With many organizations opting for hybrid or fully distributed workforces, fostering a healthy, inclusive workplace culture means optimizing your communication strategy, especially your virtual company-wide meetings.
“We have to be able to nurture that culture. That’s an everyday commitment. It’s not just words on a website. You have to live that,” says Donald Knight, Chief People Officer at Greenhouse Software. Donald recently stopped by The Great Retention podcast to share his experience on what makes a thriving distributed workplace.
For many, a distributed workforce converts from in-person to remote work by mandating video on for meetings or enforcing more check-ins. But that doesn’t nurture or build the culture for your remote employees.
With 700+ talented employees in 4 major offices to including NYC, Denver, San Francisco, and Dublin — almost 20 nationalities represented and 13+ languages being spoken— Greenhouse Software’s diverse and distributed team has a supportive culture because they work to “help their people do the best work of their lives.”
This means unlocking the potential of your talent within their respective organizations and providing the key ways to help your people feel connected, like in your all-hands meeting.
These virtual spaces are not only a great way to share company news or announcements. Your virtual meetings are an important way to lead your organization with your culture, how you communicate and invest in your people.
So if you’re looking for ways to get creative and make your distributed organization feel connected and supportive through your virtual meetings, read below!
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1. Try Smaller Ice Breaker Groups
Whether in-person or virtual, company-wide meetings can often feel impersonal. To encourage natural connection and interaction, create breakout rooms or smaller groups for your attendees before you start.
For large online meetings, apps like Zoom help you randomly create group calls before a meeting. You can set an allocated amount of time for small groups to chat before heading into your all hands meeting agenda.
Support conversation by supplying icebreaker questions for groups, such as:
- What’s a common misconception people make about your role or our industry?
- What’s one item off your bucket list you want to accomplish in the next two years?
- If you could have a super power, what would you have and why?
Tip: Change up your icebreaker questions each meeting and ask teams to share their responses in the public Zoom chat when you all come back together. Segue into announcements by having an executive team member share the responses and their own with the company.
2. Dedicate Time to an ERG-Led Moment
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a powerful asset for any organization to support inclusivity and allyship through their work and purpose. This is especially important for remote teams who rely heavily on virtual events, Slack channels, or online meetings to stay truly connected. Your goal is to create an authentic experience that helps everyone feel a strong sense of belonging, no matter where they’re working.
“I personally believe that talent has to find themselves in places where they belong,” Donald adds. “Sense of belonging is foundational to the culture.” This is anywhere from their product in helping confront biases in hiring to how they actively create belonging for their distributed team from the U.S. to Dublin.
"For the culture to make it across the proverbial Pond, across the Atlantic? I think it speaks to the sense of belonging at Greenhouse and what we’ve been able to curate there.”
For many remote teams, distributed digital workplaces create opportunities for more diverse hires. In fact, in 2022 to Meta, Facebook’s parent company, found that candidates from underrepresented communities often opted for remote work.
Creating a dedicated, recurring ERG-led space in your meeting or even a moment to address diversity, equity, and inclusive (DEI) work from your organization can help individuals on your team fully embrace DEI as a top priority.
Incorporating the important work and dedicating time to your ERGs can help highlight their goals, share knowledge, highlight other lived experiences, and increase employee engagement for ERGs.
Tip: Work with your ERGs to set goals and how you want to communicate progress to your team at-large. This can be handing the mic to new ERG members each month or even conducting an interview-style series with a moderator and guest to highlight the importance of this work.
3. Give Shoutouts Tied to Core Values
Employee recognitions help your people feel seen and valued at work and are also a great way to highlight actions tied to your organization’s core values.
Take inspiration from organizations like Shipt, who utilize apps like Cooleaf for the whole team, encouraging peer and manager recognition tied to core values.
“[Cooleaf] gives us a way to elevate recognition. Sure, people used to send a Slack to say ‘thanks’ but when you get the public recognition it adds so much more,” says Walt Till, Shipt’s Director of Employee Experience.
At their monthly team meeting, they take time to highlight recognitions issued on the app, one for each core value, to give examples of how their Shipt team embodies each tenant.
Tip: Team member shoutouts for showcasing core values not only helps others feel inspired to embrace your values, but it instills a deeper sense of appreciation and purpose. With apps like Cooleaf you can also add incentives like points which can be used to redeem gift cards or high end merchandise.
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4. Be Inclusive of Time Zones
For many distributed teams, consciously rotating your monthly all-hands according to the relevant timezones is a small change that shows supportive company culture towards each organizational “hub” so-to-speak.
Many organizations tend to use their headquarter location as the main host city for all virtual meetings, making it easier for individuals located on that coast or in that area to plan around mandated events.
However this creates issues for teams in different hemispheres, who often have the burden to wake up early or stay up late to not only attend but to bring a team-oriented attitude.
What’s more, being inclusive and understanding of time not only helps current team members but can attract more global talent because of your flexibility.
Tip: Follow-up with individuals on your team to see what meeting times would be best for them OR rotate through key certain time zones from month to month.
5. Host Town Halls with Specific Topics
For many organizations, team meeting agenda might just include organizational updates or company news. Keep things engaging by hosting a town hall meeting with a specific topic in mind.
Keying on a specific topic will give you more space to get creative. You can create interactive online challenges or team building activities, or utilize a standard Q&A session.
Town halls support transparency between executives and employees and can help your people management team take a pulse on what’s most important for your people.
Depending on your theme, invite guests or host webinars to provide additional resources for your people to feel inspired and learn something new.
Tip: Try to collect questions before your AMA or guest talk so you can start off with 2-3 questions as you wait for real-time ones coming in during the meeting.
6. Have at Least One Interactive Moment
One of the keys to a successful meeting is finding the right balance between listening, speaking, and engaging with your attendees. As your HR or people management team organizes the all-hands agenda, keep an eye on the agenda in terms of balance.
Are there too many segments of straight announcements? Are there enough opportunities for others to chime in? More importantly, how can we break the rhythm and keep things fresh?
Incorporating interactive moments like live polls, Q&A sessions, live word clouds, or even open-answer trivia are light ways to keep up the pace and hold attention. Some organizations utilize live-illustrations alongside brainstorm sessions or discussions to track notes in a creative way.
Tip: Don’t just call on an individual team member to respond to a pop-quiz-styled question. That might not be the most positive way to get others involved. Instead go outside the box while also being conscious of what people might feel most comfortable with. From live polls and chat feeds, you have plenty of apps to get creative.
7. Celebrate New Hires and Employee Milestones
Company-wide meetings are a great opportunity to introduce new team members and welcome them into the fold. Take a moment to have the hiring manager or even team member introduce themselves and share a little about their work and personal lives. It’s also a great way to incorporate this into their virtual onboarding for remote teams.
To continue celebrating current team members, use this time to spotlight milestones like work anniversaries, promotions, or life events. Celebrating each person not only extends a warm appreciation from our organization, but it supports the individual’s efforts and loyalty with the company.
Tip: Along with a shoutout at the meeting, celebrate that new hire or existing team member by sharing a fun fact about them to make the announcement more personal too. You can also utilize apps like Cooleaf to send out virtual gift cards or send out company swag to the celebrants.
Let's get motivated! Get started with best practices and templates from Cooleaf's free Employee Engagement Action Plan!
8. Go Beyond Company News and Share Personal Stories from Your People
Whether you’re a hybrid or remote team, a company all-hands meeting shouldn’t just be reeling off company news. In order to keep people engaged and to really bring your people together, think of your company-wide meeting as an opportunity for everyone to really connect and learn about one another too.
This can be anything from employee recognition for their work on impactful projects or sharing personal news from team members. You can also include volunteers or more extroverted people from any department, at any level to take the lead on parts of the meeting.
Tip: For large organizations, you can always ask managers or department heads to help collect news like milestone anniversaries, birthdays, births, or even life events in a slide show during the meeting. This works well for large organizations and helps everyone, whether they’re extroverted or introverted, share and take part.
9. Keep a Few Things Standard
Whatever format your meeting takes on, keeping a few standards will help with expectations and help showcase what’s important for your organization.
For instance, having video on for all-hands meetings can make a huge difference in how people engage. As an alternative you can ask everyone to have their video on at the start of the meeting just to say hello.
Also having a recurring cadence, whether once a month or every other week, can help you stay connected as a whole but also set expectations and energy for your team.
You can also set standard procedures like emailing an agenda out the day before, sending a follow-up survey afterwards, or sending out an email with key takeaways as a reminder.
Think through some standard basics for your meeting to make it easier for everyone to plan around and for you to set your calendar, especially if you’re thinking about utilizing themes for key meetings.
Tip: If you’re working through several time zones, set a day like the second Thursday every month will be your all-hands. Times might vary depending on which city is “hosting,” but it will help your other departments plan around it for their own events or meetings.
10.Make a Tradition for the End of the Meeting
Meetings for the entire company can vary, depending if you’re inviting a guest speaker, hosting an AMA, or doing team building activities. Whatever the format, making a tradition in how you end your meeting gives you creative space to build culture and showcase what’s important as a team.
This can be anything from having the CEO or founder leave with closing remarks or circling back to key takeaways, sharing quick bulletins or action items, or even just reminding everyone who they can reach out for additional questions. You can also incorporate employee recognitions or shoutouts to have a nice celebratory ending.
Tip: Whatever you decide to make your tradition, remember that it’s the last note of your time together. Think of the tone you want to set each time.
Hands Up for the All-Hands
Virtual company-wide meetings are an opportunity to nurture your organization’s culture creatively. This is your opportunity to engage, support, and educate your team in new ways, so don’t be afraid to try something new.
There’s always room for improvement.
“[We] constantly look for ways to develop our people,” says Donald (Greenhouse Software). “Enhance experiences. Nurture our culture. Develop our people. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”