’ on our intranet, and our CEO agreed to match the donation if our celebrity hit 250,000 steps in a three-week period. We’ve never had more engagement on our intranet, and from all corners of the company,” says Melinda Walker.

6. WFH newsletter. The team at AIG Travel started a weekly WFH newsletter. The first call to action? Asking its 1,400 employees to submit songs for a custom WFH playlist. “We received great response and have created the playlist to share on several platforms,” says Rhonda Sloan, head of marketing and travel industry relations.

7. Weekly Wrap Up e-newsletter. Carina Bates, research strategy officer at the University of Newcastle Australia started this feature, which includes:

  • Updates on how its division is responding to COVID-19
  • Mental health resources
  • Sources of good news online
  • Virtual activities people can participate in, such as virtual museum tours, concerts, etc.

Bates reports a more than 50% percent open rate each week and the response has been positive. Feedback from staff includes: “It’s the best part of my week,” “It’s a been a great way to keep us connected,” “I love the content, especially the music clips and videos.”

8. Daily positive videos and break reminders: Every morning at Strategic Objectives, an employee shares a fun video to kickstart everyone’s day with a smile. “This is followed up which a noontime reminder to take a break, enjoy the sunshine, get some exercise, eat something yummy — we encourage #selfcare every day,” says Deborah Weinstein, partner and co-founder.

9. Brainstorm sessions: To keep the creativity and collaboration flowing, Weinstein’s team holds weekly brainstorms in Microsoft Teams “to improve our professional skills, continue our learnings, and allow us to catch up and re-connect as a team.”

10. Wine Wednesdays: Why wait until Fridays? Weinstein hosts a Zoom video call to toast being halfway through the week every Wednesday. “Our Wine Wednesday ritual is a fun way to socialize and focus on each other,” she says. “Our many pets often play a starring role!” One wine Wednesday session resulted in a list of movie and TV show recommendations that was posted to Teams.

11. Give them time off. Offering some light-hearted fun is a welcome break for all of us during this time. But so is an actual break. Filomena E. Fanelli, CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications asked each member of her team to schedule a half-day off to recharge.

“We believe in the importance of being well-rounded, well-rested people and that’s central to our culture,” she says. “We openly shared this move with our clients, who were nothing but supportive of each of us taking a step back to process what’s been going on and to honor the moment. Doing so allowed us to be our best creative selves and to live out our culture the best way we know how.”

12. Internal news show. Every Friday at Jellysmack, the company’s internal news show is broadcast on its private Instagram. Shows have focused on WFH offices, where they work out, and what being a Jellysmacker is all about. Check out one of its videos:


13. Play online games. To welcome new employees who’ve joined JellySmack during the ongoing current crisis, the staff gathers for a company Zoom in which the new onboardees introduce themselves. Then, everyone plays a game on Kahoot or original games via Zoom.

“Playing games together, seeing each other, is the best way to keep everyone dedicated and pumped!” says Lenny Pomerantz, culture & internal communication manager. He recently “pixelized” pictures of staff and they had to guess who was on the picture as fast as they could.

14. Themed days. Current Global’s co-CEO Virginia Devlin has been creating fun ways to connect virtually with activities like weekly themed happy hours, scheduled stretch breaks, and a variety of “days” – from school spirit day to bad dad jokes day to crazy hair day. She still has a “temporary” blue streak in her hair three weeks later.

The result? “Camaraderie is high,” she says. “My favorite example of people coming together to support each other is a program dreamed up by non-parents to offer virtual babysitting a few times a week where colleagues will sing, dance, draw and more with the kids of our working parents so they can quietly tackle a deadline or enjoy some me time.”

15. Friday fun lunch. Invite your team to a video lunch so you can see everyone on screen. “It’s purely for connection and morale purposes,” says Linda Parsons, director of internal communications at the American Bureau of Shipping. “It has been very well received and is a nice end to the work week.”

She shares the latest collection of (appropriate) COVID memes, and includes an interactive component, “whether that’s photos of home offices that have been submitted and we try to guess who is who, or everyone submits their song for a QuaranTUNES playlist, etc.”


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.