The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot about the way we manage day-to-day office operations. Agencies are navigating new norms related to a return to physical office spaces, hybrid work, and increasingly fully remote teams. When a large portion of your team works remotely, how do you recreate the best parts of traditional office culture online?
Seeing the need for change
During COVID, the composition of Crema's team went from 5% fully distributed to 25%, and by May of 2021, when the office reopened for optional daily use, most of the team (~95%) were choosing to continue working remotely from home. Our culture had shifted and the needs of our employees had clearly changed. As we are a digital product agency, our solution was to look at what our users (employees) needed most and build a system around those needs.
“We knew we really needed to be thoughtful about what a remote work environment would require to remain positive, supportive, and productive,” said Laura Artman, Director of Operations and Human Resources. "During COVID while the office was closed our mindset shifted to remote-first and one big new challenge was how to cultivate camaraderie as a distributed team. We started crafting a job description for a culture role, someone who would have a primary focus on virtual events planning and hospitality."
For Crema, the timing for the hire coincided with our office reopening in order to maintain the needs of the physical office space, general purchasing, and so on. However, the expectation was clear:
The right person for this role needed to not only manage a physical office but also be excited to innovate and foster inclusion within a nearly fully remote team. The Office and Hospitality Coordinator (O&HC) role was primarily created to maintain Crema's culture of celebration, recognition, and care for both our internal team and our clients.
George Brooks, CEO immediately saw the O&HC value. “We were onboarding new employees. We have clients who are coming in and doing workshops with us. We’ve got these experiences where we are trying to engage our new folks, existing folks, new clients, and existing clients into Crema’s story. We were looking for ways to be hospitable, ways to engage. Even more so in this hybrid world, we’re trying to make sure that everyone is seen and known and feels like they’re a part of the culture at Crema.”
Giving your team what they want
There's also a business case to include a culture role on your team. Changing workplace norms have also resulted in employees expecting more from their employers. According to a March 2021 Gallup poll, Millennials and Gen Z now make up more than 46% of the workforce and, while their predecessors cared most about the ethics of their leaders, Millennials and Gen Z care most about working for organizations that prioritize their employees’ wellbeing.
Luckily for Crema, the perfect person for the position of Office and Hospitality Coordinator was already a neighborhood acquaintance from one of our favorite KC cafes, Mildred’s. Hallie Richardson first met Crema’s co-founders, George Brooks and Dan Linhart, all the way back in 2010 while working as a barista. Hallie’s hospitality experience, coupled with the time she spent as a grade school teacher, uniquely positioned her for the new role.
“Teaching involves building culture, just with 5-year-olds, so a lot of those skills transferred over to this role.” Hallie said. “On the surface, there’s a lot of event planning, but there’s this deeper part of the job that’s about fostering connection and boosting morale and helping teams work better together. That deeper part is what’s more interesting to me in the long term.”
Day-to-day functions of the job
Any given day could see Hallie involved in a wide range of projects from office management, new employee onboarding, and client gifting, organizing a virtual talent show, hosting a Zoom baby shower, and more.
Due to the emphasis on virtual events, Hallie is always trying out new platforms to facilitate fun and inclusive team experiences. Sometimes that means building a new hire’s welcome board in Miro or coordinating a game of Codenames in an 8-bit recreation of Crema’s HQ using gather.town.
The Crema team is distributed across the country from the Pacific Northwest to Florida and while they can’t make it to all of our outings in Kansas City, Missouri, our distributed friends have enjoyed numerous happy hour events. Most recently Hallie put together a paint-and-sip party hosted over zoom that featured both watercolor painting and craft cocktail kits delivered to each team member’s home.
The benefits of investing in this role
These events aren’t just about games and virtual happy hours. Breaking up our work time by engaging in fun activities creates opportunities for our team to get to know each other better. The personal conversations and shared experiences had during the events Hallie puts together are important moments that build Crema’s culture.
“There’s something beautiful about explicitly saying this matters to us,” Laura said. “We pay someone full-time to make sure we’re being intentional about company culture. The effects of building trust and authentic relationships ultimately help your team dynamics. If someone feels trust with the people they work with, they are more likely to constructively challenge a course of action or potential solution and feel comfortable pushing back, ultimately improving the quality of our work.”
Having someone like Hallie on staff is likely to help in other more operational ways as well. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employees who completed a structured onboarding process like those Hallie helps to facilitate are retained longer and their time to productivity is faster.
Avoiding the cost of staff turnover
This can be very important, because the cost to recruit, train, and overall replace an employee can be a large expense. The average cost to do so for most employees, according to a study by the Center for American Progress, is 30% of the position’s salary with the cost to recruit some specialist roles as much as 213% of the position’s salary.
It’s safe to say that billions of dollars have been spent to recruit and onboard employees during the last two years and minimizing this expense is important for any agency. It’s not only a sign of a healthy workplace, but a benefit to the bottom line that can help create a virtuous cycle, especially when profit sharing is part of a team’s compensation package like it is at Crema.
“Employee expectations have changed. There has been somewhat of a power shift from employer to employee as a result of remote work being unlocked,” Laura said. “The newer generation of workers seek purpose and personal connection in their workplace. They started out calling this phase the Great Resignation, but it’s been renamed to the Great Reshuffle, because people aren’t leaving the workforce, per se, they’re leaving bad employers. They’re leaving bad managers. They’re leaving work that sucks their soul. COVID allowed all of us to rethink what we’re doing with our lives.”
How to find the right person for the job
The key to success in this kind of role at any agency is not going to be an exact 1-to-1 experience like the one Crema has with Hallie. Our recommendation is to take a detailed look at YOUR organization, unafraid to create something customized in support of your team's unique needs. Just be sure to make the expectations clear around the intended impact: foster joy, inclusion, and well-being wherever and whenever it's possible. Provide them with the agency to be creative, then sit back and watch how genuine care for your employees takes your remote culture to the next level.
“Every agency should have a Hallie,” said George. We fully agree.