Learning & Development, Recruiting

How to Keep Humor and Culture Alive During a Pandemic While Doubling in Size


We’ve all seen multiple versions of this and it makes you wonder whether it’s thrown in there just to check a box. Describing company culture as “rockstar ninjas” has become a cliché, like ripped acid-washed-jeans and golden locks on rockstars, cue any 80’s Whitesnake video.

From LinkedIn and Glassdoor to YouTube, and even Tik Tok, you’ll find countless ‘rockstar ninjas’ playing ping pong and lounging on bean bag chairs. (Guilty as charged, we’ve got the YouTube video, a dedicated Culture page on our website, and use the word ‘culture’ in the very first sentence on our careers page). 

However, when executed correctly, company culture is the single most important part of what makes a company succeed. It’s about taking the values the company was built on, and stands for and manifesting them as a guiding light and competitive edge. All of which becomes more of a challenge remotely and with rapid growth. 

Growing rapidly, even doubling in size during a pandemic, all while conducting everything over zoom, isn’t easy, but it is possible.

Here’s how: 

Transparency – Yes, another cliche, but undeniably the most important piece of the puzzle. When transparency is an established company foundation, employees feel connected to and part of what’s happening. It also enables employees to visualize where a company is headed — the challenges as well as the progress. This teaches everyone to be nimble and adjust their focus on the fly.  Encouraging employees to ask any question at any time, whether by text, in person chat or anonymously during Friday company-wide meetings is a good way to foster inclusion and demonstrate transparency.

Authenticity – The close cousin of transparency.  Admittedly, another jargon-y term — but put another way, when employees show up as their true selves, they are able to focus on the goal and not how they need to be perceived while doing it. It frees employees up from worrying about putting on a particular persona or veneer, which allows them to simply focus on their work. There are dozens of ways to do this, one suggestion that seems to facilitate  a ton of funny and useful information is asking employees to complete an ‘operating manual’ as part of the onboarding process.  It not only helps solve some unexpected issues that may arise (“didn’t Sarah code for a stint right after college — perhaps she’ll know how to navigate this one?”) but it also provides interesting fodder for casual conversation and even  practical jokes.

Enjoying the Journey – Being a great company (and maintaining a great company culture) is a marathon, not a sprint – so the journey is everything.  Employees know the journey isn’t about getting from ‘point A to point B,’ it’s about experiencing everything that happens along the way – the good, the bad, the ugly – knowing it’s okay that the unthinkable may happen (looking at you, 2020).  

Humor can play an important part in team building and fostering creativity — involving everyone in multiple time zones with different cultural sensitivities isn’t easy, but the rewards are priceless. Slack channels dedicated to dad jokes, input from entry-level employees to executives is almost required.  Pranking the boss (make sure he or she is hip to this sort of thing) is almost always a surefire way to have some fun — especially when everyone except the CEO is in on it and it takes some level of sophistication and cunning to pull it off.

Spending a little extra effort to come up with unusual and fun ways to get employees engaged, will also pay dividends in morale. One example we did recently at Zenput was to start a cooking challenge where employees all over the globe were sent a box of ingredients and have to cook up something using at least 5 of the 10 ingredients. This simple challenge boosted good will and kept our teammates feeling connected. Be creative with these ideas, the more original the better!

Staying hungry, forgive the pun, to learn and collaborate more and keep things interesting, fresh and entertaining will only help alleviate growing pains and perhaps add a pinch of comedy in case, say a one in a century global pandemic were to pop up.

Kim Kane is the Senior Director of People Operations at Zenput, an operations execution company. Zenput’s platform is currently used by customers like Chipotle, Domino’s, P.F. Chang’s, Five Guys, Smart & Final and 7-Eleven in 60,000+ locations across 100+ countries.

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