How to maintain culture virtually amid COVID-19

Given the COVID-19 pandemic and mandated stay-at-home ordinances, companies that typically operate in-office had to begin working remotely. For companies that operate in-office, like LaSalle Network, working from home is a stark contrast for our leaders and our people.

Our company thrives off of the in-person interaction and feeling that sense of community. From collaborating to just having fun in the office and lifting each other up for those who need it, the in-person connectivity is important to our employees. So, as our company went 100 percent remote one week before the Illinois mandate, what was top of mind for our leadership team was how we can keep our culture, what unites all of our employees (LaSallians) together, intact virtually.

The business community is leaning on each other for ideas and inspiration, so here are a few things we've done that you can hopefully mimic or tweak and modify to work for your people to keep your culture alive virtually:

Video Meetings: Keep business running as normal as you can control, which means keeping all the meetings you would typically have in place. However, put an emphasis on using video calls for every single one of them. To maintain your culture, you must see your people and make eye contact with them when speaking to each other. Employees need to not only hear, but see their leaders, especially in a time of crisis. We've maintained all standard meetings from the company-wide meetings to the one-on-one meetings, and all are done via video.

Daily company-wide town halls: Our company has always been a very transparent organization, but that is amplified in a time of a global pandemic. Every morning, our entire company jumps on a Zoom video call led by LaSalle Network CEO Tom Gimbel. He addresses the company and gives an update on our business, and what he and leadership are hearing and seeing from leaders of other organizations and associations. It's also a time that employees can ask questions directly, and if they don't feel comfortable asking in front of the entire company, he reminds everyone that he and the leadership team is available whenever for questions. Now more than ever before, employees crave information. Leadership must remain visual and available for employees during this time.

Maintain the traditions and fun: Since going remote, we've had LaSallians do virtual lunch hours, we've hosted a virtual yoga session at the start of the week, have done virtual happy hours, ice cream socials and trivia game nights, and even had a pianist serenade us with spouses, family members and kids tuning in with the LaSallians. We also had to cancel one of our favorite events, our March Madness open house, but our employees still dressed in their college gear and had some rivalry banter going back and forth in our Microsoft Teams chats. Employees' spirits need to be lifted during this time and there is no reason you can't celebrate and laugh together virtually.

Have empathy: You are dealing with a range of emotional reactions. You have people working from home for the first time, some who are alone and others who may be with family or friends, working alongside people they haven't worked next to before. You have parents whose kids' childcare and school is closed, and they now need to not only keep themselves motivated but list their children's spirits up and keep them entertained and active throughout the day. You have people who are scared and others who don't understand the severity. You also have people who can't pick up and work as efficiently at home as they do in the office. The learning curve at home is much steeper than that in the office because managers aren't alongside employees to teach and guide them. As a leader you have to understand this and have empathy for your people and realize every single person will process this differently.

As leaders of people, it is crucial for us to find that balance of giving employees the truth about how COVID-19 is impacting business while also ensuring they are emotionally supported and have all the tools to get their jobs done efficiently. While a lot is out of our control, what we can control is ensuring our employees feel the culture we embrace in-office, virtually.

• Sirmara Campbell is chief human resources officer at LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting and culture firm based in Chicago.

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