The New Work Mindset: Virtual Culture Conundrum

BY Eimear O'RiordanDecember 14, 2020

The New Work Mindset: Culture

The way we view work and navigate our careers has changed so much in the last twenty years. Long gone are ‘jobs for life’ that our parents knew. Millennials and Gen-Zers are much less inclined to commit, with a PWC Report detailing that just 18% plan to stay in their current role for the long term. In short: most 20-somethings would tend to agree with Ms Ariana Grande with her sentiment, ‘Thank you, next’

We live in a world where great company culture has become one of the most important qualities needed to attract new talent. But with the pandemic ushering in a new age of working from home, one question looms large. How can you create culture without in-person connections?

How exactly do we define “culture” in the context of the start-up ecosystem? For some companies, it’s all about the social extracurriculars: lunchtime yoga, after-work drinks. For others, it’s more about the add-on perks: upskilling budgets and tech allowances. One thing that most can agree on, however, is that it always involves building a strong community. 

As we’ve seen in The New Work Mindset Report, there are lots of benefits to the working from home lifestyle (the commute has not been missed!). However, the one thing there isn’t a substitute for is interacting with our team on a day to day basis. It’s unsurprising to hear that 89% of the founders and startup talent surveyed missed their workmates. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, humans are hardwired to be social creatures; albeit to varying degrees. Never before in human history has there been such mass social isolation. So how are companies keeping their culture intact from a distance?

The Reality

Well, the cold hard truth is that it has been extremely difficult. I don’t think any number of Zoom meetings can replace the joy of an impromptu chat whilst grabbing a cheeky coffee, hashing out a creative idea or getting stuck in together to solve ad hoc problems. And it seems you agree, with 40% of you saying your relationship with your coworkers has got worse since lockdown began. 

Could it be that although distance may make the heart grow fonder, it also causes our carefully cultivated connections to slowly degrade? Compartmentalising all our conversions through Zoom meetings results in everything becoming about business and leaves very little room for ‘water cooler chats’. 

Turns out those casual conversations are more important than we ever thought. They allow us to connect on a real, human level. We’re honest about our lives, families, stresses and wins, and feel that intangible magic that sparks when we actually see each other in the flesh.  

Preserving Community

Over to our Huckletree West members Butternut Box for inspiration. The PetTech pioneers set the bar high for socially distanced company hangouts from the start. With over ninety team members all working remotely, they had to get creative to match their famously fab in-person socials. This month, they sent out a selection of wines to everyone and got all sophisticated (and a little tipsy, maybe?) with an online tasting session.

As for Team Huckletree: we leaped into problem-solving mode when it came to maintaining our carefully nurtured team culture. For a physical-first business, the sudden switch to isolated working at home was a massive shift for many of our team, who were used to high energy, close working relationships cemented by casual coffee catch-ups and planned (and impromptu) drinks. Lockdown became an opportunity to improve the way we stay connected as a team operating multiple sites, across several cities, in two countries. 

The first thing we did was implement weekly Slack Donuts, which randomly matched team members for a 20-minute chat, with the focus on getting to know each other outside of work. Marketing bonded with Ops, Tech bonded with Sales: it was an amazing way to stay connected despite distance.

Sadly, this year we were unable to take part in the raucous spectacle that is the Team Huckletree summer party – all we’ll say is, we’ll never forget summer 2019’s disco bus. We’re not the sort of bunch to let the party spirit die so easily (and like many, we needed a morale boost), so we took to our screens and instead hosted a virtual festival. The same mischievous energy was achieved and many laughs were had. However, cradling a diluted margarita in our pajamas wasn’t quite the same as flailing about to Tina Turner as we tore through the centre of London on a double-decker… 

As Christmas party season begins, many teams are experiencing the same conundrum. The end of year celebration is a space to toast the many achievements, kiss off the epic fails and let off much-needed steam. It’s the starting point for inter-departmental bonds that might never have started in the office, and the source of fond memories for the next 12 months alone.

Need inspiration for safe and festive celebrations? Team Huckletree is coming together virtually for live-streamed cooking classes with Pizza Pilgrims and a Ru Paul-rivalling lip-sync Zoom battle. In Manchester, Huckletree Ancoats members Regital hosted a socially distant Secret Santa, gifting each other ethical socks from their fellow members, Stand4Socks. As for sexual wellness pioneers HANX? Rumour has it their festive virtual pub quiz theme was ‘leather’. We shouldn’t be surprised…

The Future of Culture

While it’s great to have remote options as additions to the social calendar, a bigger issue needs to be considered. Culture isn’t just about killer after-work drinks or pizza parties. It’s about fostering solid bonds among your team, so when the proverbial shit hits the fan, your team is ready and raring to go. You’re far more likely to dive into the trenches with your crew when you genuinely like, respect and trust each other.

Right now, we’re seeing our members raring to return to the workplace, reunite their teams and keep those bonds strong. Take our Huckletree West FoodTech pioneers, The Collective UK. Since returning to the office post-lockdown, they’re operating on a rota system, giving up to 13 team members the opportunity to book to come into the office each day. It’s just one way that businesses can re-establish that essential human connection, catch up with their workplace buddies, and get down to some much-missed face to face collaboration.

We’re changing the way we operate, too. In response to feedback from founders who want to get their team back together on a flexible basis, we’ve introduced a brand new option: Studio Day Passes. They give teams access to a private space to get together safely for the day, get stuck into collaborative work and most importantly, reconnect.

New Culture Revolution

If you mine down to the heart of it, culture is really about a collective mindset, attitude, or way of experiencing the world. None of Team Huckletree could have predicted how vital our mission, Braver Together’ would turn out to be in a tumultuous 2020. It’s never felt more true than right now and it’s remained true at every twist, turn and hurdle we’ve all faced. It’s been a uniting force, a battle cry for those of us who still feel so much sense of togetherness in a world that wants to tear us apart. It’s informed every decision we’ve made for our members and our team. 

Nothing can truly replace connecting with your team in real life, on that we can all agree. However, lockdown has made us more mindful of our relationships as remote team members, how our culture is being put to the test and how it might evolve in a future where part-time working from home may become the norm. We shouldn’t be worrying about replacing what we previously had but focusing on how we can develop safer, smarter ways to still come together. After all, innovating is what startups do best… and a company culture reboot will be no different. 


We surveyed over 200 founders, entrepreneurs and startup talent on their experience of the working from home experiment. Screenburn, loneliness and productivity: it’s all there. Read The New Work Mindset Report here.

AUTHOR

Eimear O'Riordan

Community Assistant