CHR has always had a flexible work policy, with several of our consultants working remotely across the globe, and team members often working from home for additional weeks when visiting family. We have an office in both Cambridge and London with teams split across the two sites, so we are all very familiar with managing projects and working remotely. However, like everyone we have been affected by COVID-19 and have had to make adjustments.

One area we knew would be particularly impacted is our social culture. We have built a very collaborative, friendly, organization at CHR, with well a team that enjoys socializing outside of work hours. We knew COVID would impact this aspect for the company. The other important factor was welcoming new staff who were recruited before, and during the lockdown, as the company continues to expand.

With this in mind co-ordinated efforts led by individuals or teams of staff across the company have been made to maintain and strengthen our culture through a series of initiatives.

Almost immediately we started a virtual companywide lunch hour that all colleagues could dial into. Some of these early lunches had good attendances, but they often brought together people who already knew each other. This initial effort branched into two new lunchtime ideas: 1)Networking lunches, originally, ran from our weekly project managers (PM) forum. We tasked PMs to pair up and find two newer starters who they didn’t work with for a 4-person lunch/coffee break. This has now blossomed into a regular, randomized, grouping of 4 staff, with almost the whole company involved; allowing us to continue to build relationships with those across the business. 2) Establishing a Microsoft Teams channel for the new starters to get to know each other and arrange smaller group lunches with peers.

We have continued our fortnightly, Thursday evening, Ideas and Beers session; a 30-minute presentation by an Associate Consultant taking us through their learnings from a key project (with snacks and refreshments). This is now followed by an informal hangout, or one of the ever-popular Zoom quizzes or bingo sessions run by the Ops team, all of which have been fiercely contested affairs.

Our buddy system, in which a new starter is paired with someone who has been with the company for 6+ months, has always been important to help team members settle in. This is even more crucial now as we have had multiple staff start remotely. Kicking off with a lunch session on the team members first day, buddies continue to provide the new starter with a friendly face in the company, making sure they can get answers to the ‘easy questions’ when in a new role, and helping them integrate more widely with the team.

Our new fortnightly internal newsletter has provided another piece of light-hearted entertainment. From traditional Italian tiramisu recipes, tips on setting up a greener work environment, to weekly brain teasers with some great prizes. All team members are free to submit articles or photos, which has allowed us to demonstrate the diversity of interests and hobbies across the team, even under lockdown, and proved good conversation starters during internal calls.

The final initiative has been repurposing components of our corporate benefits package. We have the option of using our monthly gym allowance on mindfulness resources (Apps), home gym equipment, or online classes. Whilst part of our personal development budget can be used outside of work courses, allowing us to get creative cooking, painting or acting!

Overall, the activities and initiatives championed by staff across the company have been helping the team remain engaged through this challenging time, and allowed us to maintain and develop our culture. Existing staff have had the opportunity to continue to socialise with their colleagues, as well as spending more time talking to those they don’t work with regularly, while new joiners have had the opportunity to meet staff across the entire team. As government restrictions are lifted, the team looks forward to returning to the offices with a strengthened company culture.