Four Ways Your Startup Can Build Culture While Working Remotely

Employee Appreciation

The ability to adapt is a critical ingredient to successful businesses. We saw that adaptability in action when companies across North America quickly moved their teams to work from home in the early days of the pandemic. During that time, businesses put together plans to bring back their employees into the workplace safely.

As we enter the second year of the pandemic, many of those plans are being adapted to a new reality. There are a lot of employees who don’t want to go back to the office. Some don’t feel workplaces are safe yet, while others have found they’re more productive and have a better work-life balance when working from home.

There’s no returning to normal for the workplace. Businesses have realized that there will be a mix of employees in the office, working from home, or doing a combination of these. It’s a hybrid work world, and we’re all working in it.

Your toolbox for engaging your employees and driving culture is filled with tools that are the wrong size for the job at hand. Leaders need to ask themselves how they can engage with both remote, hybrid, and in-office employees so that everyone feels equally valued, recognized, and appreciated.

It takes time and effort to connect with your employees when you have a mix of people working from home and in the office. Here are a few ways you can help connect with your employees no matter where their laptops are.

Simple questions, significant results
Asking how someone is doing may seem simple, but it’s something all of us forget to do when we don’t see each other every day. In the past, you could walk by their desks and visit your entire team. It’s important now to set time aside to ask your employees how they’re doing. These are also great opportunities to make sure they have the equipment and resources needed to get their work done. You might find someone who has been meaning to ask about a new software package and just hasn’t found the right time to ask.

Beyond the Zoom watercooler
Many startups created virtual water coolers using an open Zoom or other video conference tool. The intention was excellent – a room where people can drop in and have a conversation. These worked great for a while, but teams started to get focused (or lost) on their work and stopped showing up. In our team, we’ve turned these into active conversations. One way is by sending everyone colour your own cookie sets. Activities are a great way to beat Zoom fatigue.

Get personal with 1:1s.
Separating work and home conversations is essential. Your regular 1:1s are great for project updates and concerns about work, but they’re not the right time or place to identify personal or home issues. Try setting up a 1:1 that’s five to ten minutes once a week where the only thing you ask is – how are you doing? You’re not going to talk about work. You’re just going to make sure that your employee is doing okay and that you are giving them what you need to be healthy, productive, and successful.

Recognize and appreciate your employees (in their work and their home lives)
When your employees feel appreciated, they do more than perform better. They look for opportunities to help others feel the same way. Today’s employees also want you to appreciate them as people – and for their lives outside of the office. They want to know they work for a genuinely caring business – and that’s where a service like Chocolate Soup helps.

Chocolate Soup was born out of a sheer passion for building great company culture to support happy, caring, and respectful teams. We help companies of all sizes discover the power of radical generosity, surprise, and delight by recognizing important employee milestones with expertly curated personal gifts.

Even with the struggles of the pandemic, many of our clients have reached significant milestones. Milestones they want their teams to celebrate – but getting gifts out to 10, 100, 1,000 employees can be difficult. It’s not just packing and shipping. It’s the curation of the gifts. It’s creating personalized touches that mean more than just a branded coffee mug.

Celebrating milestones to show recognition is something that runs deep in our DNA. My wife Pj and I have founded multiple companies – our last one was a software analytics startup called bitHound. Throughout our startup journeys, Pj has always built recognition into our culture. We always strived to recognize our team for more than just work milestones. We recognized those events that we know are important to them – their birthdays, their significant others’ birthdays, children’s birthdays, anniversaries, and more.

Chocolate Soup Box

We saw a tremendous impact in our culture that helped build a sense of family within our organization. The benefits extend beyond our four walls by attracting new talent. Our employees would post about the recognition, and friends and family on their networks would see that. It was the best job advertising we could do – and it wasn’t even planned.

In 2018, we made the hard decision to wind bitHound down. As founders, it was vital for us to make sure we could create soft landings for our employees by helping them find new roles. We brought the team together to give them the news and offer to connect them with companies that were hiring. Their reaction shocked us to our cores. Instead of jumping ship right away, all of our team insisted on staying on to help automate their current jobs as much as possible to allow us founders to give it one last go. We spent the next three months working closely as a team, at which point we kept true to our word and helped them all find new roles. Unfortunately, we did end up wind up bitHound a few months later.

Later on, we asked our former teammates why they made that choice – and the answers were all the same. Our employees felt connected with the business, with us, and with each other. It was a family, and they were in it until the end.

As Pj and I looked for our next challenge, we kept coming back to the same thing. It wasn’t some employee engagement software tool that made that happen. It was simple, personalized recognition.

We knew this was something other businesses could use – a way for them to recognize their employees the way that we have without all the heavy lifting.

Chocolate Soup helps you make your employees feel valued and connected. We offer a subscription service that sends beautifully curated, locally sourced gift boxes to your employees and their family members to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and more. To recognize work milestones, we offer our Build Your Career add-on that includes a customized LEGO™ person for every team member along with milestone bricks for work anniversaries, product launches, sales celebrations – whatever milestones matter to your team. We offer seasonal gift boxes as ways to show appreciation during the year, even when there’s nothing to celebrate.

These gifts do more than help you celebrate. They help start conversations between your employees. Our clients have shared how an employee will post a child’s birthday gift box – which sparks a conversation between employees about their children. Great leaders know that their employees care more about their kids than they do about their jobs. As soon as someone takes an interest in your life outside of work, that is step one towards friendship, or at least towards a more meaningful relationship.

That’s what we do. We help your employees develop interpersonal relationships, which increases their sense of belonging. That belonging can help drive increased productivity and creates a culture people want to be a part of. It’s purpose. It’s value. It’s Chocolate Soup.

 About the Author 

Dan Silivestru is the co-founder and CEO of Chocolate Soup. A life-long entrepreneur, Dan and his partner Pj Lowe have founded three previous startups, selling TinyHippos to RIM (BlackBerry) in 2011. Their experience closing down their last startup, bitHound, gave them the idea for Chocolate Soup and its mission to help companies with employee recognition, engagement, and retention through beautifully curated, locally sourced gift boxes. In addition to running Chocolate Soup, Dan also serves on the board of several startups and mentors early-stage founders with their startups.