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5 minute read

If you have ever had the desire to improve your team culture, now is a great time to start.

Normally, when we think about introducing a culture initiative, we think of an in-person group setting to kick things off and then a series of smaller events or meetings. We also work to establish pre-determined behaviors that the organization wants to reinforce and recognize – and even sometimes reward. So, I can understand why beginning a culture project would seem counter-intuitive during this time of the coronavirus war.

It is not.

People’s senses are heightened. People are not only generally aware of how others are behaving and leading during this time of stress – they are actually actively seeking and watching for how people are behaving and leading during this time of stress.

If you want a specific culture to be seen, reinforced, and ingrained …now is the time to purposefully, consistently, and loudly ensure that culture is front and center in all that you do. People will not only notice it; they have an opportunity to understand what great looks – to see it modeled.

Two highly sought-after culture themes that Riverbend’s clients seek to instill into their organizations are: Care First and Trust. If Care First and Trust are of interest for you to obtain or improve in your team, here are a few quick tips to start leading by example:


Care First


Ask About Jane or Spot

When on a video call, if you hear or see a child or a pet in the background, pause and ask to meet the bundle of joy or furry friend. Ask his or her name, ask what your teammate’s favorite thing is about their child or pet, etc. Instead of ignoring or even rolling your eyes at the distraction, reframe your mindset to their presence is additive to your culture and welcome them into the call. When you inquire about family, whether two- or four-legged, you remind your teammates that you know and care that they have a life outside of work. AND it is a great opportunity to model empathy and connection, because most likely you also have at least one of those adorable distractions running around your home office right now too!

Prioritize Health

Change introduces disequilibrium in people’s lives and disequilibrium introduces stress. Helping your team to prioritize their physical and mental health is not only the right thing to do, but it is imperative. It will enable them to be fresher and more energized for their work hours, with their commitment to the team, and in their productivity.

  • Encourage people to set an alarm every 50 – 60 minutes to get up and at least get in 100 steps.
  • Set-up a “walk and talk” meeting – take your phones with you and get outside for a stroll as you cross a few things off your list.
  • Start a competition of some sort with the team such as voting the best home workouts or household good that can serve as a weight to flex those muscles.
  • Have people share their favorite at home yoga, workout, step tracker apps.

Welcome Home

Many people try very hard and purposefully to separate their home life from their work life. The current work-from-home situation is not only a shift in routine, it could actually violate people’s “modus operandi!” First of all, acknowledge that. But more importantly, create a safe place for people to feel comfortable inviting you and the team into their home. You and your company are now in fact houseguests. Treat your calls as though you were being invited into your co-worker’s home.

  • If you see something that interests you on their desk or their wall engage. “I like the boat picture on your wall” If they don’t want to share, they will simple say thank you. With that said, you have no idea what new fun fact or hobby you will find out or even have in common.
  • Rotate asking people on team calls if anyone has a favorite room or object in their house that they would want to give the team a tour of and why it means something to them.
  • Ask how their family is holding up, how homeschooling is going (share how you are juggling as well – that double dips in Care First and Trust).
  • Lead with empathy if a team-member seems frazzled at the start of a call. We have no idea what might have just happened at home just minutes before the video call started. Give them grace.





Set Guardrails Wherever Possible; Set Rules Wherever Required

If you have some hard and fast rules that you need everyone to follow, because a certain deliverable or customer demands it, ok. Be crystal clear on those – no room for interpretation. Where possible, thoroughly explain why they are needed. Other than that, aim for setting guardrails. Still be crystal clear on those guardrails so they don’t go over the cliff in either direction but give them wiggle room in between to make their own decisions and allow for some margin as they reorganize life and routine while working from home. Freedom and autonomy within guardrails make people feel trusted.

Let Go

Once you set expectations for working remotely, allow your team the freedom to execute. Give your team the chance to demonstrate success. You can follow-up on individual or team calls by simply asking how thing are going, any best practices to share, any roadblocks people want help with. But, avoid requesting any time or activity reporting outside what you would normally ask for pre-coronavirus conditions.

Be Vulnerable

Please remember that you are also human. And once you remember that, feel free to remind your team. Share any hardships or struggles you may be facing – getting up from the desk and going for a walk, maintaining your patience with technology or a stir-crazy child, anxiousness about not being able to visit a parent. When your team sees you for who you really are and not just the person they report to or writes their review, they will be more apt to want to work harder and smarter for you and for each other. They may also be more committed to the overall team and feel safer being honest in sharing their own struggles. Honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability build trust.


As a reminder, you are all humans, who just happen to work at XYZ company. You are NOT XYZ’s employees, who just happen to be human. When that realization is put into action, Care First & Trust behaviors thrive. Then your culture is transformed.

Author Doreen Linneman

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