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Culturing in Place: 3 Things I’ve Learned to Maintain a Positive, Virtual Workplace Culture

May 18,2020

By  Jake Borer

Back in late September 2019, I received my offer letter to join the account service team at Fingerpaint in their Conshohocken office, and I had a big decision to make. Pulling the trigger on a career move is always a stressful process, but this was the first time that the job found me instead of me finding it.

Thanks to a referral from a friend/slow-pitch softball teammate/now-fellow Fingerpainter, I became aware of the opening and decided it couldn’t hurt to apply. In hindsight, in my heart of hearts, I knew it was time to push myself and look for the next challenge, but there was something my previous agency had that made the decision more difficult than it should’ve been: an awesome workplace culture.

That same friend who passed along the referral assured me that Fingerpaint brought it in the culture department, and I did my own Glassdoor due diligence as well. I decided to take the leap. Within my first week on the job, I was already the newest member of the Conshohocken office’s social committee.

Flash forward 7 months, and here we are: 7 weeks (8 weeks? I’ve lost count!) into our new normal of working remotely and “sheltering in place” as we all attempt to deal with the COVID-19 global pandemic. Team morale and overall workplace culture is no longer the tangible thing that you can feel in a physical office, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored. We’ve learned a few things about what it takes to virtually maintain it over the past couple of months.

A little empathy goes a long way…

One of Fingerpaint’s core philosophies that caught my eye back in the fall is: “We’re built on a foundation of empathy.” Sounds nice, right? But the proof has to be in the pudding.

Well, I can confidently say I’ve seen plenty of pudding here at Fingerpaint over the past 7 months—and especially over the past 2 months.

You see, we’re all dealing with something we’ve never had to deal with before, both professionally and personally. People are stuck at home with their spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, roommates, kids, and pets, fighting for a desk or an area of the house that’s posing as their makeshift office. Parents are simultaneously playing the roles of full-time employees, teachers, chefs, and wrestling referees.

But time and time again, I’ve seen my fellow Fingerpainters bust out that pudding and prove that we truly are built on that foundation of empathy. Seeing each other in our home environments on Zoom and Slack calls has given us all a taste of the respective craziness we’re dealing with, and not once have I seen frustration or judgement.

Our old normal was a group of super talented and passionate people who were able to collectively push themselves to be the best they could be on a daily basis in a positive, uplifting workplace. Our new normal has shown we can have the patience, perspective, and empathetic approach to figure out how to continue to do that, while also having each other’s backs and understanding the challenging circumstances we’re dealing with every day.

A little break goes a long way…

We all know the advertising industry can be a stressful and fast-paced place sometimes. That quick 5-minute trip to the office kitchen to make your afternoon cup of coffee and catch up with someone on last night’s game can really reenergize you and give you that boost to keep pushing through your day.

Well, those little breaks throughout your day are more important than ever now. Sitting at home can easily lend itself to your mind wandering and getting distracted. Take the dog for a walk on a nice day; get up, stretch, and move around; or make that afternoon cup of coffee and Slack call some coworkers to have a virtual coffee break with them! Ensuring you’re giving yourself a little break here and there can really do wonders and help you refocus.

A little effort goes a long way…

It’s not as easy or as natural to get coworkers together virtually to enjoy some downtime, unwind with each other, and share stories about things like walking into their spouse’s video call or their kids screaming while they weren’t on mute.

But a little extra effort—and some teammates who have truly mastered the art of Zoom calls—means that our monthly beer club happy hours and weekly officewide virtual toasts on Friday evenings can go off without a hitch.

I’ve found myself in the role of Zoom Trivia Host a couple of times recently, too, thanks to some inspiration and assistance from a friend on the west coast who dabbles with hosting pub trivia at her favorite Bay Area watering holes in her free time.

Getting a bunch of us together and getting those competitive juices flowing via some good old-fashioned team trivia has led to a steady stream of that familiar, congenial office banter that I’ve come to know and love. And, perhaps more importantly, it has led to a few moments of what feels like normalcy: having fun while surrounded (even if “surrounded” here means Hollywood square–style boxes in our respective Zoom grids) by the coworkers I’m usually sharing a physical office space and plenty of laughs with on a daily basis.

Needless to say, I couldn’t be happier with that decision I made last fall to join this team. What once worried me about the change of scenery has proven itself to be one of the best things about Fingerpaint. And I truly believe that in some weird way, being remote for this still-undetermined-amount-of-time will actually end up bringing our team closer together and strengthening an already strong culture.

Now, if I can just figure out how to pull off the cheap joke that is a funny Zoom virtual background once we’re back in the office.

Jake Borer is part of the account services team in Fingerpaint’s Conshohocken, Pa. office. He may be reached at jborer@fingerpaint.com

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