How to create and sustain the connections that drive business outcomes in a remote environment
How a fast-growing biotech took steps to reduce burnout, build trust and dissolve organizational silos in the face of a sustained remote work environment.
Complexities of growing a great company, remotely
In August of 2021, yet another surge in COVID-19 cases interrupted a biopharmaceutical company’s plans for a full return to the office that fall. The company had just experienced a growth spurt, hiring over 40% of its employees so far that year. Employees were working remotely from 8 different states, 3 different time zones and needed to collaborate internally across 9 different departments. The remote work environment created barriers to relationship building that limited cross-functional collaboration and stifled the integration of new hires, making it difficult to foster the culture of trust required to advance the company’s complex project portfolio. The company’s leadership was looking for ways to overcome these challenges.
The company rolled out an employee engagement program called “Lunch On Us”. On the first Wednesday of the month, for 3 months, employees were invited to attend a 60-minute Zoom session designed and facilitated by capital H.. Each session was designed to:
Build trust by enabling authentic human connection over business relevant topics;
Break down organizational silos by creating opportunities for conversations between people on different teams, and;
Deepen a sense of belonging and team unity across the organization.
During each lunch, employees engaged in conversation over three, 15-minute rounds in small groups. The groups were strategically pre-determined by the company to ensure the right connections were made across teams. Each 15-minute round was centered on a single, thought provoking question to spark authentic human connection over business-relevant topics. For example, one theme focused on teamwork. Attendees were given the opportunity to explore this question in their small group: “Think about a time you were on a fulfilling or successful non-work team. What are the top 3 things about the team/group that helped make it so successful, and why?”
Other session themes included the experience of working remotely and how to improve it, exploring the aspects of high-performing teams and the communication that supports them.
To demonstrate employee appreciation, the company provided GrubHub gift cards for each person to purchase lunch of their choice, for delivery on the day of the session.
Each person had a chance to both speak and listen deeply to others during each session, which is rare when using an online platform that limits speaking to one person at a time.
As a result of “Lunch On Us”, new relationships were formed and existing relationships were deepened. Employees were able to confidently reach across department lines for information and support, reducing bottlenecks and burnout, all while strengthening the social fabric and people-first culture of the organization. Employees of the experience summarized it best:
As a new employee, I thought this was a wonderful way to reach out and stay connected to people when we are remote. Starting during the pandemic and being remote can sometimes be hard and I appreciate *the company* for putting the time and effort into keeping us together.
It was a fun atmosphere and people were smiling. We work hard and don't get to see that often.