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Companies Keep Up Esprit de Corps During Pandemic

A girl playing an acoustic guitar in front of a laptop.

​When Willard Mosquito, general manager of Hoegh LNG Services ROHQ in Makati, Philippines, stood to open the second quarter town hall meeting for his company, he was alone in the room. The 50 people who work in the regional headquarters with him were participating from home. 

"We thought this was going to be impossible to do, but it was the most active and successful remote event we have ever had," he said.

Mosquito, like workplace leaders around the world, is learning how to build team spirit and camaraderie in new ways. Here are examples of how company leaders are keeping employees engaged, even when they aren't in the same building.

Make Meetings Fun

Hoegh LNG provides floating energy solutions worldwide through its 175 office personnel and 600 seafarers. Mosquito's role is to build the business services center's capability to support the growth of Hoegh LNG and to provide leadership for the day-to-day operations.

As the kickoff speaker for the quarterly meeting, Mosquito's goal was to energize his remote team members. He delivered an opening message centered on gratefulness and abundance in life, followed by the introduction of seven new employees hired during the pandemic. "Hiring during the pandemic in itself is exciting. But each new employee also demonstrated their individual talent: singing, TikTok dancing, poem recitation and a guitar solo," Mosquito said.

The quarterly meeting coincided with National Language Week, Linggo ng Wika, and National Heroes Day in the Philippines, and the organizers incorporated that into the meeting. But it was the House Scavenger Game that reinforced the team spirit that Mosquito and his HR business partner Noreen Vivo were fostering.

"We virtually grouped ourselves into four teams of 10. The group who presented the complete list of items from their homes wins. These items were located in the kitchen, living area and home offices," Mosquito said.

Vivo said they wanted to come up with a group activity that required members to be on video the entire time and encouraged active participation. "Most importantly, we needed to ensure that we were providing an avenue for our employees to feel connected with the rest of the members of our organization. This helped uphold the emotional well-being of our employees, especially during the pandemic," she added.

It took weeks of preparation. "We reminded line managers about the activity and requested their support. For three days prior to the meeting, we sent out daily teasers to build excitement and hype." It worked. Ninety-three percent of the employees wore national Filipino attire. At the end of the program, Vivo and Mosquito awarded online gift certificates to the House Scavenger Hunt winners and the man and woman who were best dressed in traditional Filipino clothing.

Keep in Touch

Megan Garrett was hired in 2019 as the director of learning and talent development of D&H Distributing in Harrisburg, Pa. The 1,400-employee co-owned company is a leading technology distributor of IT, electronics and software. In March 2020, Garrett completed her diversity and inclusion (D&I) certification, increasing her responsibility to all D&I education, initiatives and activities, in addition to her original mission to design and develop competency-based curriculum and implement a labor management system. 

And then came COVID-19. Garret was named work-from-home engagement captain one week after the stay-at-home order was initiated for D&H. Remote work was incredibly rare, if allowed at all, prior to the pandemic. Garret knew it was going to be a large adjustment for everyone. Keeping open lines of communication was paramount.

"We now have weekly or biweekly communications with topics including health and wellness, work-from-home security, mental health, ergonomics, physical health, how to balance work and parenting, nutrition, free virtual health services, how to manage the return to school, and application tips and tricks. We have photo contests, team-building games, virtual training for managers and co-owners, videos from executives, and virtual team happy hours."

A big win for both employees and leaders was the implementation of a new company activity, Aliens Have Landed. Garrett explained, "The premise was that aliens have landed, and you need to explain what you do at D&H by using only pictures and symbols. Each team member had to draw a picture in five minutes. The team manager selected the top depiction of what that team does. The images were published for all to see." Garrett said the employees were both responsive and creative, and managers reported that teams loved the activity, laughed and blew off steam.

Garret concluded, "So many employees e-mail me, sharing stories of their unique and very real struggles, from single moms with two children under 3 to those living alone and missing human contact. And everyone in between. I feel humbled to be in a position that is making a positive impact on my fellow co-owners during this unprecedented time."

Lead the Way

At McConkey Insurance & Benefits in York, Pa., esprit de corps starts at the top. President and CEO Steven P. Buterbaugh says his company's strength comes from its people. So, on March 12, when everyone was panicked about COVID-19, he jumped into action on behalf of his people. "We went to CDC [U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and sent our high-risk employees home first. I told them not to worry about work; worry about yourself and your family. We'll figure out how to get back to work later."

Within two business days, all 100 employees were working from home.

"Everyone earned each other's trust to get work done. And everyone trusted me," said Buterbaugh, who refers to his team as First Team All-Americans. He maintains a four-part formula that has cultivated his team over time: "Taking care of you is first, followed closely by taking care of the client. Second, finding new clients for growth. Third, reasonably managing expenses along the way. And finally, protecting and promoting the culture."

How that formula is enacted has transformed during the pandemic. First Friday celebrations of every month have moved to Zoom and cover birthdays, anniversaries and personal news. Almost every Friday has become virtual happy hour with a CEO update and entertainment. And then there is virtual training: Cooking with Kenny. Baking with Brenda. Golf lessons with a PGA pro shown on an iPad during lunch at employees' desks. Interactive magic with an "America's Got Talent" magician. There is business training, too, on Tuesday Training days: software, processes and flow to drive efficiency. Mental and physical health topics are added to help employees deal with what Buterbaugh calls "pandemic tired."

Employees say they love the sessions, and they feel closer as a team. While Buterbaugh may be leading the company, he credits his team for maintaining esprit de corps. "I'm doing the plug and play. They believe. They trust. They are holding each other accountable in a positive measured way."

Beth A. Klahre is a freelance writer from coastal North Carolina with previous leadership experience in global HR operations.


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