Building Culture Through Office Clubs and Activities
As we’ve touched upon previously, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted our professional lives; not just in where and how we choose to get work done, but also in how we evaluate our hiring practices. We’ve settled into a relatively comfortable new normal, with some employees always in the office, some always remote, and some a combination of the two. This once-temporary-but-now-permanent remote/in-office mix is a reminder that building culture and keeping employees engaged isn’t a one-size-fits all endeavor. With that in mind, here are some fun ways we strive to keep everyone connected.
Before the pandemic, we started a book club which has transformed very well into a hybrid-friendly activity. Book club is a great way for people to socialize and have a shared interest we can all talk about, with the company sponsoring the cost of the books. Book club meetings take place during work hours but it’s up to the participants to read the books in their own free time. The books we choose are by popular demand (and ultimately down to a vote) of what people want to read, or maybe something they’ve already read that they are excited for everyone else to experience.
To determine the book for a quarter we collect suggestions from all book club members and then take a popular vote. We generally allow any book suggestion, but we did impose a limit of 500 pages after some trial and error with much longer books. It took some time to iron out the details – how long do we read the book for, how often do we meet, what sort of books will we read – but we ultimately found a successful format. We read one book per quarter, have a slack room for asynchronous discussion, and we meet (in person and on zoom) once about halfway through the quarter/book and once at the very end to discuss all together.
Then we pick a new book and do it all over again.
Another thing that really brings our office together is making craft cocktails. ‘Cocktail Fridays,’ in which someone will prepare a cocktail for the group to try, have become a semi-regular occurrence. This has been a lot of fun and a wonderful way to hang out and end the week. It is a little bit harder for our remote employees to participate in this one directly, but we have a Slack channel where we post recipes and photos and discuss different cocktails. Remote employees have tried their hand at making the same cocktails at home that we are enjoying in the office. For those of us who are not drinkers, we have also experimented with making non-alcoholic ‘mocktail’ versions, so no one gets left out.
Interestingly, this took on a life of its own outside the office. A lot of us have taken to making and sharing our creations at home. Here is a collection of those, all made by Gavant employees and enjoyed responsibly.
Through seven seasons, Fantasy Football has come to play a significant role in building culture at Gavant. With about two thirds of employees participating, people having otherwise no interest in or knowledge of football still play for the chance to join in on the fun. There’s no requirement other than being an employee, so there’s virtually no downside to being in the league. As Gavant tries to accommodate both in person and remote employees, Fantasy Football fits the mold perfectly.
Before the season starts there’s a draft party with catered food. We hold that at the office, or head out to a restaurant and reserve a space to kick off the fun there. In either instance, remote employees are invited to join over video conference. Then, during the season, Weekly Awards – honoring the highest score, overachiever, or best pick up (among a number of other categories) – are given out over Slack. Finally, at the end of the season the winner is honored at a company meeting; they receive a trophy with their name on it which they get to proudly display until the next season. The last place team isn’t off the hook. They take home their own trophy – a musical pink child’s potty.
Prior to COVID, a favorite in-office activity was Gavant’s Annual Easter Egg hunt. Countless eggs were (and some still remain) hidden around the office, and employees would spend a chunk of the morning on the hunt. While most have candy inside, one grand prize egg rewards the finder with a gift card or special prizes.
When the pandemic started, Gavant’s employees were all at home, so the event was skipped. The following year, most were still at home; for those that were back in-office, it still didn’t feel right to have them going around all over the office touching everything as they searched. So, an altered contest was devised: candy in jars.
A classic Guess How Many game, mason jars were filled with various types of candy. The employees that guessed correctly (or closest) won the respective candy and a little prize. Now, people don’t need to be in the office to participate in the contests. This year, when everyone had a better handle on COVID precautions and we had more people back in the office, the egg hunt returned to join the guessing contests.
Contests and events are extremely popular at Gavant. Lucky for us, the Winter Olympics were held this year and provided an excellent opportunity to bring people into the office. With the post-holiday, pre-Spring stretch being kind of a slog, any opportunity to break the monotony and bring a little life to the winter blues is welcome.
Inspired by the actual Olympic games, the Gavant Winter Olympics held a series of in-office events. Each day of the week, employees competed in a different “sport”: Speed Skating, Ski Jumping, Curling, Biathlon, and Bobsledding. While these games didn’t exactly reflect their real-world counterparts, they did provide employees with an opportunity to let loose and have a bit of fun.
Participants and non-competitors alike were invited to create country names and flags for display, and each event was streamed live over Slack so remote and/or non-participating employees could tune in to catch the action. At the conclusion of each event, medals were awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, which the recipients still proudly display at their desks. The games were such a success that our newly crowned Olympians and spectators requested to have a Gavant Summer Olympics at our annual company BBQ.
Originally starting as a way to get a bit of a respite from the stress of the workweek, Friday Games is inarguably much more. The hour-long sessions are a major team building exercise, helping employees get to know each other better and become more than mere coworkers. Many ongoing jokes, nicknames, and other aspects of our culture started in these Friday gaming sessions. Whether going head-to-head on the Switch, playing secret role games like Werewolf, or just breaking out a deck of cards there are countless options to cater to everyone’s gaming preferences.
With our recent hiring expansion into the strictly-remote employee realm, Friday games have adapted to accommodate. With many employees now working from home, one week each month is dedicated to virtual games. Many of our favorite games are available online, and other games are only available online/for many players. Virtual games give an opportunity to keep in touch with remote employees that we might otherwise not have as much interaction, but doesn’t wholly eliminate the strong interpersonal aspect of in-office games. .
Building culture isn’t something that ends. It’s an evolution driven by and for people – and it’s something that sets organizations apart. As the employment landscape continues to change, and employees express interest in varied activities, our culture will undoubtedly adapt to take on newer activities.