Lessons in Culture-Building During the Pandemic

The pandemic took its toll on businesses and employees across the country. But for a lucky few, it was an opportunity to build an even better place to work.
Written by Adrienne Teeley
September 15, 2021Updated: September 17, 2021

Building a great company culture in the best of times isn’t easy. The task requires dedication, transparency and trust — all of which take years to perfect. 

Throw in one of the most emotional, disruptive world events in modern memory and suddenly, culture-building becomes a lot more difficult. 

Throughout the pandemic, companies from enterprise behemoths to tiny startups were suddenly confronted with dramatic changes like remote work, a blurring of personal and professional lives and the sustained stress of living through a crisis. Companies that relied on the strength of their culture pre-2020 without taking steps to evolve it soon saw cracks in their virtual workplaces as collaboration and enthusiasm quickly eroded. After all, even the closest-knit team isn’t immune to Zoom fatigue and burnout. 

But not every organization faced such a bleak reality. Some tech companies took the opportunity to recommit to supporting their employees and providing more meaningful activities, perks and benefits. This extra care has the potential to pay off: A more engaged team often leads to better business results and higher retention levels. To find out what companies like these did right, Built In LA spoke to two local leaders who say their teams aren’t as close as they were pre-pandemic — they’re closer. 

 

Flowspace careers

Natalie Anderson
Head of People Operations

Flowspace provides fulfillment infrastructure to companies through solutions like on-demand warehousing and a cutting-edge platform that helps businesses manage inventory, shipping and logistics. 

 

How did the pandemic and remote work change your understanding of culture-building within Flowspace?

Flowspace has hired employees in more than 20 different states since the start of the pandemic, and officially shifted to a remote-first company. We more than doubled in size, and as a result, needed to think differently about culture-building and how we could keep employees engaged and excited in a digital environment.

Due to our quick growth and shift to a remote work environment, we’ve had to be very intentional about the culture we want to build. It’s not enough to simply hope or assume a culture will take shape. It takes intentional work.

 

How did you deliberately build upon your existing culture throughout 2020?

At Flowspace, our values are the foundation of our company culture. “Greater than the sum of our parts” is the value that guided us most through the past year. We appreciate teamwork, collaboration and the diverse perspectives of our colleagues, and we intentionally focused on finding ways to support these critical foundations to ensure people were able to work and connect while remote.

The entire company comes together for bi-weekly executive updates, and we utilize breakout rooms to foster small group conversation at every meeting. Employees love the Donut app on Slack to foster casual conversation and camaraderie, and more than 70 percent of the company joins an introductory meeting every two weeks.

As we made the decision to become a remote-first company, we wanted to find a way to support employees with resources so that working remotely doesn’t have to mean working from home. Flowspace now partners with Deskpass to provide employees with access to remote workspaces. The company also implemented Guru, a knowledge management program that makes it easy to find and access company and team information and resources.
 

It’s not enough to simply hope or assume a culture will take shape. It takes intentional work.”


What lessons about company culture will you carry beyond the end of the pandemic?

Open, transparent communication and opportunities to learn have been essential components of Flowspace culture throughout the last year and a half, and will continue long into the future.

We found that educating employees early on about the company culture and what we stand for leads to an integration of our values within our work output. To standardize this, we built an entirely virtual, in-depth onboarding process for new hires that heavily emphasizes company values. The aim is to integrate new employees with the culture first, before focusing on specific training related to roles, to ensure the entire team is aligned. 

We’ve also learned the importance of listening to employees and seeking solutions that impact the root cause of an issue, not superficial quick fixes. Our approach to remote work – which is constantly evolving – is an example of this. We heard employees saying they love working from home, but needed the additional resources that they were missing from an in-person office. Our Deskpass offering was a direct result of this employee feedback.

 

team in office together
stackcommerce
Karl House
Chief Operating Officer

StackCommerce is a native-commerce platform that aims to connect consumers with products they’d be interested in. By leveraging its long list of publishing and brand partnerships, StackCommerce reaches shoppers organically through the sites they already frequent.

 

How did the pandemic and remote work change your understanding of culture-building within StackCommerce?

Historically, Stack has touted its amazing location and “work hard, play hard” culture as its biggest selling points when speaking to potential hires. We’ve spent the past year trying to redefine what culture means at a company that’s now mostly remote. 

During the pandemic, we had several team members relocate outside of Los Angeles, and we encourage those kinds of life decisions. We’ve also made several hires in other states. As a company, we’re defining how to leverage the best aspects of our in-person culture while remaining inclusive of our non-local team members, whether that’s with team-wide virtual events, regional in-person events or a hybrid of the two.

 

How did you deliberately build upon your existing culture throughout the pandemic?

We leaned heavily on technology to ensure the team was staying engaged with one another beyond day-to-day tasks. Things like remote happy hours, mid-day games of Jeopardy, trivia nights, short ice-breaker meetings and working Zooms, where people could sign on and be together while going about their business, became the norm. 

We started a variety of just-for-fun Slack channels and installed the plugin Donut to pair employees at random so they could take breaks together. We also offered a budget to managers for recognizing employees with gifts from THNKs and Saucy. As things started to open up again, we were able to organize small team outings and schedule time at the office for team members who wanted to come in.
 

Working in an office isn’t for everyone — but neither is working remotely. We need to support employees in the environment where they thrive.”


What lessons about company culture will you carry beyond the end of the pandemic?

Working in an office isn’t for everyone — but neither is working remotely. We need to support employees in the environment where they thrive. That’s true for getting the job done every day, and it extends to how we approach our culture. 

Being respectful of one another’s level of comfort with in-person work will continue to be important to ensure we have a harmonious environment. Remote team members who live in the LA area aren’t always interested in participating in events in person, and that’s OK. At the same time, Zoom fatigue is real, and though we love seeing everyone at virtual events, we understand that sometimes employees need a break from the computer. 

We’re making an effort to organize more events that work well for distributed teams but don’t require logging on to a video call, like virtual fitness challenges. We’ll also continue to leverage Slack during working hours for sparking conversation. Even simple prompts, like “show us a photo from your weekend,” can go a long way to reminding everyone that we are all still people behind the screen.

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