Adapting to a Virtual Company Culture

Leah Murphy Apr 13, 2020

At SessionM, now a Mastercard company, we believe culture is defined by how successfully we collaborate with one another. Culture for us translates into a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Supporting each other during the lows and celebrating with one another during the wins. As a rapidly scaling company in such a competitive industry, SessionM employees work hard for our customers. Top of mind for the People & Culture team during a time of quarantine is keeping our teams supported, engaged, fulfilled, and committed to producing high quality work as we always have. 

Telecommuting and virtual work setups have been on the upswing in recent years, as available technology makes it possible for a remote worker to be fully ingrained into the company culture. It is no secret that in the past few months, the world has had to take a step back and evaluate the safety of a physical presence in the office. The unprecedented arrival of COVID-19 is having major business implications, but how has this affected another facet of business that is equally important to success: employee engagement and company culture?

We’ve been exploring new ways to show employees how much we value them, while also creating an environment for connection and belonging. We strive to make the work week enjoyable, providing employees with ample opportunities to wind down with colleagues, have some laughs, and recharge for the days ahead. In a time of much uncertainty, stressors, and the majority of interactions happening virtually, this has presented unique challenges from a People & Culture perspective, but has opened up new opportunities to bring everyone together. We are excited to share some of the initiatives we have put in place in the past few weeks, as we’ve shifted from an in-person to virtual reality. 

Slack Channels: 

Here at SessionM, we have always utilized Slack from a culture + business perspective. We quickly realized that although engagement via Slack has always been high, we needed to implement some unique channels that could bring everyone together, and continue to cultivate an optimistic and supportive work environment.

Our largest and currently our most utilized channel is “#Corona_Can’t_Stop_Culture”, which has been quite the hit. Each day, there is a new discussion topic shared, where employees can take a step back from work and share a glimpse into their day-to-day life during this “new normal”. From posting pictures of their new WFH stations, sharing snapshots of pets, or showcasing “what’s on tap” on Friday afternoons (an employee favorite), this has driven engagement to a new level.

Of course, we have our niche groups as well! Parents across the globe have not only been adjusting to working virtually, but also the added bonus of managing childcare and education on top of it all. Our family Slack channel provides an outlet to toss around ideas for fun activities for the kids, how to remain productive, and to relate on other subjects that not every employee would ordinarily be privy to.  For our green-thumbed teammates, “#Plant_Friends” gives them the platform to share photos of their beloved greenery and discuss best practices in raising and maintaining impressive collections. For our pop-culture lovers, we have a channel dedicated to discussing any shows employees might be binging off of work hours with some very lighthearted banter to go along with it!

Virtual Lunches

Wednesday at SessionM is a favorite for many, due to our free catered lunches! With so many busy schedules, sitting down face-to-face with some friends and coworkers for lunch is not a daily occurrence. However, on Wednesdays you’ll find each table in the kitchen filled with M’ers, chowing down on whichever cuisine has been chosen for that week with lively conversation buzzing across the office. We recognize what a great bonding experience that is for everyone, and it is important to keep that up even while remote. “Virtual Lunchtables” have been set up via Google Hangouts, where you can log on and take a break to chit chat and eat lunch with your colleagues. Bonus points if you share the recipe of the food you’re eating!

Virtual Happy Hours

In a world where meeting for a drink after work with colleagues isn’t possible (for now), we are focusing on the next best thing! “Virtual Happy Hours” have been sweeping social media, as modern companies strive to keep their employees happy (and sane) during a time of isolation. When the work day is wrapping up, we encourage employees to hop on a video call with colleagues and enjoy a beverage (of any kind)! Unwind, chat about your day, and keep each other positive. Whether this is scheduled with individual teams, or on a broader scale, it’s a great way to catch up and stay connected with fellow M’ers.

Professional Development

A huge plus and draw for telecommuting is the nonexistence of a commute, which in turn frees up a significant amount of time for many people! This may lead to some feeling a bit lost, not knowing what to do with the added hours to their days. We strongly encourage our employees to attend relevant webinars, which come up in abundance with a quick Google search, or from perusing LinkedIn. There are so many interesting topics to discuss and learn about that are relevant to the technology space, remote working and market trends; you can truly find a webinar for almost any topic.  

Have you been interested in improving your skill set? Whether you want to take coding classes, business classes, or work on a personal hobby, now is the time to utilize the additional bandwidth you have during the day and learn something new! 

Keeping Active!

For so many, everyday routines have been disrupted to the point of being unrecognizable (or nonexistent). Time management skills have never been more crucial, but between work, kids, and personal lives, it can be difficult to make time for the things that are just for you. Whether this is exercise or hobbies in general, it is important to maintain a semblance of normalcy amidst the chaos. We encourage our employees to share how they are staying busy outside of the incredible work they are doing.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed and not sure how to get a sweat in while you’re stuck indoors? Our Prague team has implemented a “Workout Challenge”, where each day they post a new physical activity (squats, sit ups, push ups etc), and challenge their colleagues to match their efforts. It creates a fun, competitive environment where they can get a bit outside of their comfort zone! 

Where do we go from here?

This is truly an unprecedented time in the business world. While telecommuting and working virtually has become much more mainstream in the past few years, never has the world seen entire global organizations transitioning so quickly to a completely new reality. If anything, there is really a sense of “we’re all in this together”. Industry thought leaders are actively sharing tips and tricks to maintain healthy working environments, and we are grateful for the community resources that have been provided to us during this time.

As a member of the People & Culture team, I am passionate about fostering a strong company culture, and now more than ever, I feel that same mindset across the entire organization. From engineers, to project managers, to executives and the like, there are so many great ideas being bounced around to increase employee happiness and engagement. The time to band together and collaborate is now, and we are excited to come out of this on the other side, as an even stronger and closer-knit team than before.