Lessons from HR – maintaining an engaged remote workforce throughout COVID-19

Now working with a fully remote team, our HR & People Operations Manager shares tips on how she’s maintained Dynamic Yield's company culture during this unprecedented time.

HR & People Operations, Dynamic Yield

COVID-19 Marketing Resources
Last updated: April 27, 2020

As an HR & People Operations specialist, the crux of my work is heavily dependent on face-to-face communication. Personally, I thrive off of my daily interactions with the Dynamic Yield team. I’m able to bounce ideas off of different team members, garner immediate feedback, and collaborate with them. However, with the outbreak of coronavirus, I’m now working with a fully remote team – an entirely new territory for me, as it is for many others.

So how does someone in a role such as mine continue to implement employee experiences, those that boost morale and bond employees, and adapt them to create an engaged remote workforce?

In this post, I’ll discuss some of the challenges I have faced at Dynamic Yield thus far, as well as how I’ve found new and creative ways to maintain our culture and keep our incredible employees happy during this unprecedented time. Hopefully, through my anecdotes and insights I’ve learned along the way, other HR professionals will be able to better navigate this massive workplace change.

React, but not in haste

Once I learned our global team would be working remotely, so as to prioritize their health and safety, my immediate impulse was to act. I wanted to ensure our team felt appreciated and wanted to find ways to make it known in whatever ways possible. Thankfully, I was advised to hold off before making any quick decisions, and instead, first access the needs of our employees.

This was a crucial first lesson on the importance of patience. Rather than assuming what was best for our employees, I learned to respond to their needs, giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns and highlight areas where they most needed our support. And as circumstances continue to shift and change, I’ve also learned the value of scoping out a project in its entirety, ensuring I always invest in initiatives that will truly benefit each of our team members.

Money does not always translate into employee happiness

Responsibly handling budgets is a top priority for many organizations right now, including our own. And while tech companies typically possess generous welfare budgets, strategically set aside to keep employees engaged, happy, and supported, we needed to begin exercising restraint in spending of this kind.

Not only was my initial inclination to start using this money, but I was also nervous that if we didn’t, our employees would feel let down at a time when they expected it the most. The reality, though, is that our team understands the importance of fiscal responsibility, now more than ever. And with a bit of resourcefulness, I’ve been able to recalibrate my priorities and focus on finding new ways of keeping our team happy without shelling out in excess.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve initiated some “costless” projects, including weekly competitions via Slack and Happy Hour games (we’ve already hosted three!). These interactive, collaborative activities are fostering a sense of community and camaraderie in ways physical gifts cannot. And most importantly, they are helping our company culture thrive.

hr activities

Understand that each employee has a new set of needs

Even though I have a relationship with each member of our team, I’m now getting to know them in a completely different context. The lifestyle changes brought on by the pandemic has affected every person differently, and remote work exposes sides of ourselves never presented to colleagues before. For example, the team member who I can rely on to always tell a great joke, I now also see as a father, juggling a household with a wife and two kids.

Witnessing the multiple hats our team members wear has been eye-opening. It forces me to remember that additional responsibilities occupy their time – not just now, but in life. So before I begin to run with a new idea I’ve cooked up, I have to ask myself, “Will this resonate with the group of people I’m hoping to engage with right now?”

Still, finding interactive ideas for our entire team while making sure that it’s tasteful and relevant is a major challenge. To keep me grounded and source ideas, I’ve been floating projects past a few members of our team, those who understand the heart of our company and culture, who will give their honest opinions. Not only does it keep me attuned to the wants, needs, and constraints of our team, but it also helps me gain perspective before I make decisions on activities and programs.

Keep traditions alive

Over the past few years, Dynamic Yield has grown and scaled at an unparalleled rate. However, something I’m especially proud of has been our ability to maintain the unique, “family” feel we have as a company, despite massive organizational changes.

Knowing our sense of community is so cherished, I decided it was essential to maintain existing company traditions and figure out how to make them work remotely. As an example, we have a simple, yet sweet, tradition where managers give a toast to celebrate an employee’s work anniversary. For the time being, we’ve tweaked this tradition by sending a bottle of wine to the employee’s home on the date of their anniversary and scheduling a virtual gathering with members of their team. This way, teams and managers can still share a toast and kind words to celebrate the milestone.

These little moments make all the difference, and as we all continue to acclimate to new working conditions, keeping traditions alive helps us maintain a sense of routine.

Maintaining an engaged remote workforce with virtual happy hours

Inspire interaction, but avoid distraction

My job is to boost morale and foster a sense of community and belonging. Yet when planning activities and initiatives, I’ve learned to remind myself not to overwhelm our team. Maintaining a solid and regular cadence helps gain buy-in, but proposing too many activities or causing frequent distractions can be counterproductive.

There is a definite need for social interaction (we are humans after all), but I aim to make things as “non-disruptive” as possible. A great rule of thumb I’ve adopted has been to schedule events at the beginning or end of the day rather than during ‘core work hours.’ For example, I host early morning competitions every week to kickstart the day and then virtual happy hours in the evening to allow people to wind down, chat, and have some non-work related fun.

Our current work set-up has also provided me with an opportunity to establish an “employee experience” Slack Channel. This is a designated space where I host these weekly competitions, make birthday and anniversary announcements, and share daily updates without bombarding the team with too many messages or emails.

Maintaining an engaged remote workforce with Slack

Consistent communication is key

Communication is key for engagement and productivity, especially now. I firmly believe every organization needs to encourage consistent dialogue with other teammates, managers, and colleagues.

A great piece of advice I recently received was to set regular video chats with those I work closely with but lack recurring scheduled meetings with. These don’t have to be long, but it gives us time to connect and check-in, ensuring we maintain a consistent and fruitful working relationship. For example, coffee breaks in the kitchen have been moved to Zoom. In my experience, this can add a sense of normalcy to the workday, helping us all stay focused, accountable, and lucid.

Parting thoughts on protecting company culture

These are new and unprecedented times for individuals and communities globally. It is therefore critical to be forgiving of both yourself and others, practice empathy, and remain open to feedback. That being said, perhaps the most important piece of advice I can share from my experience over the last month is to never stop learning. Use this time to explore and test new ideas, be creative, and grow from your successes and failures. We have the opportunity to shape and refine the way we work and what our organizations will look like when this passes, and I’m confident we’ll all be stronger in the long-term for it.