What can we do to help employees engage in an increasingly virtual world?
This is a question I’m sometimes asked, and often ask myself — particularly over the past few years as our work environment has gone from essentially 100% in the office, to 100% home office, to now a hybrid reality.
Our newfound flexibility is liberating, giving us the opportunity to better balance life and career — to have it all. At Cohen & Company we have embraced this new landscape with many positive results, such as the addition of top-tier employees across the U.S. in areas where we don’t have a physical office. The downside is that it can be all too easy to disengage from colleagues and the business as a whole, checking off the to-do list and calling it a day without much interaction or camaraderie to speak of. That can come with a cultural cost.
So back to the opening question, how can we help our employees engage in the workplace culture, while still giving them increased flexibility?
While I certainly don’t have all the answers, here’s what I do know: It’s about getting back to what’s foundational about your culture and promoting (and living) that mindset. For us, that means acknowledging there isn’t a “right answer” and not overthinking things, but instead living and breathing our principles that have always brought us success — unparalleled Teamwork, putting our Great People First, approaching work and life with Adaptability and Optimism, and honing our Competitive Spirit and Courage to do things differently.
We need our employees to feel part of the team and have an engaging experience, no matter their zip code. To that end, I strive to be “off-the-charts” transparent with everyone in our firm, not just executive management. I engage in the business in sometimes unexpected ways — such as showing up at college recruitment events or taking time to talk with employees before a meeting begins (virtual or otherwise) to check in on life. I work hard to establish both the physical and virtual “open door” policy by holding “office hours” each time I visit a different office. We also hold regular online town halls where it’s no holds barred on what employees can ask me and the senior leadership team. The harder the question the better. Understanding the “why” in the question often shines a light on an important issue that might not have been apparent before. Listen closely.
We’re always looking for new ways to show others kindness and grace, appreciating our people for all the little (and big) things they do to help our firm and our clients. We’ve implemented an online recognition program called “Cohen Celebrates.” The platform allows employees to send ecards to each other with anything from birthday wishes to kudos on a job well done. Importantly, we’ve empowered our management team with “points” each quarter they can award to employees. Those employees can, in turn, redeem them on the platform for gift cards that meet their own needs or as donations to help others through a variety of charities.
And we must remain adaptable to what resonates with our employees and our clients, as that will continue to evolve over time. Shaking up the way you do things means you will make mistakes. We’re okay with that. We piloted a summer half-day Friday program in 2022. There were pros and cons, and we learned a lot. This year we are trying something new as a summer incentive. We just know we can’t rely on historical tactics to take us into the future. Taking risks to improve the organization also helps us build credibility with our employees.
Leaning in to keep your team engaged and the company culture alive and well doesn’t have to mean hours of additional effort. Don’t overcomplicate it. Go back to basics. Establish the mindset of who your company is, and keep it at the forefront as you make decisions. Don’t be afraid to take risks to do what you feel is right for your business and your culture.
Contact Chris Bellamy at email@example.com to share your thoughts on this topic.
Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Information contained in this post is considered accurate as of the date of publishing. Any action taken based on information in this blog should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts, circumstances and current law.