Next week marks the one year anniversary of Rustici, like so many companies, shifting to working from home. And wow, what a year it was! As I’m planning a super secret anniversary party celebrating togetherness while staying apart, I can’t help but remember the things that went well and laugh a bit about the things that didn’t. Hopefully, some of what I learned while adjusting to being an office manager without an office can help you come up with ideas for keeping your staff connected while working remotely. 

How do I maintain the culture while virtual?

A couple virtual activities we did, including The Great Covid Bake Off.  Is that a king in robes or a chicken working out?

Office culture starts with the people and with heart. When we were in the office, supporting our staff and helping everyone feel connected was much easier. I loved talking with Rusticians who stopped by the front desk and discovering what strange requests had popped up on the magic whiteboard. 

When we moved to a remote setting, it was harder to bring everyone together in ways that are purposeful and feel natural. A Google Meet with the entire staff just isn’t the same as hosting Pancake Day in person where smaller groups naturally form and have meaningful and random (like really random) conversations. We still had a pancake flipping contest, but only one person participated with an astonishing 87 flips in a minute. I wanted to try old and new ideas to keep the team culture that we already had going.

My secret weapon? Google. Well, it’s not so secret, but seriously, I Googled so many things about virtual team building and collaboration. However, the most successful ideas usually came from collaborating with coworkers. I also looked back on what events we’ve done and tried creating online versions of those. If you’re looking for ways to engage staff, this is a great thing to try. Employees are already familiar with the event and may be more likely to attend if they’ve enjoyed participating in the past. Also, try thinking about the big picture by checking in with leadership to get a pulse on their thoughts, hopes, budgets and goals for a work from home culture. We did this at the beginning of the new year and reflected on what went well, what was less than ideal and refocused on what was most important. Having almost a full year behind us helped set realistic expectations for moving forward as we continue to work remotely. 

That’s brilliant! 

So, what actually worked and what might work for you, too?

  • Happy birthday and work anniversary announcements on Slack
  • Slack channels for ALL the things (like TV recommendations, what’s for dinner, gaming and trivia breaks)
  • Games, competitions and prompts: The Great Covid Bake Off, Candy Bracket, Super Bowl Prop Bet sheet, Halloween Costume Contest
  • Don’t underestimate the value of silly prizes, like winning pancake socks for Pancake Day
  • Activity-centered happy hours (“Family Feud” anyone?) and a standing weekly lunch “together” (we’ve continued the Chipotle Thursday tradition)
  • A good theme goes a long way
  • Thoughtful conversations and handmade cards make an impact
  • Our Annual Thanksmas holiday party complete with gifts, a game, prizes and cards for everyone (use game making services like or
  • Games like Among Us, Jackbox and Skribbl with Google Meet to see and chat with each other 
  • Smaller group virtual gatherings and breakout rooms allow more people to talk

Our Best on Plate, Best in Glass and Best in Show Thanksmas competition winners. 

Well, that flopped

Much like “fetch” from “Mean Girls,” a few things just didn’t stick:

  • Wellness Wednesday Slack channel due to timing and scheduling
  • Move Slack channel created to solve the Wellness Wednesday timing issue didn’t get traction 
  • Weekly happy hours were fun in the beginning but became too frequent
  • Getting more than a few people to participate in certain events can be challenging as we always invite people but no one is obligated to join 

What I learned

Throughout the last year, I’ve learned a lot while finding my footing in my adjusted role. I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself when something doesn’t go as planned (it rarely does). Most people appreciate that you’re trying and know it’s been a rough year. I’m much more willing to try something new, even if it might fail, despite this being so difficult for me. I now over communicate so that everyone feels invited and included. It really goes a long way, especially with new hires as there’s a lot to take in. I also ask for feedback more often to see what people are enjoying. If you’ve haven’t done this yet, now is the time. 

No matter what, the real magic in any work environment is how we treat and interact with one another on a daily basis, especially when we aren’t together. Even virtually, I always try to keep the heart of cultural events and the goal of fostering staff connections in mind. 

I think many of our customers and our customers’ customers are going through the same challenges as I am, and I hope that some of my wins and fails will help anyone wanting to keep employees together while staying safely apart. If anything, maybe one of my handmade card fails will make you laugh. And follow our blog to hear more about my adventures as an office manager without an office and the event that shall not be named.

This cat isn’t supposed to be angry. 

Liz is a great listener. With her background in therapy, she loves diving into people’s stories and motivations. No wonder she makes for a great office manager as she’s always in tune with everyone’s needs.