Pandemic living: The evolution of internal culture

Dec 8, 2020

Katie Castillo-Wilson

Katie Castillo-Wilson

TapOnIt Founder + CEO

Work from Home

After nine months of remote work, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time we took our company culture for granted. Happy hours, once a run-of-the-mill outing, now seem so special. Not just because of a refreshing beverage, but because of the quality time spent with your colleagues. 

There’s no denying that remote work has changed the nature of our work relationships and, in some cases, our overall internal culture. This is a problem for a number of reasons. A study by Officevibe found that 70 percent of employees found a friend at work is the most crucial element to a happy working environment. Research from Gallup shows that employees who have a best friend they work with are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being and are less likely to be injured on the job. 

Long story short, work relationships are very important. Not only to the individual staff members, but to the business as a whole. 

Just like most other organizations, TapOnIt’s internal culture has been impacted by the pandemic. But not necessarily in a bad way. If anything, it’s made me all the more focused on our culture, which I’ve been guilty of putting on the back burner to focus on more urgent aspects of my business. 

The truth is this: we had no clue what we were doing when coronavirus locked us down in March. Our team had no idea how to work remotely, let alone how to work together while remote. As a team, we’ve always been very collaborative and open to everyone’s ideas and feedback. When we lost the ability to meet in person and have face-to-face discussions, we lost the brainstorming power that used to occur naturally in our office. 

We had no idea what would happen to our culture when we took the people away from each other and put a computer between them. How would we connect and collaborate without in-person energy and positive office vibes?

Early into remote working it became very clear that we needed to be intentional about connecting with each other. We encouraged each of our employees to always have their cameras on in Zoom meetings, because it made such a difference to see each other’s faces. 

For me personally—and for a few others on my team—the pandemic has been a lesson in trusting our employees. We had to trust that our staff was putting in the work, trust they were handling the challenges associated with remote work, trust they were reaching out for help if they needed it, and trust they were doing their best to connect with their colleagues. “Doing their best” is the key phrase in that sentence. Each and every one of us is just out here trying to do our best.

For our organization, the trust and the intentional connection paid off. We’ve become even more nimble as a company, and we’ve all grown together during this difficult time. We’ve had happy hours, played games, celebrated countless birthdays and even had a baby shower over Zoom. And we’ve come together to collaborate on new and exciting ways to generate revenue as a company. 

As the leader of this company, I’m still figuring out how to have a pandemic-friendly internal culture. One of the most important things we are stressing is to be careful, be smart, and to stay healthy. Whatever you do outside of work could potentially lead to COVID being brought into the office. As a small company we can’t afford for people to be sick and no one wants to be responsible for getting someone else sick. It helps to be transparent with my team about these challenges, and to be clear about our company’s COVID policy. Or as clear as possible, because everything is evolving so quickly. 

What I am clear on is how proud of my team I am. Despite the chaos of a pandemic and what I would consider a new work environment and culture, my team has done and continues to do an excellent job at working remotely. It’s a great relief to know that we can trust each other, be there for each other, and come together as a team in trying times. 

At the end of the day, there are a lot of unknowns. But we do know that in order to maintain our internal culture and our relationships with our colleagues, each of us needs to be intentional. Going the extra mile to connect informally with a colleague goes a long way in maintaining work friendships. I advise staying away from shop talk—personal interactions may take a bit more effort, but a healthy, content and productive workplace is a worthwhile result. The building of long-lasting friendships is just the cherry on top.