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  • Jessica Shields

Building Culture Without an Office

One thing I’ve heard from several of my internal team members when I tell them I don’t know what I’d do if they left is, “Where would I go?”


Chris showing his HFA love...and his Blue Steel face

The first time I heard this, it struck me as odd. These are talented, hard-working, quickly-adapting people who any company would be lucky to have. At some point I realized they weren’t self-doubting their qualifications but complimenting our culture. Once that clicked, I realized what we do at Health and Fitness Activations is (sadly) very unique. By request, I’ve given some of the ingredients to our secret HFA culture sauce below:

1) Say Yes When You Can

I actually learned this in relation to parenting. We are naturally inclined to say “no,” even when we don’t have to. It’s just easier not to explore other options. But that’s not a way to build a healthy culture.


When someone asks if you can fit something in the budget or if you have time for a meeting, don’t automatically say no. Evaluate what they are asking, why it’s important to them, and what it would cost the company.


Lori, our administrative assistant is getting ready for her first grandchild. She requested to work in Arizona for a week. Her hours would be wonky, but she’d make sure all of her assignments were completed. We gave her the green light. Allowing Lori to help get her new grandchild’s room prepared is far more important that the small inconvenience of having her work off hours.


You won’t be able to say yes to everything. Sometimes the financial or productivity cost will be too high. But, saying yes when you can makes the “no’s” easier to take.

2) Embrace new ideas

There are many reasons to embrace new ideas – staying ahead of your competition, creating production efficiencies, etc. But, one thing we don’t often think about is how this affects culture.


Chris, our on-call manager, asked if he could schedule back-ups for large events. I agreed that this is something we should look into to see where it financially makes sense. I gave Chris the budget and asked him to crunch the numbers. I asked him to present his findings to the team at the end of the quarter, giving him ownership over this project. I expect the changes we put into place to make our clients happier and create more revenue for HFA, but the biggest benefit is giving Chris the ability and satisfaction to make a concrete impact in improving our product!

3) Be open – painfully open

We share our numbers every month with our team…good or bad. It can sometimes make for some hard conversations, but it allows an open and honest conversation on how we are doing, and what each team member can do to help manage the workload.


When we need a new client, they rally behind every lead. When things are going well in sales, we discuss who is at max capacity and what the rest of the team can do to help.


Our CEO and I are also open about our personal lives. When leaders are open, the team is more inclined to be open as well from family troubles or a client issue. It’s important that you understand how you set the tone in communication.

4) Your team is made up of individuals

We all know that different people have different priorities.

Polly with her beautiful daughters

Polly started as an administrative assistant. She was so stellar there that we promoted her to our HR manager. One of her biggest priorities is spending quality time with her girls. I’m not sure she ever expected to be promoted due to her limited availability, of about 30 hours/week. We could use someone with more availability, but Polly works her tail off during that time, and completes all of her work with excellence. By allowing her a flexible work schedule, we get to provide her upward mobility and ensure that she doesn’t have to sacrifice her personal commitments to advance in her career.


We also have people that are numbers, or results driven. These team members are motivated an entirely different way! By recognizing what’s important to each member of your team and creating a space where they’re able to thrive, you are communicating to them that you value them as a whole person, not just as an employee.

5) Be available, but that doesn’t mean all the time

Leave some whitespace in your workday calendar so you can be available for internal calls or other communication. Just as importantly, block off time you are not available.


Leaders get the idea that they have to be available to their team all the time. I disagree. I believe by being ever-available, you set the example that they are also to be ever-available. It’s up to you to set the tone that your out-of-office time matters too. Set the expectation that it’s ok to be unplugged. This can be especially difficult in remote situations, when your team members work in different time zones. But it’s just as, if not more, important to set boundaries in this situation.

6) Do what you say you’re going to do.

Don’t just do what you say you’re going to do with your internal team, but also with your customers, vendors and partners.


The more you do this, the more confidence your team will have in your promises. And that will promote a culture where people aren’t worried about if you will do what you said – like give them a promotion or take something off their plate. Instead, they can spend more time doing the work they find fulfilling!

7) Use the tools available

For us, this means Slack, Zoom and hand-written cards.


Slack is my absolute favorite tool (and no, I’m not getting paid to say this). I’d say our Slack chatter is about 90% business, but the other 10% is really what makes us special. That’s where we share little bits about our weekends, our personal lives, shout outs and even a joke. Seriously, we are in a hard business. We have to laugh sometimes just to stay sane!

We also use Zoom whenever we can. There’s something to be said for “face-to-face” communication, even if it’s digital. We do all of our team and 1:1 calls on Zoom. It can be a bit chaotic, but we view these calls as team building exercise as much as a company communication function.


And last but not least, our team writes a lot of cards. Remember those? It’s amazing what a card or postcard can do to someone’s spirits. Taking the time to write a card, and put postage on it, is time well spent.

There are so many wonderful tools available that can help your team connect in fun, new ways. And participation must come from the top down. If you’re not using the tools, why would your team? It really comes down to treating people like people, and that includes yourself! Value your team members individually, and make your appreciation noted. These tips will help you have a more engaged workplace, ready to tackle the next hurdle!