Culture First

Crafted by Culture Amp

 Part 5

How to connect in a disconnected world

Fig 1. Remote relationship maintenance

Experimenting and innovating human connection.

Communities around the world are at various stages of redefining “normal” and understanding how this impacts the work environment. The truth is, we’ll likely be continuously adapting for the foreseeable future. During this stage of our journey, we explore ways to build meaningful connections and improve our communication with one another.

Podcast

Create space and heartfelt connection

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Culture First podcast by Culture Amp

  • 01

    Episode 9: Cleo Wade

    Cleo Wade on connection, community and work culture

    In this episode, Damon Klotz sits down with author, poet, and community builder Cleo Wade. This conversation is designed to inspire listeners through the power of poetry, space creation, and storytelling. Cleo’s empowering message gives us the tools to build the communities and connections that we need more than ever right now.

  • 02

    Episode 10: Jenny Sauer-Klein

    How to design experiences to increase connection

    In this episode, Damon speaks with Jenny Sauer-Klein about how the shift from IRL to URL has led to a complete redesign in how we’re connecting. Together they explore how to define and scale intimacy in this new world. Jenny then shares a framework to design the perfect 60-minute meeting that will leave attendees engaged and feeling connected.

Culture First podcast by Culture Amp

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The long reads

Original content

01

Culture amp | 10 min read

Paria’s story: how this CEO is redefining relationships with herself and others

Paria Rajai portrait

These days, the simplest commitments can feel particularly heavy. Individuals are facing a variety of challenges from isolation to burnout, which have pushed us to reevaluate our priorities and get to the heart of what brings us joy.

To understand how we can nurture meaningful connections during this period of disconnect, we spoke with Paria Rajai, CEO and Founder of ModelExpand. ModelExpand is a recruiting strategy firm that helps organizations secure and support talent from diverse backgrounds.

 

“This has become such a critical time for vulnerability, and the self-work we do creates a fertile environment for prioritizing diversity and inclusion work.”

As a business owner, Paria has first-hand experience with the highs and lows that come with uncertainty. In her recent work, Paria has come to understand the importance of self-reflection – both personally in her work.

“The current environment has slowed me down and created space to do a lot of self-work. Looking internally has helped me identify ways to do better in all aspects of my life. My clients have been afforded this same opportunity to slow down and look at their own team dynamics, see how they're functioning, invest in talent and development, and improve their practices. This has become such a critical time for vulnerability, and the self-work we do creates a fertile environment for prioritizing diversity and inclusion work.”

In this article, Paria shares how she stays grounded in the face of chaos.

Shifting course amidst crisis

Paria’s work empowers marginalized groups through talent acquisition, but with COVID-19 the day-to-day functions of the organization have shifted.

“If you look at the research, marginalized groups are getting hit harder than others. As a mission-driven organization, I’ve gone back to the basics of what my community needs to shift our approach to better support these groups.”

Though there have been notable layoffs and downsizing efforts in response to the crisis, many companies are still hiring. In fact, some industries, such as digital security and media, are more critical than ever. While the overall hiring landscape has slowed, Paria sees this period as a critical moment to build the structure upon which D&I initiatives can scale.

“When hiring quiets down, it's time to skill up your teams. During periods of high growth, when companies have countless open positions to fill and a network that is not naturally diverse, fundamental strategy adjustments tend to be deprioritized. Right now is the perfect time for companies to level up so that when hiring resumes, D&I is more ingrained in the process, structural changes have been put in place, and you have a more diverse network. There is also a heightened awareness of race and privilege. While individuals are self-reflecting, they’re also forced to recognize the inequities in their organizations, so our work with our clients has expanded and become even more critical.”

While there is a proven business case for D&I work, Paria has observed a foundational shift happening where organizations are forced to self-reflect in the wake of world events. Consumers want brands to take a moral stand against racial inequities and take action to address it. Individuals are calling on organizations and leaders to respond to injustice and live their values.

“As someone deep in the work of inclusion, I am constantly reading the research, listening to Black employees, and seeing first-hand the barriers Black people face in the workplace, the community, and in our society as a whole. While team training is impactful, it takes personal work within oneself to recognize individual biases and racism. This work is hard, deep, and constant. Between COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd, it has been surreal to see our society finally reckon with what has been true for many for a long time. It truly feels like a movement, not a moment.”

Whether it’s personal or external, we’re in the midst of change. Younger generations want to shape a society that prioritizes taking care of one another. As a result, we’re seeing a great deal of self-reflection at the individual, organization, country, and global levels.

“I want to model what we’re trying to bring into the world by doing our own self-work so we can better care for one another. I’m prioritizing relationships and going deeper. Going deeper inward and in our relationships are both so important.”

“There’s an evolution happening in society around raising consciousness and self-reflection.”

“There’s an evolution happening in society around raising consciousness and self-reflection. It’s incredible to see the kind of content being shared and the conversations people are having with their company leaders. The depth varies, but the conversation is happening. The combination of COVID-19, urgent demand for racial justice, and the generational shift is contributing to a whole different set of norms.”

As we approach this new norm it’s increasingly important to understand our emotions. To create a space where others feel comfortable, we have to start with ourselves. Understanding how we feel and what it means will empower others to feel comfortable to open up.

“Vulnerability humanizes everything, and it’s a much more satisfying way to live. I love seeing other people’s families on video calls. I’ve found myself opening up more about my own home life, which I don’t always do as readily. These are the things that connect us, especially during this time.”

Experiencing disconnect

Like many of us, Paria has found it difficult to balance the need for connection with technology burnout. Her tight-knit family has had to readjust their normal ways of coming together, and in many ways, this has pushed Paria to look inward.

“I come from a really big Iranian family. My grandma and I are very close and she’s immune-compromised, so it’s been hard not to see my family the way I used to. Family is a constant in my life, but the pandemic has forced us to separate – not to mention the added worry about high-risk family members. My grandma is alone and needs to get out sometimes for her mental health. We’re all grappling with that fine line between mental and physical health, but it’s intensified when someone you love is at risk. I’ve had to learn to focus on what I can control.”

As a leader, Paria strives to bring her dispersed team together, while also creating space for people to recuperate from exhaustion and over-stimulation.

“People are tired of virtual meetings. Instead of virtual hangouts, I’ve been encouraging my team and I to take micro-breaks. Even if it’s just to wash the dishes or take a walk – we all need a respite from the screen. For me, nature is a huge component of that. It reminds me that life is bigger than our day-to-day and can bring some much-needed perspective.”

As a result of some of the technology burnout, Paria has found herself spending less time reaching out to friends and family.

“It’s been a problem because I want to keep in touch, but I just don’t have the energy or mental bandwidth to schedule a virtual get-together or call all of my family members.”

In these challenging and uncertain times, it’s also easy to fall into negative conversation patterns. It’s helpful to commiserate, but sometimes that can quickly spiral into negativity. These conversations can be draining and actually hinder meaningful connections.

“You have to be really aware of where things are taking your energy and become comfortable with opting out of things that aren’t good for your mental health.”

“I’ve had to be more thoughtful about how I spend my time and who I spend it with (even virtually). It’s easy to focus on the worst-case scenarios and the negative. While it’s important to talk about how I’m feeling, these conversations can leave me feeling more depleted afterward. I have to be really aware of where things are taking my energy and become comfortable with opting out of things that aren’t good for my mental health. That means being extra mindful about how I spend my time during this unusual period where we don’t have typical coping outlets, such as seeing friends and family in person.”

While in many ways, technology has made it possible to stay connected during social distancing, it has also contributed to a sense of exhaustion.

“Limiting my virtual interactions in order to re-energize and just acknowledging the discomfort has been helpful. I talked to my mom recently and explained how I’ve been trying to change my schedule and might be less available – she totally got it. It was a huge relief to hear her empathize. I still connect with my family and friends but now the recipe is less about frequency and more about substance.”

Self-care deepens connections

The external circumstances of COVID-19 and urgent discussions around racial injustice have made it harder yet more critical to balance caring for yourself and your community with work responsibilities. But this balancing act can quickly lead to burnout, so it’s critical to prioritize self-care during this time.

In many ways, this global experience has forced us to spend more time with ourselves. Where before many of us were cramming our schedules, the shelter-in-place has forced us to reflect on how we actually want to spend our time.

“Now that I am forced to stay home, I’ve come to realize how chaotic my life was in many ways. This experience has impelled me to go back to the basics and look inward.”

While this introspection can be dark at times, it also helps us realize that we actually need this self-reflection to build meaningful connections.

“Starting my company taught me that I need to ground myself in times of chaos. Even just watering my plants, having coffee at the same time each day, and building some sort of structure helps me stay grounded. We’re all in mass uncertainty, and creating stability through routine gives us the room and space to look inward. It’s hard to look inward if we’re constantly treading water.”

There’s a tendency to seek satisfaction from external sources – whether it’s events, seeing friends, or traveling. While these experiences can be enriching, they can also distract from some of the internal work we need to do. During the pandemic, many people have had to accept that they’ve been keeping things a bit more buried than they may have realized.

“Even in the morning, now that I’m not rushing to get to work on time, I get to start my day in a different way. I have time to meditate, pet my cat, and drink coffee with my partner. These simple but beautiful moments are something that I’m so grateful for, and they’ve also completely shifted how I show up for the day. When I am able to slow down, I understand what's important and react more productively and emphatically to matters that come up.”

Many of us are used to working long hours and putting our personal lives second in order to achieve success. In many ways, this pandemic has forced organizations and individuals to rethink their priorities. We’re seeing that vulnerability and balance are truly necessary for business success.

“There’s so much value in investing in ourselves, our home, and our community.”

“One thing I’m going to take away from this experience is recognizing that we don’t have to pack the calendar. There’s so much value in investing in ourselves, our home, and our community.”

Start with you

When we make that time to be introspective, we’re better equipped to go out into the world and build deep and genuine connections with others. There's such a hunger for that connection right now and it’s also a critical component to diversity and inclusion work.

“The small stuff I’m doing – slowing down, implementing routine, and watching my tech intake – leaves room and space for self-work that I couldn’t do in the same way before. It’s showing to be a fertile moment for this kind of introspection, both in my personal life and the work of my clients.”

Understanding your emotions, how to navigate them, and what grounds you will help provide secure footing during periods of uncertainty. Having hope and setting goals – personal and professional – helps us keep moving forward and not get bogged down by fear and stress.

“Setting personal and professional goals for myself gives me a sense of purpose. Even if I don’t see the point in the moment, I push myself to do it. The value has been that when I’m confused or overwhelmed, those goals give me the focus that I need. Change isn’t easy, but I’ve come to learn that pivoting is the new norm. A mentality of optimism and a commitment to continuous personal evolution can be powerful co-pilots for gracefully navigating this new norm.”

Read less

02

Culture Amp | 5 min read

What can organizations do to support new styles of working?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us what it means to work primarily remotely on a global scale. Individuals have adapted differently and developed unique perspectives on how they want to work moving forward. Many people now desire a fully-remote work experience, while others find themselves missing impromptu conversations and in-person interactions brought about by the traditional 9-to-5 structure. This invites organizations to reconsider and evolve their expectations and policies around various workstyles.

In this article, we share different perspectives to help organizations better support their team in redefining their best practices to support new ways of working.

 

Early trends

Many individuals who traditionally worked in an office setting now know how to work remotely. As a result, many people have started to consider moving to part-time to spend more time with family, relocating to another state, and adopting a more flexible schedule to better manage work and familial responsibilities.

Culture Amp’s recent returning to the workplace survey reveals that 85% of respondents believe their team would benefit from some degree of remote working in the future. However, 51% also report looking forward to returning to the workplace.

Many companies plan to allow remote-work until the end of the year and even beyond. Google announced that a majority of employees can work from home until 2021. Twitter similarly told employees that they’d be allowed to work from home permanently. This opens the door for companies and people to expand their horizons to a more global range of candidates and opportunities.

People are re-thinking what they want to do with their careers to be successful and fulfilled in this new reality. As a result, online learning marketplace Udemy has seen a 425% increase in course enrollments since late February. People are looking for opportunities to grow and broaden their skillsets.

According to Shelley Osborne, VP of Learning at Udemy, “while the surge of online learning has been accelerated globally by the pandemic, we predict a fundamental shift that will be sustained over time. Continuous learning will provide us with a path forward in this new world of work and will serve as a core muscle to build organizational resilience.”

“Continuous learning will provide us with a path forward in this new world of work and will serve as a core muscle to build organizational resilience.”

Shelley Osborne

VP of Learning at Udemy

Future business success depends on building more meaningful work experiences. Organizations with an authentic and mission-driven culture are best positioned to support the success and wellbeing of their people.

Ways to support new styles of work

While there has been a lot of conversation about companies going fully remote, many people are yearning for the day they can return to the office. Still, others would love to find a balance between their former work schedules and the flexibility introduced in response to the crisis. However, this will look very different for different industries and business models. It’s unlikely that everyone will be happy. But there are ways to approach the future of work that will help you both support your team’s individual needs and the success of the organization.

  1. Flexibility is key

    The greatest gift of the shelter-in-place order has been a greater understanding of the blurred lines between work and personal life. We’ve seen first hand the flexibility that required to balance dependent care, general wellbeing, and work demands. As a result, most organizations have made more space for being human at work.

    Whether it’s a willingness to reschedule meetings, or blocking off family time on your calendar, people should feel supported in rethinking their work routine. Not everyone’s “return to normal” – if we can even call it that – will look the same, so flexibility and empathy will be important as people try to balance all of their responsibilities.

  2. Communication goes both ways

    Listening to your people will be key in ensuring a smooth transition to supporting new workstyles. Ask your organization what they want and need to do their work effectively. We’re all reinventing the wheel together so it’s helpful to get ideas from everyone affected. You might create space for these conversations by surveying employees or hosting “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) sessions with leadership.

    When making decisions, leaders should clearly communicate them to the team. Ambiguity creates stress and confusion, so whether your organization is supporting full-time remote work or offering some level of flexibility, make sure the guidelines and expectations are clear.

  3. Provide connection opportunities

    Working with a distributed workforce can change the dynamic of the connections typically made between teammates. Virtual get-togethers and team meetings are only one step toward building those connections.

    Find ways to bring people together authentically. Consider running wellness check-ins at the beginning of each meeting, leading group meditations, and planning creative social activities, such as a game night, lip-sync battle, virtual lunchrooms, or 1:1 coffee meetups with different people around the organization.

  4. Let culture be your guide

    An organization’s core values shouldn’t change in the face of a crisis but will be a guiding principle as you determine the next steps forward. Now is the time to really lean into your values to ensure that all decisions are authentic and resonate with your people. Only do things that feel aligned with your organization’s culture. If you do activities like virtual karaoke night, but that doesn’t align with your team’s culture, it will be more isolating than connective.

  5. Lead by example

    One thing we’ve learned from remote-first work is that the workday can look very different for different individuals. For some, it can be easy to work long hours without a break. For those with young children, it might be impossible to get any meaningful work done until after they’re asleep. Further, according to a recent National Geographic article, “the unprecedented explosion of [video calls] in response to the pandemic has launched an unofficial social experiment, showing at a population scale what’s always been true: virtual interactions can be extremely hard on the brain.”

    Leaders and managers should make time to engage and connect with their teams on a personal level. It could be as simple as blocking off time for childcare, taking wellness breaks, or removing work applications from personal devices. This allows the rest of the organization to feel they have permission to do the same.

    Leading organization’s like Asana encourage leaders to practice mindfulness. Asana Head of People Operations Anna Binder shares, “mindfulness informs everything we do from tackling tough decisions in product development to how we onboard new hires and develop managers. Taking the time to be present - meaning aware of our feelings and thoughts - is the first step towards intentional direction, especially in times as difficult as these. As a team, mindfulness allows us to collectively learn from and improve, and to continually evolve the way we work.”

Embracing the unknown

After a global crisis, there’s no going back to “normal” – and would we really want to? The COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed an array of new working styles and presents an opportunity to evolve the work experience. Let your people and culture be your guide as you work to build connections and best practices in this next phase.

Read less

From The Heart of the C-Suite

An intimate conversation on how C-level executives are #WorkingThroughIt

In this episode which features Suzy Nicoletti, Managing Director of Twitter Australia, we look at why it’s important to fail out loud, the benefits of over communicating with your team and how to set boundaries where required so that you can switch off from work. Culture Amp’s very own CEO, Didier Elzinga also discusses how leading by example at an executive level sets the tone for people within your organisation. Moderated by Melanie vonHartitzsch, Culture Amp's lead APAC account executive, this is a conversation you’ll want to tune in to.

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Resources

We’re all in this together – resources from our friends and partners

This is an unprecedented time. There are no business strategies or ‘hot tips for working from home’ that can change the fact that many of us are feeling anxious and overwhelmed. But we can – and have to – work through it together. These resources from our partners and friends will help us do just that.

Five ways to motivate remote teams

Asana

Keeping your remote team motivated comes down to knowing how to make them feel supported. In the absence of in-person meetings, lean into new ways to communicate and collaborate.

“With honesty and authenticity, your team can come out of remote work more connected than ever before.”

Read the article →

How to build a more productive remote team

GitLab

As one of the world’s largest all-remote companies, GitLab knows a thing or two about collaboration, productivity, and building highly efficient teams. Here are five ways that they make WFH work and how you can too.

“No single person can design a perfectly efficient day for someone else. That's why we empower people to be a manager of one.”

Read the article →

Keys to creating connection at virtual events

Jenny Sauer-Klein

Virtual events have become the new normal. Here are three ways you can make sure every attendee and employee has intentional opportunities to connect and leaves feeling like they are part of a community.

“We need to create structured, facilitated opportunities for people to connect in meaningful ways, otherwise we risk that it may not happen at all.”

Read the article →

Working from home is amplifying your workplace issues

Forbes

Amanda Slavin, CEO of CatalystCreativ, discusses ways organizations can connect authentically and meaningfully with their employees in a remote world.

“Authentic connection is the antidote to disengagement in our suddenly remote workplaces.”

Read the article →

Your no-nonsense guide to communication in the workplace

Atlassian

Solid communication at work is important but not always easy. Atlassian has identified five key benefits of effective communication and three no-nonsense tips for getting your point across.

“Don’t let your message get lost in the corporate noise.”

View guide →

Insight

How Natasha, a people leader at Fandom is #WorkingThroughIt

Photo of Lila Milsap

Natasha Kehimkar

Chief people officer at Fandom

We have virtual movie nights, trivia events, and play our own D&D Beyond. Most impactful is taking time in a Monday meeting to ask how each team member is doing. What’s going on at home? What joys or sorrows are occupying our space? We take as much time as needed. These moments allow us to connect and be present for each other.”

How we work

Connecting while disconnected

In episode five of HOW WE WORK, we talked about tips and tricks on staying connected and remaining productive while working remotely. From virtual happy hours to more regular 1:1s, learn how others are getting creative virtually. We also covered if zoom burnout is a real thing, communication styles to suit different personalities and how to lead by example to encourage your team to switch off.

Marta Riggins

Director Employer Brand, Employee Engagement & Social Impact at Instacart

Amanda Slavin

CEO/CO-Founder at CatalystCreativ

Karla Ballard Williams

CEO of YING

A conversation series hosted by Culture Amp

Inside Culture Amp

How Culture Amp is #WorkingThroughIt

We spoke with Naomi Lane, Culture Enablement and Office Partner at Culture Amp to learn how her team is working to support connections in times of disconnect.

Naomi Lane zoom meeting

Peer relationships are a key driver of workplace happiness. In response to the pandemic, in-person interactions have lessened, and many people are struggling to reconnect. Workplace norms will continue to evolve, and organizations have an opportunity to take a new approach to support meaningful connections. With a little bit of thought and creativity, there are many new ways we can bring people together and strengthen their sense of connection.

Call out roadblocks

Don’t ignore the challenges of the new modes of communication. Acting as if video calls can fully replace in-person meetings will only underscore the gaps. Invite your peers to share their challenges, such as difficulty focusing, talking over one another, etc. Then work together to identify solutions. Shorter meetings with fewer people, clear agendas, and real-time chat features are a few ways Culture Amp is striving to make meetings more engaging.

Think outside the box

Many people are tired of virtual happy hours, but struggling to come up with alternatives. Sending care packages with the office’s favorite candy and hosting a lip sync battle to raise money for pride month are two creative ways that Culture Amp has found to bring teams together. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; ask employees for ideas and get them involved in organizing activities.

“At first we felt this urgency to pack the calendar with virtual events. But we quickly realized that while some people are looking for opportunities to socialize, others need a break from forced interaction. It’s critical to respect the different ways that people are seeking connection. The key is to listen to your people and create opportunities that they’re invited to tap into organically, rather than required to attend. This crisis is a learning experience for all of us, and I see an opportunity to find creative ways of bringing people together.”

Naomi Lane

Culture Enablement and Office Partner at Culture Amp

Let your culture guide you

Connection initiatives should be authentic to an organization’s values and culture. “One way we’ve done this is by creating a social events calendar so anyone can add events,” says Naomi. “Empowering individuals has inspired new activities that directly tie into our culture and values. For example, our recent lip-sync battle fundraiser was entirely organized by a team leader who is passionate about LGTBQ+ advocacy. People were invited to tune in from other offices, and members of the exec team even participated.”

A lip sync battle might not be the right fit if your team is more introverted. If you notice that your team tends to work long hours without breaks, the best way to offer support might be to block off an hour on everyone’s calendar to go and take a break. The key is listening to your people, and connections will naturally thrive in a more supportive environment.

Insight

How Lila, a people leader at InVision is #WorkingThroughIt

Photo of Lila Milsap

Lila Millsap

Sr Manager, People Business Partner at InVision

Working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t be meaningfully connected to your team. It does, however, require creating connections rather than waiting for them to happen to you.

At InVision, we’ve learned that connections are deepened by regularly communicating our needs in a clear way – essentially making the implicit explicit.”

We’re in this together

Community

Strengthening our connections is more important than ever. How can we use this time to explore new ways of communicating?

Check in to find out how other, like-minded people are taking a Culture First approach to working through it.

Find your people →

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Reclaiming success by redefining it

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