Strengthening your company culture and onboarding practices while working remotely
John Myers, President and CEO of Rentokil North America, had a bit of a head start when the pandemic forced many of his workers home.
About six years ago, his company moved its email, calendar and contact platforms to Google because of the “ability to share documents and collaborate at the same time, as well as the ability to have video conference calls embedded into our system,” he said. “We look like geniuses now.”
That strategy was not about disaster planning, but about the challenges of recruiting. “As a national company with headquarters in Reading, Pennsylvania, we had to decide: ‘Do we want to have all of our corporate staff based in Reading, or do we want to have the best people that we can recruit from anywhere?’”
Myers’ executive leadership is largely all remote. While there are challenges—he said, “it’s not as easy for me to manage someone when I can’t walk down the hall and talk to them”—it has paid off.
When the company went fully remote in 2020, his top leaders already were well versed in managing their direct reports and connecting with Myers digitally. The company also had a few rules in place. “When we meet online, cameras have to be on,” he said. “We found that it helps prevent people from multitasking.”
That’s just one of the ways that his company and others have kept working during the pandemic, even deepening company culture and onboarding practices along the way.
Andrew Klein, president of Assured Environments, believes that interacting in a virtual environment has plenty of benefits, especially in “more frequent lines of communications. Being more virtual has allowed me, as a leader, to really interact with teammates across my division in ways that I normally wouldn’t get to. I think that if we were still working out of the branch, it would have taken longer to feel this connected.”
That’s not to say that virtual meetings don’t have drawbacks. Myers, a longtime sales professional, says it can be hard “reading the room and judging reactions,” through a screen. “It also makes it harder to be human versus just following an agenda.”
Erin Richardson, president of All-American Pest Control, has found a way to provide an in-person connection, too, fostering better company culture. Using what she calls a “Connect Calendar,” team members can participate in outdoor or virtual events. So far this year, they have gone kayaking, taken family trips to the local zoo, volunteered at food banks and participated in virtual book clubs, 5Ks and contests.
“Culture was strong at the beginning of COVID-19 because we had work to do, we had a clear plan and we were following the plan,” said Richardson, whose company had the added challenge of having a tornado cross within 150 yards of the main office, leaving “total devastation for many neighboring homes and businesses” and All-American without power.
As a leader, helping employees navigate the double whammy of the pandemic and the natural disaster meant leadership needed to be strong. The team “met daily. We continued to give raises and we over-communicated.”
With the pandemic, though, Richardson has focused on “telling the story about how amazing and resilient the pest control industry has been during past recessions and now. We talk and share about how lucky we are to be a part of such a great industry.”
Audrey Hall, president of Eco Serve Pest Services, recorded daily videos and posted them to the company’s group chat, providing reminders of sanitary practices and shoutouts to team members. As with the others, she found that “we talked through our group chat more regularly than prior to the pandemic.”
The company also has delivered snacks and drinks to service personnel in the field and did outdoor team activities. “While socially distanced, it still allowed us to be together and build that family fun culture we strive for. Our community initiatives have also brought our team together. We talk about the impact they have and the overall goal of Eco Serve not just providing pest control service, but really leveraging the money we earn from our customers to make a small impact throughout the community.”
READY TO GROW
Hall has seen her company grow in the midst of the pandemic, which “has required us to move rather quickly on hiring.” Building in culture for a remote staff that is new is no easy task. During the hiring process, the company showcases its five company goals and shares the community component.
“Our people get involved in things we do here in western New York. Even during the pandemic, we were able to raise $5,400 for a local breast cancer organization and go shopping as a team to a local toy store for four children of military families. We also raised over $1,000 for the Autism Nature Trail by putting a portion of new sales towards this effort. The entire team got involved on the group chat daily.”
As companies grew, leadership and management also needed to grow. Klein believes that the pandemic and related economic crisis have “exposed those team members who have risen to the occasion and not become demoralized.” But without the human interaction, it can be more challenging to determine who is ready to move up the ladder, he said.
At Rentokil, the company’s quarterly Leadership University shifted online. “I immediately visualized the same presentations being done in front of a camera, but our HR team had a different idea,” Myers said. Instead of cramming everything into a few days, leadership training is done over four weeks for a few hours at a time.
“Our training is so much better now,” Myers said. “The pandemic forced us to do something else because we had no alternative.”
Even when in-person meetings return, the Leadership University likely will continue to be online. “Now we will be able to have one course every month rather than four a year,” Myers said. “Before, I was physically in the room teaching for three hours, then joining them for lunch and dinner. My travel schedule had to coordinate. Now, I just need to find two two-hour slots, which I can do from anywhere.”
The pandemic required All-American to rethink its training, too. Prior to the pandemic, new service personnel would ride along with seasoned co-workers. To reduce the risk of exposure, one mentor was assigned to train all new hires. Since March, All-American has hired and trained 17 employees. “The biggest hurdle was navigating the state certification testing shutdowns during the first 90 days of the pandemic,” Richardson said. “Hiring has gotten easier for us during the pandemic and we have brought on some incredible talent.”
Myers believes that ensuring the company culture remains fully understood in the virtual world is worth the investment. “Ithink it starts with the recognition that even after COVID, we are not going back to the old way of running our businesses. So, we need to keep much of what has been developed under COVID and be ready to make some additional changes to support this new world, rather than hope that the pre-COVID environment is somehow going to return.”
Klein also believes that some pandemic-forced changes may never return. “Do we need large offices if some of our teams can work remotely? Maybe not. There is positive in that and again, I think the challenge will be finding ways to keep human interaction and the team spirit as a focus.”
One thing that likely will return—and fairly immediately—is the employee camaraderie. Pre-pandemic, Hall’s company required technicians to return their vehicles to the office at night. It was the time during that drop-off and morning pickup “which really helped solidify culture and internal relationships.”
As soon as the team was able to start coming back to the office, “you could almost instantly see those bonds being formed again,” Hall said, “which helped us realize how important that is to our company.”
BY SANDY SMITH