Incubeta Insider ZA: Maintaining Culture Amidst Covid-19

In our latest Incubeta Insider piece, we spoke to Publisher Liaison & Senior GMP Tech Advisor Kelly Rossouw from the Incubeta Operations Hub in Cape Town. Having been at the business for 5 years, Kelly is a valued member of the Incubeta Culture Club – a society designed to maintain a sense of culture and unity throughout the company. Where once the club hosted on-site meetings and gatherings, the Covid-19 pandemic rendered this impossible and the functionality of the society was jeopardised. Kelly discusses how Incubeta SA strived to maintain the club throughout the pandemic and preserve a trusting, and culture rich environment for all employees.

Kelly Rossouw

In March of 2020, we were all greeted with an entirely new set of unknown circumstances, and suddenly, the need to connect and maintain connections was more important now than ever before. In the Cape Town office at Incubeta, we proactively went into a remote working scenario almost two weeks before the national lockdown was announced. With that, maintaining a sense of culture and unison while being separated is no small feat.

Many hours of work go into the process of  crafting meetings that will stimulate a narrative that is positive, uplifting and allows for people to share certain aspects of their lives – without feeling obligated to be overly personal. The Culture Club, which has been running for many years at the Incubeta Cape Town office, has worked  tirelessly, year on year, to ensure that Incubeta is a company people want to work at. Before lockdown, we hosted on-site monthly meetings with snacks and drinks, where we celebrated anniversaries, and often shared company news. These were a highlight for many employees, and we didn’t want to lose the closeness we had spent many years building up.

Early on into lockdown, the Culture Club identified that if the culture that we had spent years building wasn’t maintained, it would slowly degrade and could be detrimental to the many amazing people that have come to love working in such a culture rich environment.

The HR team quickly jumped at implementing standards for our “new normal,” the most important of which involved:

  • Daily video catch up calls, these would replace the “water cooler talk” and are condensed into 10-20 minute sessions – it’s the highlight of my day!
  • Requirement to have your webcam on – it is so important to maintain and build relationships to be able to see who you are talking to.
  • Regular communication with the rest of the team through various Slack channels and statuses (in a meeting, on lunch, off to fetch the kids etc). As we can’t see our team physically, it’s important to know when they are available if someone is needed.

In addition to guidelines, we could take second screens and office chairs home, which means the world to many, as this significantly increases productivity. Regular surveys were sent out to ensure that everyone was  adjusting well, and coping. The management team held weekly meetings to ensure that problems staff were experiencing were supported and heard by those best able to assist. These guidelines and allowances have been helping many navigate the unknown, and are providing structure where it may feel like there is none.

The Culture Club also created “The Boredom Buster” which is a repository for links and ideas of what to do during lockdown. Within this document we shared learning resources, entertainment resources – links to our new favourite Netflix recommendations. There is even a section for cooking recipes – I know I made fancy bread a few times during lockdown! 

Once the company had provided clear outlines, the Culture Club, started out by discussing the best ways in which to get people involved and engaged with each other digitally. After lengthy discussions about how best to approach involving as many people as possible in these meetings, we decided to continue with our themed monthly meetings, and to add a few additional layers to the meetings that would promote fun discussions within the team, and joyful aspects to the greater company meeting.

The first layer we added, was to expand on our themed meetings, and to add a dress up requirement to the meeting – fondly known as “Second Thursdays” (named after Cape Town’s famous ‘First Thursdays’). These were designed to get staff to dress up according to something easy and fun. As you can imagine it’s not easy to think of a theme for which you can dress up easily when only the top half of your body will be in view! We kicked off our fun theme meetings by embracing an unspoken norm that many worldwide have adopted and/or joked about – a Pajama Party. Needless to say, it was probably the most comfortable meeting Incubeta has ever had!

In each Second Thursdays call one representative from each team provides a brief update of what their team has been up to. This allows the whole company to still hear from each department, and continue to feel connected, as it was evident that all teams shared the same struggles. Some struggles we all share, is work-life balance – I’m sure we have all had to run off to supervise kids (whether human, feline – or canine!), or rush off to the shop for a forgotten lunch. Sharing these experiences and how you are dealing with them was crucial to navigating the current climate. 

Following the company updates we launched a Kahoot quiz, with the questions centered around the monthly theme. In the first Second Thursdays meeting, the Pajama Party, there were questions like “When were pajamas invented?” to which most didn’t know the answer (1870 for those like me who had no idea). Another one of the favourites was “What do you think is an acceptable breakfast drink?” Now of course this one can have many different answers, and is incredibly subjective, but we provided a variety of answers: Coffee, Mimosa, Irish Coffee, White Russian. Which one is the correct answer you may ask? All of them!

In the meetings that followed we decided to up our game, taking on different, and sometimes time appropriate approaches to the meeting themes (like Pride in June). Some of the themes we had were; Suit Up, Crazy Hair and Funky Eyewear, and many more.

In the months that followed the initial Second Thursday meeting, we asked different questions, to try get the team to discuss these things amongst themselves, and have a bit of a friendly debate. Some of the questions were “As a team, decide on two of the most inspirational things your teammates have done in their lives” and some more fun questions “Which superhero best represents your team – and why?”

What is important to do in times like this is to invoke a conversation that may not have taken place, not only about work related things, but also the informal chats that usually take place around the coffee machine. As we are no longer in each other’s physical space all day, many would not have spoken to team members from other departments if it hadn’t been for the Culture Club re-connecting them in this way. Allowing ourselves to experience some “down time” in between tasks helps us to relax a little bit, and really aids in coping with our everyday stresses.

We also organised the year end function which was a gorgeous picnic event on the rolling green lawns of Buitenverwachting wine estate. This allowed us to interact, while maintaining social distancing rules whilst outside, wearing our masks, and not coming into close contact. We have also had drive-by baby showers for those expecting during lockdown, and birthday surprise singalong parties in Google Hangouts – all to feel a little closer to one another, and share in the joy of their milestones.

As the pandemic develops, we will continue to find more ways to bring each other closer together during our time apart, to ensure that everyone still feels part of the greater team.


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