How to Keep Your Team Engaged When Working Remotely, Part II

Janey Zitomer
April 27, 2020

At Facebook, the entire organization abides by “lunch blocks” that allow employees to take a break from noon to 1 p.m. while working from home in recent weeks, according to a CNBC interview. But tech giants aren’t the only ones shifting schedules and revamping processes to keep employees engaged virtually. 

In part two of a two-part series, seven local professionals explain how their teams are providing employees with resources to help them stay productive despite a new set of distractions. Skookum Marketing Director Brad Schmitt said holding frequent, remote and recorded town halls has kept his team aligned on business objectives. 

Healthgrades’ Whitney Bertram, who is co-chair of the company’s employee engagement council, said leadership is now offering employees access to Talkspace, an app that provides free access to a licensed therapist through video or text. She appreciates the acknowledgement of the mental and physical stress that can accompany uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

“We understand this is a challenging time for so many people,” Bertram said.

 

Skookum
skookum
Troy Suttle
VP of Product and Channel Marketing

At Mersive, the people team has provided employees with resources dedicated to personal and professional well-being, including wellness tips and advice for parents working from home. VP of Product and Channel Marketing Troy Suttle said he checks in on his team more frequently than he otherwise would, making sure no one feels isolated or unproductive. 

 

From an organizational and cultural standpoint, what is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since going remote?

We start our team meetings by checking in on how each person is doing. Culturally, Mersive has always held frequent meetings, so there wasn’t a need to increase the cadence of communications when remote work became the standard. But working in isolation was new for us, and this combined with all the other direct and indirect impacts of what’s going on in the world takes its toll on people in different ways. 

My focus has been on the physical and mental well-being of the individuals on my team first and foremost. I need to make sure they have access to the resources and support they need during these uncertain times. And although the business impact is indirect, this approach has proven critical to team engagement and productivity for one simple reason: we can’t do our best work professionally if we’re not well personally.

My focus has been on the physical and mental well-being of the individuals on my team.’’

Beyond the standard video conferencing and chat software, what tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote?

Our asynchronous collaboration stack has kept our marketing team organized and aligned while we work from separate spaces. We use Asana, Confluence and G Suite to enable our day-to-day internal operations. Together, these systems support the marketing initiatives in flight at any one time. And of course, they’re all web-based solutions accessible from anywhere.   

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive?  

Leaders face a big challenge in the current work climate. Isolation creates stress directly and indirectly, with an uneven effect across different people. So how can leaders fully support each person on their teams? Our people team provides personal and professional resources for navigating these uncertain times via Mersive’s internal wiki. 

Mersive has also increased our cadence of virtual town halls and social events like trivia and game nights, providing more company-wide updates and social opportunities.

At a team level, we check in frequently. I generally speak to every member of my team multiple times each day. This blend of support and resources has helped Mersive maintain high morale through the transition to a fully remote workforce.

 

Tiffany Tasset
Chief of Staff

According to Chief of Staff Tiffany Tasset, AdSwerve’s executive team has upped their presence on platforms like Slack to bolster engagement since the company began working from home. Tasset said those touchpoints have served as a needed replacement for the in-person interactions that previously took place in passing or over a shared in-office lunch.

 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since going remote? 

We had a unique advantage going into this situation because part of our workforce was already working remotely full-time. It has been beneficial to rely on the advice of our own remote employees on how to efficiently make this shift across the entire organization. 

The most impactful change thus far has been our ability to tailor each department’s workflow based on their team’s needs. We recognize that working remotely looks different among our various teams. Encouraging our teams to determine what works for them has allowed us to continue working with minimal disruption.

 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote?

Slack has kept our teams engaged in a fun way. We’ve created channels for recipe sharing, virtual book clubs, remote life tips and tricks, playlist recommendations and one of our all-time favorites: #petswerve. 

We’ve also launched tools to help our team stay connected with our clients. We recently created a content hub on our website called “Forward. Together.” This platform includes industry-relevant tips, tricks, articles and trainings. It is important for our clients to know they are not alone in navigating this unexpected shift. We are here to share as much information as we can to offer support and ease the transition. 

Slack has kept our teams engaged in a fun way.’’  

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

First and foremost, we want to communicate openly and remain transparent during these uncertain times. So we’ve implemented bi-weekly staff meetings, which gives our employees a chance to hear from our CEO on the current state and priorities of Adswerve as an organization. 

Additionally, we send out weekly surveys to our staff to ensure they have the proper tools and management support to do their jobs effectively while working remotely. We also understand that in this era of remote work, employee engagement is more important than ever, so we’ve started hosting virtual happy hours, quirky and informative lunch and learns like “Stepping Up Your Costuming” and “What to Watch Next,” and weekly training sessions to encourage continued education in digital media and analytics. 

 

Brad Schmitt
Marketing Director

Skookum takes remote work setups seriously — so seriously, in fact, that the president of the company hand-delivered office equipment to an employee who had been traveling internationally before the quarantine was implemented. The leadership team has leveraged Instagram Stories to engage employees by posting pictures of different work-from-home setups as well as team members with their favorite local takeout option in support of neighborhood businesses.

 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since going remote?

We were already a remote-friendly workforce, so we were able to make the switch to one hundred percent remote work quickly without any impact to our work with clients. Our internal support team made sure each employee was equipped to be productive and successful with a desk, monitor, chair, keyboard, mouse and so on. 

The Monday after we went remote, our president hand-delivered a full office set-up to one of our employees who had just returned from international travel to make sure he could quarantine and work from home effectively. We also continued to have our Friday company lunches each week, where we hear updates and present on recent work. 

Lastly, we are still carrying out our quarterly town halls that help our employees feel informed and up-to-date with company goals and progress. All of these things have helped bolster overall engagement and productivity. We record each meeting to make sure any employee who may have missed it in real time can catch up. 

We record each meeting to make sure any employee who may have missed it in real time can catch up.’’  

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote and why?

To maintain engagement, we’ve utilized Zoom and Slack. We hosted virtual trivia, continued our “Choose to be Happy Hour,” leveraging Zoom breakout rooms, organized scavenger hunts and even made a version of MTV’s “Cribs” where employees used their laptops to show co-workers their pets, children and different parts of their houses. 

We also rolled out our typical review process as we would if we were in office, which we believe fostered productivity and engagement. Our leadership team uses our  #covid-19response Slack channel to post updates and pertinent information about how we are responding to the ever-evolving circumstances. 

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

Our internal support team is always on call to help employees stay productive. One week, we gave each employee a Grubhub gift card to order lunch delivery to help support local restaurants. In addition, our leadership team has donated the funds that we would typically use for food on Friday company lunches to different local organizations to help those affected by COVID-19 across the community. 

 

Timothy Bjorkman
Senior Engineering Director

Work and home life have never been so closely intertwined before. Clover Senior Engineering Director Timothy Bjorkman says he’s been more cognizant of others’ time during these last few weeks, especially as individual needs and home setups vary.

 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since going remote? 

We have noticed that breaking into small teams helps keep people unified around a singular purpose. Having a smaller structure reduces interruptions and helps employees get their points across more quickly. We have quite a few engineers with independent mindsets, which is definitely paying off as different people step up on different days. 

We’ve tried to be flexible in terms of adjusting to what people need. On some teams, we moved to twice-daily stand-ups and, on other teams, we’ve moved to multi-hour, once-a-week syncs. It depends on what the subculture of each team needs. We try to be insightful and adapt accordingly.

We found we needed to facilitate more ad-hoc conversations.’’  

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote and why? 

We found we needed to facilitate more ad-hoc conversations. Slack has a call feature that works wonderfully until you figure out you’re actually bugging people. We now have new etiquette around Slack. I take the time to ask if a person is available before hitting the call button since we all have different home situations. 

I personally am a huge fan of Google Jamboard. A team of five can all draw on the board at once. This has helped us with our creative solutions and collaborations. Other than Jamboard, we all used Slack, Jira and Confluence consistently anyway, so that made our transition slightly easier.

 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive?

Before COVID-19, Clover Colorado was a flat organization in an open office configuration. In order to provide higher quality time and more scaffolding for individual contributors, we asked some people to step into more of a team-lead role. This gives them some time to test out their leadership skills for small teams. It also allows the individual contributors to get more face time and helps make the groups more self-sufficient. We’re already seeing increased agility in these teams.

The team leads are empowered to collaborate with their peers and self organize on hot topics or emerging issues. Leadership can focus more on how the work these self-sufficient teams line up with our evolving strategic initiatives.

 

Tori Soler
Manager of People Operations

SonderMind wanted to retain as many company traditions as possible despite being remote. So, leadership has sent out e-cards for birthdays and set up new employees with virtual opportunities to get coffee with colleagues. Additionally, employees have created a variety of social Slack channels for niche interests, Manager of People Operations Tori Soler said.

 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since going remote?

From the outset of working remotely, our company made a commitment to host all meetings over video chat to ensure that we had face time with one another. Our team already had several tools and practices in place that made this transition smooth from a workflow standpoint, but maintaining the human connection across our team ensured that we continue to humanize our interactions and build relationships. 

 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote?

We have implemented a few new tools including Donut, a virtual hangouts app, that randomly connects SonderMinders on Slack to have a coffee or lunch date during the workday. This has been especially great for our new members who have been onboarded fully remotely to meet other members of the office. 

We wanted to maintain as many office traditions as possible.’’ 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

We wanted to maintain as many office traditions as possible while also aiming to build new ones during this time. Employees have received food delivery gift cards to continue team lunches, e-gift cards for birthdays and have access to a variety of remote social activities for employee engagement. 

We did an embarrassing photo swap, guided laughter yoga sessions, craft night, trivia and team video challenges. Our office emphasizes employee and team-lead activities so managers can actively engage their departments. 


 

Whitney Bertram
Talent Acquisition Lead

To bring the team together, Healthgrades has set up Slack channels for parents working remotely with kids, provided information about volunteer and outreach opportunities, and launched a March-madness style trivia tournament. But the company’s initiatives extend beyond fun distractions. Talent Acquisition Lead Whitney Bertram said leadership also offers stress management workshops and telehealth access. 

 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since going remote?

We have increased communications for employees by sending out our internal newsletter more frequently to ensure that everyone is staying up to date on important policy changes and news regarding COVID-19. Our CEO and chief medical officer have also been hosting virtual town hall sessions where employees can participate in a live Q&A. Personally, my team started hosting themed Friday meetings and virtual happy hours. 

 

What tools are you using to maintain engagement and productivity while your team is remote and why? 

The Healthgrades’ team has put together a work-from-home toolkit that is accessible through our company intranet. It includes tips for being productive while working remotely, mood-boosting videos and access to free resources like yoga and fitness workouts, virtual museum tours and educational tools and training. 

We also have new Slack channels to make it easy for employees to share content and stay connected. 

I’m thankful that Healthgrades provides resources to support our employees’ health and mental well-being.’’ 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive?

We understand this is a challenging time for so many people. I’m thankful that Healthgrades provides resources to support our employees’ health and mental well-being. 

For example, we offer employees access to Talkspace, an app that provides free access to a licensed therapist through video or text, as well as Happify, a platform with games promoting positive thought and stress management. Employees also have access to virtual telehealth services. We’ve also started a weekly meditation group for people to relax and reset.

 

Becky Howard
VP of Operations

On Fridays, the Documoto team comes together to check in on one another both personally and professionally. VP of Operations Becky Howard said communication has been the most important focus since switching to a new way of work, allowing employees at the SaaS company to feel connected while apart. 
 

What is the most impactful change you’ve made to your team’s workflow since going remote?

The most impactful change has been the way we communicate internally to one another. Instead of walking up to someone’s desk or office, our team now relies heavily on RingCentral for calls and meetings as well as Slack for quick messages. 

The most impactful change has been the way we communicate internally with one another.’’ 

What support are you providing to your team to ensure they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive? 

We continue to hold our weekly one-on-one meetings with every employee. We added a weekly company video conference every Friday to keep the team engaged with one another. The focus is to thank those who have helped us throughout the week, to check in with each team member, to ask what we can do to support one another and share company updates with the team.

 

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