As California’s Shelter-in-Place orders bore down on us, I found myself growing more and more anxious. I knew it was only a matter of time before they were enforced, and I had a list of worries that I found myself flipping through like cards in a deck. The health of my family, my 7-year-old daughter who has asthma, my job, my colleagues, figuring out how to transform my very-much-in-person role to a remote one, the idea of “at-home learning” for our daughter while my wife and I work full time, onboarding four new hires at work remotely, the ad-hoc meetings that make up my daily work life, and finally, the idea that my daughter would most likely not be returning to school this year. My brain turned this list over again and again. My personal life and work life blended into one long laundry list of COVID-related unavoidables.

And then it happened. 

The order came, and regardless of how prepared we felt, it was time to settle into our new normal. To their credit, our school district quickly handed down lesson plans, and I was able to embrace my new role as “teacher,” in addition to Dad, husband, and People Ops Manager. When my daughter’s education had more or less settled, I was able to focus my attention back on Victorious: our company and our culture. 

As Victorious’ People Ops Manager, my role is all about the people that make up our company. Up until now, I have relied on my daily in-office interactions with my coworkers to stay connected to the pulse of the office and make sure people feel happy, taken care of, and supported at work. 

Needless to say, the current climate has changed all of that. As crazy as it sounds, this strange and unprecedented time has given me a unique opportunity that I’m grateful for — to view my work from a new angle. I’ve learned a number of lessons along the way that I think will stay valuable to me long after this crisis has passed. I’d like to use this opportunity to share them with you. I hope that you, as well as your colleagues, find them as helpful as I have!

5 Lessons from #COVID #WFH

Lesson One: If you have to onboard employees remotely, proactively schedule a “get-to-know-you” hang with their new teammates. 

When all of this started, on top of setting up our existing employees to work from home, we also had 4 new hires that needed to remotely onboard. For a company that doesn’t ordinarily have remote employees, this was a particularly interesting moment of challenge for me. And we did it! While it probably wasn’t anyone’s idea of a “perfect” Day One, it was amazing to see our new hires feel comfortable and welcomed, get all the information they needed, and have a lot of fun laughing at and with ourselves in the process. 

One way that we ensured our new hires would feel a part of the team was scheduling virtual time for them with their new teammates and managers. Even if it’s only 15 to 20 minutes of video interaction, this face to face personalized contact goes a long way towards making people feel like they belong, and like they’re valued new members of the company. I encourage everyone in this situation to try it out. Set aside sometime in your day to make a new friend… you won’t regret it. 

Lesson Two: It’s okay to feel out-of-sorts and bummed out during this time.

Despite the many wins that have occurred since the Shelter-in-Place orders were handed down, I still find myself grieving. I realize that might sound dramatic, but it’s true. I’m grieving the loss of our in-office culture. I have found that there is simply no replacement for it. The virtual happy hours, the meet and greets, the virtual all-hands meetings… they just aren’t the same. Truthfully, they aren’t even close. 

I miss popping over to someone’s desk to ask them if they saw the most recent episode of WestWorld, or shooting the shit with someone while we each figure out what the best snack in the snack rack is. Writing this out, they all seem like silly things to miss and to be sad about, but here I am, being sad about them. 

What’s helped me is giving myself the space to feel that way, and not judging myself for the feelings as they come. While we’re luckier than most to be able to perform our roles remotely, the loss of that daily connection with our coworkers is a huge blow — and it’s okay to feel it. Talking about this with my coworkers, my spouse, or even writing out my feelings, have all been a huge help during this time. And if all else fails, I like to keep in mind the old adage: This too shall pass. 

Lesson Three: Stick to your routines as much as possible.

Although it felt strange at first, sticking to my usual routine has been immeasurably helpful. It sounds like a no-brainer, but taking the time to get dressed in the morning and stick to my regular timetables (minus the commute — that’s a silver lining!) has really made me feel like my days are retaining some semblance of normalcy. As we are now somewhat settled into the work-from-home life, I can feel myself growing more and more adjusted to the new normal as the days pass. 

Lesson Four: Keep your camera ON during meetings. So much of what we say is communicated with our facial expressions. 

Although it’s tempting to hide out from the world in your apartment and not let your coworkers see your unshaven face, there’s a lot to be gained from resisting that temptation. Turn your camera on during meetings! It’s not going to match the dopamine high of in-person contact, but that face-to-face screen time is a win-win: it will do your heart and mind good, while helping you feel more connected to your coworkers. And, not to beat a dead horse of lesson three, but you’ll be a lot more likely to turn that camera on if you’ve showered and put on some clean-ish clothes.

Lesson Five: Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper during your scheduled one on ones. 

The last lesson I’ve learned so far during this time is easily the most important on this list. Don’t be afraid to get personal during your set-aside 1-1 time with coworkers, managers, or direct reports. Don’t just focus on performance, really get in there and find out how they’re feeling. This is a scary time for a lot of us, and it’s no big surprise that anxiety is at a high throughout the nation. 

By checking in with people beyond the status quo, you’re doing both of you a favor. You’re inviting them to unload and unwind, and you’re strengthening a preexisting bond and taking that relationship to a new level. Like most leaps of faith people take, I feel certain that this is one you will not regret when all is said and done.

Culture is about people, not offices

Like many others, I’ve come to the realization that we’re going to be okay. I’ve also learned a valuable lesson in the process: our culture can survive outside of the office. It can do this because, as it turns out, our culture does not actually rely on all the happy hours, the free lunches, the endless coffee, and snacks. In truth, our culture relies on one thing: our people! 

At Victorious, it all boils down to the people. We maintain our culture and relationships by checking in, calling people instead of always pinging them on Slack, asking how or what they are feeling, and, most importantly, by allowing space for the unknown. This season is not just testing our values, it’s actually strengthening them! We now see that in times of discomfort and ambiguity, we can lean into our values to help build a connection during a time of disconnect. We still give a shit, we’re still practicing radical integrity, we’re still practicing process perfection, we’re still putting people first, and last but not least, we are still empowering one another. 

Author
Casey Joens

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