How do you maintain and build a strong virtual culture in a pandemic?
By T. Smitten
Creating a Culture That Thrives
Over the last year a vast majority of organizations have transitioned to some form of a hybrid workspace, where team members have the flexibility to work remotely for most, if not all of the time.
Mark Bystrek is the head of ET Group’s People Development. He works to maintain an enriched company culture of human connection, co-creation and collaboration while using virtual technology. Through our expertise in virtual technology, ET Group has built an effective hybrid work environment and developed a company culture that thrives in it.
The Importance of Company Culture
Mark admits maintaining company culture isn’t easy, but he highlights the importance of it , “It’s going to be a challenge for all organizations, how do you connect and keep that team spirit together? Remotely? It’s something we can never let go of. We always have to keep that in paramount, no matter how busy we are. “
Mark and the ET Group leadership team have worked to find the right balance of technology, and collaboration to create a well-connected agile work environment for team members within virtual space. But how did ET Group do this?
Mark has has found the keys to successfully maintaining company culture are:
Sharing Your Culture
Define Your Team Culture
At ET Group Mark and the leadership team have outlined the ET Group way, this is a document that is posted with the details of the company’s values, code of conduct and best practices. You want to make sure your company values are clearly outlined and easily accessible.
Share Your Team Culture
Post, post, post! Mark post videos, links, and announcements in the company’s web messenger channels for all staff to easily access. You want to make sure you are continuously sharing items the highlight, support and outline your company culture.
Open Communication is the Foundation
Communication is the foundation of a successful virtual team. Company culture should encourage communication and welcome feedback. ET Group has found using web messenger channels for announcements, surveys and to share info has been an effective for team members to share their ideas, reactions, and responses easily and openly. You want to create and allow for dialogue around your company culture posts and messages.
Ideas for Staying Connected
Communicating workplace culture in a virtual environment can seem a daunting task but it can be done using the technology we have today. It can take a little strategizing and some tech savvy but once that work is done, organizations can easily maintain organizational culture and real human connection amongst their members. Mark often will use WebEx (A web conference and message application) to share company updates. ET Group schedules company wide video conference meetings for all to attend. As part of the company culture the team is encouraged to use “video first” to hold “face to face” conversations to help maintain connection.
Mark is continually finding ways to develop virtual teams. He’s found the company to be far ahead of other companies working virtually in 2020 citing the various creative ways they have brought the team together. “We did weekly townhall meetings, we have a water cooler chat, – we were far ahead of a lot of organizations as such and that was keeping us connected.”
Mark also schedules virtual Team building events for the team such as:
Virtual Team Lunches
Virtual Escape Rooms/ Games Nights
Virtual Company Townhalls / Team Connect Meetings
Company Message Boards/ Communications Channels
Please see our company handbook where we share open information about how our company works together. This includes unique approaches, processes, and practices such as self-set salaries and decentralized decision making.
It’s important that we pay extra attention to mental health issues in our companies in 2021.
By T. Smitten
It’s 2021 and you’re settling into your “new normal” or so you thought. But things keep changing and you’re finding this pandemic requires more than simply meeting recommended protocols.
Now you’re thinking about mental health. The call for social distancing, increased workplace safety requirements and various lockdown measures have employers delving into new territory. And while employers are adjusting their business models, the individuals that make up their organizations are still adjusting also. Employers have quickly become educated on PPE, consumed with space measurements and many were compelled to transition their work environment to a virtual workspace.
Although employers are addressing the physical challenges of the pandemic to meet an increased responsibility for the physical health of their teams, studies show employers can and should help to maintain the mental health of their staff. This idea may beg the question:
How can employers, organizations, and leaders help with mental health matters at work?
Life has Completely Changed at Work
The global pandemic has changed and unified the experiences of people worldwide including how we work. With many working remotely, the workplace has now come into the home. The lifestyle of the everyday staffer and their workplace dynamics has changed. In today’s workplace an employer is closer to home than ever before.
At ET Group, HR Generalist Mark Bystrek is working on creative solutions for the Workplace Health & Safety challenges posed by the global pandemic. ET Group has operated successfully for 44 years and spent nearly the last decade working in a hybrid workspace. The company’s transition into a fully virtual work environment to protect the health of their employees was seamless. As a company that focuses on a human centric workplace and putting people first, ET Group is aware that additional health and safety considerations such as the mental health of the team are as equally important to the overall health of the organization and business operations.
Mark views mental health awareness and support resources as part of leadership in any strong organization. He notes that organizations can play a role in offering help. “An additional responsibility is dealing with people’s mental health. we all crave, being back to normal we’re all going through a change now, societal change, and it’s also workplace change. So that’s caused a lot of stress on a lot of people mentally. It takes a toll. So, it about being there to help.”
Critical to Foster a Company Culture that:
Provides a safe environment where employees can discuss mental wellness in confidence without stigma
Encourage a work/life balance (Even more during difficult times)
Communicating Health & Wellness
Offer Support to team members
Exceed Workplace Health & Safety Standards
You run an exceptional business with exceptional staff? Continue to be exceptional. Ensure you have not only met but exceeded all the workplace healthy and safety requirements for your business. A study conducted by Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers; sites poor workplace precautions take more of a toll on the mental health of staff than job loss. The study found workers with inadequate safety measures in place reported increased numbers of anxiety and depression. People want to feel safe at work and also want their employers to want their safety too.
As a leader in ET Group’s Health & Safety program, Mark has noted “Part of it is very much dealing with the safety of employees and when it comes to the health and safety it’s also under the HR side of it. Making sure that people are working safe. That is very much at the forefront of having a great work environment so that if people come into the work and want to work here in the office, that they feel comfortable to be able to do so. “ Some of the steps ET Group has taken to exceed workplace health & safety standards are:
Daily Health Questionnaire for those who will be in the office
Mandatory Masks in the office
Enhanced Office Clearance – prebooking or scheduling time in the office
A robust COIVD – 19 protocol when an employee is suspected or has tested positive
Signage and markings to ensure that everyone maintains social distancing
Skeleton staff – Only essential employees working in the office.
Keep Your Teams Talking
Since the start of the pandemic Canadians have reported an increase in mental health issues. Two in Five Canadians say they have had a mental health decrease in the last year according to a study commissioned by CTV news. With working from home becoming more common, employers now have a unique opportunity to connect with their teams in a more personable way. Communication is key to not only maintain company culture but to syncing up and checking in with the people in your organization.
Mark’s created a Covid Communication channel within a web messenger where he communicates with the entire team. “ We provide a daily COVID updates bases on the PHAC and Government of Ontario Website, COVID-19 news highlights from various media sources and provide updates when there are any status changes by any government agencies” says Mark. To help with morale Mark also posts uplifting current events.
Create an Open Door for Mental Health Resources
Encouraging your team to make use of the health resources associated with their benefits is step in the right direction. Offering an open-door policy even if virtual will help create a safe space for those struggling with a mental health matter. Offer additional help if it is not offered in the company’s benefit package. According to CAMH ( Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) Canadians that struggle with Mental Health during the pandemic are experiencing a normal reaction to a global social, economic and major health crisis. It is to be expected. CAMH has found health resources and support can help those who struggle with mental health in these times find ways to cope. As ET Group is a company based out of Ontario Mark also recommends:
Offering resources to help support employees
Employee assistance plan
Job protected unpaid leave of absence
Long Term Disability
“Our goal is to ensure that our workplace is as safe as possible for all our employees” says Mark, and that includes mental health. When it comes to mental health and your organization just remember, we are all in this together and your organization will thrive when your members do.
Please see our company handbook where we share open information about how our company works together. This includes unique approaches, processes, and practices such as self-set salaries and decentralized decision making.
Exploring the new reality of a hybrid workplace. One which allows the flexibility of employees working between home, office, and remote locations.
By T. Smitten
When asked how he would describe 2020, David Kerr, ET Group’s Unified Communications and Collaboration Specialist replies “exceptional and unprecedented.”
On any given workday in 2019, David would be designing and implementing Unified Communications solutions for a variety of large Canadian organizations. Fast forward to present day and his workday remains fairly unchanged. While most organizations found the requirements of social distancing a major challenge to their continued daily operations, ET Group did not. In his five years with the company, David has been a part of the ET Group team that works on designing, integrating, and optimizing clients unified communications and collaboration environments. The kind of hybrid environments that allow working from anywhere, whether at home, in the office, or completely remote.
Work is no longer about where you do it, it’s about what you do and how it gets done.
Hybrid is the Future Workspace
Organizations have mobilized work from home infrastructure and policies that have forever shaped the way we approach work. Now that the dust has begun to settle, they are collectively looking to the future once again. As companies explore shifting their workers back to the office. They are also envisioning what a flexible workplace might mean to their long-term workplace strategies.
How will our workplace strategies and technology strategies need to change?
How will our office evolve to integrate and include the remote workers?
What technologies will support flexible working between the office, home, and remote locations?
How will we enable our people to convene for group work?
David is part of the HybridX innovation team at ET Group. He has witnessed and assisted in the architecture of workplace communications firsthand. He is proud to share that, “We’re not afraid of doing remote work and using remote technologies. We’ve been demonstrating it for years. It works, I mean, we’re thriving.”
Workplace and Tech Strategies are Changing
Having worked with many clients to implement their technology strategies to transition to an integrated modern-day workspace. David reflects on the success in leading others to their ideal connected and collaborative work environment, both physically and virtually. “We’re (ET Group) currently experiencing what we’ve been already living for the past few years. Covid has forced us (society) to put it into place now to some degree. By living it, it gives us great advantages in terms of being able to share the experience with others and see what the potential could be.”
“73% of employees want their company to embrace flexibility (working both remotely and in office) post COVID-19.”
Mckinsey Report – June 2020
David has noted the required changes that companies have begun making to their workplace strategies:
Increased prioritization of workplace technology within business. Organizations need to have a technology strategy that can evolve for the future.
Intuitive tools; Organizations should be able to define their desired user experience with the technology they are choosing.
Reliable and user-friendly video communications. Organizations are now in a video first culture that requires high quality audio and visual performance along with an easy to use platform.
Prioritizing Flexible, Collaborative Technology
David has also witnessed some setbacks for companies who did not prioritize flexible and collaborative technology tools within their operations. He remarks at the number of companies who were unprepared to work remotely this year. “It was really quite surprising to me but it’s not all that uncommon. It seems that some companies are still kind of slow to change and Covid has really exposed that.”
David listed some fundamentals items every organization will need for a hybrid workspace:
Laptops – Companies should ensure their teams have laptops for mobility vs. desktops. HD built in cameras are critical.
Webcams – Companies should ensure team members have working high resolution video tools for home offies.
Secure Communications – Companies should invest in secure software and platforms to maintain privacy.
Remote work connections like a VPN – Companies should invest in a virtual private network.
Headsets or Audio Boxes – Quality sound and audio for meetings. Forget the basic headphones.
Data Sovereignty -Companies should be familiar with the location of their servers and data and be aware of any privacy laws relating to the storage of their information.
Challenges of a Going to a Hybrid Workplace
As part of ET Group’s HybridX innovation team, David works on identifying and resolving the human challenges of collaboration, communication, and connection using technology. “There were a lot of users that weren’t ready for this. From the standpoint of some users – technology kind of makes them afraid.” Increasing team adoption, training, and comfort levels with technology is critical to overall success when transitioning to working flexible between the office and at home.
When implementing new technology into a hybrid environment, David notes some things to consider are:
Get feedback from your team on their desired user experience and ease of use. What do they need from the technology to get their work done?
Ensure you fully understand what the technology will allow you to do and not do. Research your options and assess reliability.
Find a good consultant to work with your leadership team and determine the technology roadmap that works for your business. ET Group offers a human-centric approach to visioning, strategizing, designing, implementing, and evolving your technology roadmap as part of our HybridX offering.
David offers his take on additional challenges he has seen this year, “What I think is happening is a couple of things, one, sometimes whoever is making the decision makes it a challenge. It could be making the decision on the technology platform that we should move forward with, but there was really no consultation with the users in terms of what we really need. Which can definitely be a challenge and wreck user adoption or hinder user adoption. The other element is personal bias at times that gets in the way. So, it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a Microsoft guy’ and that’s all I want to deal with’. I don’t really care about whatever else is out there, even if there are better tools. Other challenges are a lack of information around what technology you need to work better, which is what we’ve been trying to do at ET Group, share that info. “
Preparing your Company for the Transition
David shares valuable words of wisdom when it comes to integrating new technology into your business. “Organizations must lose the fear of failure”. This can cripple the ability to discover new things. He recommends keeping an open mind when it comes to trying new technology and stresses the need to consider your users when implementing new technology.
“I had the opportunity to work with my church, for example. There’s a lot of users there that just aren’t into this remote working space at all,” says David. “A proper understanding of the users (i.e. accessibility requirements, sights impaired vs hearing impaired, etc.) is crucial to seamless user adoption within an organization.”
Many businesses are still unprepared to implement work from home programs although we are at a time in history when technology makes it more possible than ever. With companies starting to reintroduce their teams back into the physical workspace amidst and post-pandemic, they are experiencing unique operational challenges within their industries. “ET Group is really taking the time to hone in on what we have not only experienced but kind of referring back to what we’ve heard from our customers.”
Work isn’t About Where, it’s About What
HybridX (Hybrid Workplace Experience) makes it possible and beneficial to every team, organization or business that thrives on communicating, collaborating, and connecting anywhere in the world.
Work is no longer about where you do it, it’s about what you do and how it gets done.
ET Group has invested years into studying and fine tuning the design for the workplace of the future. ET Group’s strategies for collaborative work environments have kept people together even when apart. “What HybridX is really saying is there’s a new work experience, we want to hone in on what that experience is for you and what makes the best sense,” says David.
ET Group takes a strategic approach to designing innovative hybrid workspaces solutions. By applying human-centric design processes, we create seamless and powerful connections between the office, the home, and the remote worker.
Transitioning your organization to a hybrid work environment can seem overwhelming and costly. With the right tools and design process, your organization can experience a new level of communication, collaboration and connection while increasing your ROI (Return on investment) in the long term.
If your team is looking for new ways to supercharge your virtual collaboration experience, here are some key insights to maximize their potential.
By T. Smitten
Article based on the Supercharging Your Virtual Collaboration Experience webinar. Download the webinar.
In these unprecedented time, organizations are working to identify and resolve challenges in remote working environments. We spoke to our partners and found they are facing challenges beyond selecting technology tools. Organizations are now faced with improving communication and productivity in the virtual workspace for team members and clients alike. The question is, how do we work together remotely in a way that is enhances our experience?
4 years working as a distributed team
At ET Group we have spent the last four years working as a distributed team. We have faced various challenges and uncovered some creative solutions. We have built successful remote workspaces for our team and clients all over the world.
We’ve identified and experienced so many different work styles and tools that contribute to productivity. We have found success by focusing on a more collaborative workspace. Maintaining connection, enhancing teamwork and preserving organisational culture in our hybrid workspace environments.
Now more then ever organizations are realizing this present-day global issue is an invitation to try new things and innovate as they go. We have found that yes, technology can be uncomfortable. Yes, teams are finding themselves in a new territory but fear not. Success can be achieved! Organizations need to properly assess their remote working challenges and hold open discussions within their organizations to find ideal solutions.
Here are some quick tips for supercharging your virtual team collaboration:
1. Be Kind and be Bold!
Start your virtual collaboration sessions with an attitude of “learning as you go”. Try new things and find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try multiple collaboration tools and technologies to find the right mix.
2. Re-Discover Your People
Encourage open communication and idea sharing between your team members. Find the hidden talents within your team. This will help maintain connection and jump start innovations for your organization.
3. Leverage Hidden Strengths
Leverage the strengths of your team and show appreciation for individual talents. In this new era, you will find “hidden” strengths and technical “know how” within your team that will help enhance your virtual collaboration. You never know who will have experienced working with Zoom, WebEx or Nureva tools that you had not called on before.
4. Be Agile
Take incremental steps, take quick wins, repeat the good and do not hold onto “norms”. Create new ones!
Supercharging your virtual collaboration will not only present key challenges but it will give your organization opportunities. Need help with assessing and implementing your collaboration tools? Our team is always here to help! Contact us for more details on how to better your remote work environment.
To excel in the Future of Work, organizations must be brave. They must lead by embracing new team dynamics, distributing authority and decision-making, and enabling employees and customers with a strong voice.
Innovation and culture are integral to the success of organizations in these new conditions. Yet, corporate structures so often block employees from recognizing and responding to change. How can organizations tap into the creative and innovative skillset of its workers while embracing new ways of working?
The Moment and DesignTO co-presented “The Future of Work(ers) in Brave Organizations” as part of the DesignTO Festival in 2020.
The conference speaks to themes of:
“Teal” and self-organizing models Dynamic and responsive operations Self-aware workers and leaders Organizations who are pushing the status quo, and leading in new and unique way
If your team has been hosting large group video conference meetings because of COVID-19, here are some key insights to maximize your meeting potential.
By Tracy Smitten
Article based on our Webinar: Hosting Large Group Video Conferences Effectively. Download the webinar.
Amid the COVID-19 public health emergency and for the first time in our history, society has committed to maintaining physical distancing with a strong need to work together to find new ways to communicate, collaborate, and connect with each other.
For the last 4 years, ET Group has grown as a productive, self-managed, collaborative unit, while working almost entirely remotely. Our team’s operate regularly in large group video meetings. We host virtual team connects that run up to 5 hours in length, host large group town hall meetings with over 40 people, and collaborate daily in large group virtual settings. We continue to explore new tools and practices that can enrich our team’s virtual experience.
Here are 5 key tips we have learned to make your next meeting more effective.
1. Identify the technology you will need
What are the technology platforms, tools, and equipment will need to use. Make sure to choose a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Webex that can take advantage of large groups using settings like gallery view. Equipping all of your team’s participants with the best audio and video equipment available will maximize everyone’s experience. This will ensure that everyone is on the same playing field, limiting technology issues and creating a more engaging experience for all.
2. Define your meeting roles
It is critical to establish a few base roles to ensure you create clarity and the ability to run a smooth meeting. Who will be the meeting hosting? Who will be facilitator to guide and hold space for the conversation? Who will be scribing and taking notes? Who will be responsible to manage the technology?
It may sound like a lot of roles but they are key to your success!
Host: Establishes the meeting context and the meeting objectives Facilitator: Guides the conversation, keeps the meeting in check and on-time, while allowing the group to focus on the content. Scribe: Takes notes and documents the meeting. Technology Manager (Optional): Ensures the meeting is set-up, handles tech issues, and records the call if necessary.
3. Put together the structure for your meeting
What is the purpose of your meeting? What do you want to get out of it? What do you want people to experience?
Establish a structure for your meeting to make effective use of time and increase the clarity and expectations for participants. Create your meeting objectives, meeting milestones, determining meeting length, and choosing your facilitation style.
4. Choose your meeting practices and processes
Determine the level of engagement you plan to invite from your participants.
Check-in’s are a fantastic way to establish everyone’s place in the meeting. Asking a question such as, how are you arriving and what do you expect out of today’s meeting. It helps people feel engaged and not lost in such a large virtual group.
However, in a large group setting it can be tough to manage this in a timely manner. Instead, ask your participants to write their check-in via the chat window or using a collaboration platform like Webex Teams or Slack.
Use practices that maintain involvement and engagement from your participants. Send out periodic meeting polls or pose questions that participants can answer in the chat window, rather than out loud. This can also help manage time in a large group while involving everyone.
It is important that you use practices and processes that create an environment that invites everyone to participate. So that it is not the One-to-Many experience that so often plagues large group settings. This is one person speaking to a large group.
5. Understand the mindset of your participants
Understanding the mindset of your participants is key to an effective meeting. What mindset are participants potentially arriving into the meeting with?
Are they arriving with confusion surrounding the meeting? Are they unclear of why they are invited? Are they feeling excited or down?
As a host or facilitator, it is your job to gauge the room and ensure you can manage the group, shift gears if required, and draw the best out of everyone.
We would love to hear about your experience in the comments
We have sought and found virtual meeting techniques that enhance human connection. We have found video conferencing can be extremely productive! We thrive when we can bring harmony to our work and workplace with technology.
We would love to hear about your experience with remote working and how the 5 core elements of Effective Video Conferencing have worked for you. Let us know how you do!
Register for Our Upcoming Webinar Series
In an effort to help organizations and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are launching a series of webinars to offer our expertise.
Rich virtual collaboration presents key challenges and opportunities. This webinar is for you whether you are new to collaborating remotely or you have been doing it for years. We will discuss key tools, processes, and technology that will help supercharge your next virtual collaboration experience.
You’ll get to see, learn, and participate in a virtual collaboration session hosted by seasoned experts from ET Group (Workplace Technology Integrator) and Nureva (Creators of Visual Collaboration Technology)
Are you having difficulty hosting effective remote large group meetings? Are they making you and your colleagues feel bored, frustrated, or disengaged?
Many companies in the last month have rolled out mandatory work-from-home policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s presenting new roadblocks and challenges to enabling better communication, collaboration, and connection while hosting and participating in large group remote meetings.
Dirk Propfe, the CEO of ET Group is hosting a 60 minute webinar with expert virtual facilitator Brent Lowe. Brent will help you learn how to better host more effective and meaningful large group remote meetings through some of the best practices and approaches.
What you will learn:
How to have more meaningful and effective meetings
How to make everyone feel included and engaged
How to work well together as a team in a large group setting
How to get innovative ideas from unexpected sources
This is a time of disruption and great uncertainty for all of us. COVID-19 and other crises are testing the fragility and resilience of many of the systems we depend on.
At the same time, I believe we are becoming more aware of how interdependent we are. We are being invited to reconsider what we value, how we can best contribute to the world, and how we can collaborate to work on things that truly matter. We are quickly learning to live, work, and interact in different and more meaningful ways with each other.
We need to come together to sense and make sense of reality, figure out how we can combine our gifts to help each other, and become more resilient as society and a living planet.
We are here to support you and also depend on you to continue to thrive.
Please reach out to us if we can offer you support during this time at
In response to the current situation, we are launching a series of initiatives to plan for different scenarios and further our purpose of bringing harmony to work and workplace with technology.
We have implemented the ET Group Safety Protocol and Continuity Plan. This plan examines all areas of business at ET Group and enables us to take action to ensure continued service and safety to both our team members and partners. Our team continues to monitor the unfolding situation and is ready to respond as conditions evolve.
How will ET Group ensure projects meet delivery dates?
How will ET Group triage a service request?
How will ET Group manage unique customers’ requirements?
How will ET Group mitigate risk?
How will ET Group protect our team members?
Over the next few days, we will also be launching regular online conversations to discuss the impacts we are all encountering as we redefine our work, our workplaces, and the technologies we use to collaborate.
In order to continue to support you, we are taking every step possible to maintain business continuity while we develop new offerings to meet emerging business needs. We are open both virtually and physically at this time during regular business hours to assist you and your organization’s needs.
With our world rapidly evolving, the way we work together is beginning to fail us. We are encountering complex challenges that require new ways of working, innovating, and designing solutions.
Traditional hierarchical paradigms were designed for organizations of the past, born during the industrial revolution. Today, they are still the most predominant view of business leaders around the globe. The rapid advancement of our society, culture, and technology has caused massive shifts for how new generations of workers want and need to work together.
“I was incredibly disillusioned with corporations and having worked in organizations that stifled my own creativity and others, I said there has to be a different way. I began collecting different practices and ways of working that could help us.”
Dirk Propfe, CEO, ET Group
Progressive business leaders have recognized this reality and have discovered that creating networks of self-managed teams may hold the answer to unlocking the potential that helps us to design a better future.
ET Group has been on a journey adopting self-management and new ways of working for the last 3 years. During this time we removed a traditional power hierarchy and implemented self-managed practices, processes, and principles that radically changed the way our company works together.
What Happened at IDS2020?
In January, we were invited by the Interior Design Show 2020 to bring together a Future of Work panel with 5 business leaders whose organizations are on the journey of self-management.
They shared key insights that can help organizations shift the way they’re working along with helping them understand why their organizations are making the move, how they’re bringing the concept to life, and the impact it creates on design and innovation.
We are sharing the 1 hour recording of the IDS2020 panel in hopes that the insights can inspire your organization to begin a journey of its own.
“The biggest shift from a traditional organization to a self managed organisation is that we don’t have a person boss. Instead there is a purpose boss. For The Moment our purpose is to empower people to lead change and co-create a thriving human future. That is a big purpose but as long as we are working towards, we maintain alignment.”
Erika Bailey, Innovation Designer, The Moment
Who are the Panelists?
The panelists are part of organizations that are on the journey of self-management. They are passionate about the future of work, new ways of working, and designing their organizations to enable the highest potential of people.