Skip to content
Rich MackeyApr 28, 2020 12:00:00 AM

Is Being Together a Requirement of Culture?

The main image on this post is a snapshot I took today of our new Omaha office while I was checking mail, watering plants, and just generally looking in on things. We signed the lease in February and moved in on March 1—which was also the first day of work for our new Digital Strategist, Annie. Shortly thereafter, we hired two interns to work in that office starting in May. Little did we know that two weeks later we’d be leaving it—and our Sioux City office—empty for weeks. As I left today to come back to my home office, where I’ve been working since March 17th, it got me to wondering how much of our culture is rooted in being together in our company’s physical spaces?


If you work with us or are friends with one of our staff, you know we love food. From junk food to fine dining, we can really do it all. We love unique and interesting food and flavors, and it’s something we bond over. Most days, whomever is in the office will sit at the high top table in Sioux City, or in the break room in Omaha and just have lunch together. Sometimes we chat. Sometimes we’re pretty quiet. But we’re always together. And on occasion, we’ll go out to eat—like we did on Team Appreciation Day on March 6. We had no idea that dinner at Table 32 would be the last time we’d all be together for over a month. (And don’t ask why I’m doing a stupid pose with my hand on my chin. I have no idea.)


When we’re together, we play games as well. From giant JENGA in the park this summer to darts almost every day after lunch in Sioux City, games help us get to know each other better. Blow off steam. Clear our heads. And honestly, they’re both more fun when we’re physically together.


In the current climate of remote work due to social distancing/self-quarantine/self-isolation (whatever you’d like to label it) neither of these cores to our culture has translated to remote work. We don’t eat together on Zoom meetings (can you imagine?) and we haven’t found a good virtual reality dart game—yet. So what do we do to keep our culture alive and thriving?


We’ve always used video conferencing to connect me when I’m remote and everyone is in Sioux City. Or in those first two weeks of the Omaha office being open, to conduct status meetings and team leadership calls. But our 1:1 time has always been mostly in person, in the same office. Without any formal requirement, the team picked up the ball and started having one-on-one and small group video calls about projects. We’ll schedule a video call to talk about a headline for an upcoming ad. Or to discuss our own lead gen efforts, which are ramping up as we work to continue to grow. These have supplemented our “full group” weekly meetings, and honestly, are even more important.


When we’re not on video with each other, everyone is connected via a group chat tool. I’m noticing that we take more time for “How are you today.” and “Is everything ok with your family?” than we did before. Those were always covered in the morning when we’d get to the office, but now, we’re using chat to keep tabs with each other and maintain that personal connection.


“Beer Thirty” around 4pm on a Thursday afternoon has been a tradition at the agency for years. It comes and goes. Some participating, some not. But it’s always been a constant. The premise is simple, on a Thursday afternoon sometime around 3:30 or 4:00, someone will declare it’s “Beer Thirty.” It’s a no-questions-asked opportunity to step away from work, relax, and yes, have a beer, glass of wine, lemonade, iced tea, Coke—whatever you prefer—and unwind. “Beer Thirty” has transitioned to a video happy hour on Thursday afternoons (roughly every other week). We all sit on video and chat about our day. Talk about the weather. Our dogs. Whatever we want. Last week, we even had our two new interns join in (yep, we’re still hiring them even if we’re still remote on 5/18).


If you’re like us, you’re finding nothing normal about what is dubbed “the new normal.” And I don’t think anything will be normal for quite a while. So how is your team adjusting? I’d love to hear from you on Facebook or in the comments. Let us know if you’re finding some of the same things we are. Or what your unique ways of staying in touch and maintaining your company culture are. Ultimately, company culture is about the people at the company. Our physical spaces can be an expression of that culture, and getting together in person helps fuel and drive a cohesive culture, but is it necessary? I guess we’re all finding out.