Water cooler conversation isn’t dead in a remote workforce

1/15/2021
Water cooler conversation isn’t dead in a remote workforce. It’s just different.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major disruptor in the traditional office environment. Everything from all-hands meetings to spur-of-the-moment conversations exist virtually now. Even annual holiday office parties — a great opportunity to mingle with coworkers you don’t normally interact with — were reduced to Zoom calls with your department. It leaves many organizations wondering if the remote workforce is hindering overall company culture when compared to the physical office environment.

How Crowe culture thrives on virtual water cooler conversations

When managing a remote workforce, all is not lost, according to Jane Hoff, human resource leader at Crowe. In fact, Crowe embraced the remote office lifestyle long before COVID-19, proving that we’re always looking forward in terms of technology and innovation. In this Q&A, Hoff discusses how encouraging virtual water cooler conversations can help sustain company culture and improve a business’s resiliency.
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Q: Some companies are completely new to a remote workforce setup, but Crowe pioneered remote work long before COVID-19. What adjustments to company culture should businesses consider implementing?

Jane Hoff: Companies need to redefine their idea of company culture. It is no longer defined by what an office looks like or by a centralized location. Instead, company culture is about trust, respect, caring for people, and providing excellent service to your clients or customers. It’s the daily interactions, collaboration, innovation, and team environments that drive strong company culture. 

At Crowe, we strive to do the best we can for each other and for our clients. That's our culture, and that's what drives us, regardless of where we work. Navigating through the pandemic has reinforced these values, and we are learning a lot about how we can apply lessons learned as we go forward

Q: What are the most important areas of focus when transitioning to a fully remote workforce?

Jane Hoff: During this pandemic, successful businesses have focused on the health and safety of their employees. This priority should guide every decision made in response to the crisis. When companies respond in this way, employees recognize that their companies have taken actions based on care and concern for their well-being. 

Of course, it isn’t easy for employees who are used to working in the office to be thrown into a fully remote work setting. Many households have dual professionals working from home. Parents are helping children with online learning and homework while managing their own daily work responsibilities. It’s a lot to handle, day in and day out.

The accounting industry as a whole can be intense in normal circumstances. Adding external and personal factors to the normal workload and managing to effectively balance all of it has affected everyone. Companies need to recognize the significant impact these changes are having on their employees and then look for ways to help personnel manage the complexities of work and home life. This support can include an intranet site with updates, resources, and guidance. It can also include hosting virtual sessions focused on emotional well-being, mindfulness, and wellness.


Q: How can companies maintain collaboration and connectivity during the pandemic –  and even beyond? 

Jane Hoff: A rapid shift to a fully remote environment comes with many challenges. However, technology and collaboration tools can support a successful move into a virtual environment.     

With a foundation of mobility and a strong technology platform in place, ongoing and frequent communications can continue fairly seamlessly. Whether it’s a quick chat or call through a Microsoft Teams™ meeting or Zoom, technology can help employees maintain strong team connections throughout the day. 

Yammer groups and internal sites can also help people come together and share best practices, their own experiences, and ideas on managing the various challenges and successes of working from home and handling remote learning with their children. Additionally, parenting and elder care networks within an organization encourage employees to share experiences, tips, and resources. 

At Crowe, we promote the use of technology for informal connections to boost culture and morale across the firm. Teams host virtual happy hours and other gatherings and celebrations, and some have even hosted Zoom baby showers. Our San Francisco location threw a costume-themed get-together, and our Dallas office held a virtual scavenger hunt. Our Pride business resource group also gathered virtually, including weekly get-togethers during June for Pride month. 

We also use technology for frequent communications and check-ins to create a safe environment for informal, candid discussions during which employees can share their own stories, frustrations, and fears.

Q: Do you think the water cooler conversation has changed for good? Or is it just that conversations are more meaningful now?

Jane Hoff: Both. People are more mindful about staying connected because our work environments have shifted. In general, most companies won’t work fully remotely forever, but this kind of flexibility likely will be more common now. Companies that develop good habits and use the resources they have to adjust to the present situation can better support more meaningful and frequent conversations among their employees. Our work environments look different, for sure. But in some ways, they are helping to create stronger working relationships.

Q: What suggestions do you have for companies who are reshaping their company culture to support a potentially longer-term remote workforce?

Jane Hoff: If there’s one suggestion I would make for companies struggling with the temporary (or even permanent) loss of their “water cooler” culture it would be this: Be open, be transparent, and communicate. When leadership is open and transparent and maintains frequent communication, it models a positive approach for everyone. Always lead with empathy, patience, and understanding. Recognize the challenges openly and embrace them as opportunities. Work together and take care of yourselves, each other, and your clients.

Crowe embraced virtual water cooler conversations before they were “cool”. 

For the foreseeable future, a remote workforce is part of the new normal. The key to managing a remote office is balance, and Crowe can help you achieve that. We pioneered the remote workforce long before the pandemic, so we know exactly how to navigate this territory. Discover more insights and guidance on managing your remote workforce.

Discover more insights and guidance on managing your remote workforce.

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Jane Hoff
Jane Hoff