The Proverbial Watercooler: Team Cohesion in a Virtual World

The Proverbial Watercooler: Team Cohesion in a Virtual World

Hanging on the wall in Stratacomm’s D.C. office, overlooking the conglomerate of desks known as “The Hive,” is a small piece of parchment with the following inscription –

 “This place is where all that we are and all that we will become converge. Our best, our worst and everything in between. While you are here fear not of failing others but of failing yourself. And if you put your whole heart into your work, you will never fail yourself. Embrace your mistakes and your victories. And remember, humility and kindness are your greatest assets to bring out the best in yourself and those around you.”

I wrote this sitting in the office by myself last month celebrating one year at Stratacomm. Such a clearly defined space,  once filled to capacity every day before implementing a ‘work from anywhere’ culture is now strewn across thirteen states and the District of Columbia. It got me thinking “what was this like?” To lean over to the next desk and say, “what’s another way of saying….” or “Do you ever get the feeling that…”

Prior to the pandemic, Stratacomm operated between two offices—one in D.C. and the other in Detroit. Cross-office work was commonplace, laying the foundation for a fluid work environment that doesn’t require face to face interactions. Over the course of the last 3+ years, Stratacomm added more integrated marketing services, including research, paid media buying, full-service advertising and digital with the team doubling in size since 2020. As we’ve adjusted to our new normal, the question becomes: how do you integrate new team members in a virtual environment with the added complexity of expanded services?

That is a never-ending quest, but I offer some lessons learned as someone who graduated college and started his professional career during a global pandemic.

Give new team members grace.

It takes longer to acclimate through a screen and nuance is challenging in a virtual setting. Use small talk to build trust and comradery (I highly recommend using gifs and emojis when appropriate). We all make mistakes, so be kind and assume positive intent. Offer support, and connect about things other than work.

Teams is your new best friend… or maybe not.

Ask people their preferred method of communication. I prefer Microsoft Teams chats. Question? Teams. Idea to share? Teams. Funny face your dog made during a call? Teams. But others prefer email, Asana, or homing pigeon—so ask.

Perspective welcome.

Our workspace may be called The Hive, but hive mind is a no go at Stratacomm. You have a different idea? Speak up! You could be on the account for five minutes and have an idea to share, or sometimes you need to agree to (respectfully) disagree.

Keep the fun alive.

One of Stratacomm’s core values is fun. I thought it was a mistake when I first saw it, but I’ve come to regard it as one of, if not the most, important one. Fun means different things for different people, and the more you get to know your coworkers the better idea you’ll have of what fun means to them.

A growing agency team is good news, it means work is increasing. But with that comes the challenge of maintaining efficient and cohesive teams. No one person bears the burden. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, speak up. And if you’re working with someone new or someone you’ve been with for 20 years, check in and see if you can reposition and redistribute the load to play to your team’s strengths.

Bottom line: communicate and be authentic. As I put at the top, “humility and kindness are your greatest assets to bring out the best in yourself and those around you.”

Zachary Peters is an Account Executive providing media relations, written content development and executive visibility support to Stratacomm’s automotive supplier clients.

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