Feeling disconnected and isolated from coworkers has been a problem that almost every company has been facing for years (and wasn’t exactly helped by that whole pandemic thing either). While being a remote worker offers a lot of flexibility and can help with a work-life balance, maintaining a strong and healthy company culture that stretches across the states, sometimes even across continents, is a real challenge. Company culture is not only a huge part of our company, but a very important aspect to any company’s identity and stability.
"Years ago, we had employees who either moved away from our Omaha headquarters or were hired on as remote employees that were struggling to feel connected to everyone back in Omaha. They challenged us to create an environment where they could still feel like an Aviturian, and so we asked ourselves ‘How can we make this better and how can we be better?”
– Mark Griffis, President and CEO
We took the challenge head-on! After multiple years of success, we’re proud of a quarterly event that echoes our culture; we call that event Castaway Week — a time where we fly in our remote workers into our Omaha headquarters for a week of fun and collaboration.
…Castaway Week? Why “Castaway?”
Instead of calling them "reremote employees’, we started calling our remote Aviturians ‘Castaways’ — before, they felt like they were on an island, and our job as leaders was to build a bridge to that island. We started exploring how do we live our culture in a more regular environment — and not have it just be five sentences on a webpage.”
— Mark Griffis, President and CEO
Saying you live your culture is one thing but demonstrating it on a regular basis is how you cement the foundation. Castaway Week was founded on building bridges and breaking down silos for not only our Castaways, but the people located right here in Omaha. The opportunities to connect with people at every level of the company have been one of the key components to Castaway Week’s success.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Yeah, that sounds great on paper (webpage?) but what does a ‘Castaway Week’ even look like to achieve something like this?” While every Castaway Week we host is unique, let’s look back at the first Castaway event of 2023 that we held in April, the impact it had, and how you can potentially start involving your “Castaways.”
Celebrating Coming Together
One of the mainstays of Castaway Week is to kick things off with — well — a kickoff! We carved out time at the end of the first day to gather in our garage space for catered food, music, and various games while people chatted and talked about their flights into town and more. It was a perfect way to create an environment that fosters both work and non-work-related conversations.
If we told you to imagine what a “New Hire Happy Hour” was, you could probably fill in the blanks off the name alone. We try to host a monthly New Hire Happy Hour where a handful of our new hires give a presentation about themselves but with some fun twists. We’ll have a mini bar with snacks, treats, and drinks that the presenters love, and we’ll take guesses between presentations on which item was who’s. During Castaway Week, however, New Hire Happy Hour acted as a way for our Castaways and in-state Aviturians to not only meet our latest new hires but also get to know each other better. We have buffer time before and after the happy hour for people to mingle with each other, and like the kickoff, it works as a great way to get people from across teams to interact with each other.
Along with happy hours and a party, we carved out time during Castaway Week for another kind of party: the birthday sort. We celebrated our April Aviturian birthdays along with a massive surprise party for Kathy, our Vice President and COO. Kathy’s party was a blast — featuring music from a live mariachi band, catered food from a food truck pulled right up to our garage, a sheet cake (along with some cupcakes), and even a mechanical bull. Yep, you read that right. While the parties were a great time, they really acted as a way to show how much we appreciate the work Kathy and the rest of the team put in every day. Our goal was to make them feel special, and based on all the smiling, laughing faces that are still talking about it, I’d say it was a success.
Bringing Us Together for Good
Being an engaged member of our community is very important to us, and during this last Castaway Week, we were presented with an excellent opportunity to do just that. Following the theme of celebrating our people, we wanted to help other members of the community celebrate their own. We teamed up with local food pantries here in the Omaha metro area to assemble handmade birthday cake kits to donate to local food pantries in the Omaha metro.
While our catered lunches throughout the week are designed to prevent hunger in its literal sense, “Stay Hungry” is one of our core values — as teaching and learning are key components of our culture. A couple of groups of Aviturians took the time to host a lunch and learn about their active projects and the scope of work they’ve implemented so far. It was a time for the teams to talk about both wins and challenges they faced on these projects and answer questions from the audience. These talks help give people at all levels of the company transparency and specifics on some of the project work actively going on.
Mark, our President and CEO, and Jerry, our CTO, also like to host what we call “Aviture 101” which acts as a presentation of Aviture’s history, past project work, and how our culture formed over time. It’s a great demonstration for new hires but is equally valuable for veterans who have been with the company for years. It gives everyone an opportunity to take a step back and look at “How we got here” and even ask questions about things like “Where did the name ‘Aviture’ come from?” (That’s a story for another day!)
Balancing Work and Play
While Castaway Week is full of activities and celebrations, it’s also an excellent time for teams to gather and go heads down on different ongoing projects. It’s rare to have the opportunity for a full team to be gathered together, and the results speak for themselves. The week is full of a mix of meetings, demos, presentations, and close collaboration across the board.
Having a healthy blend of both work and play creates an environment where fresh ideas and approaches grow more authentically (and frequently!)
Doing it Your Way
At the end of the day — or WEEK in this example, Castaway Week is about learning together, growing together, and playing together. The way we do it is specifically tooled to our culture, core values, and initiatives. While you probably can’t “copy/paste” the exact template of our Castaway Week onto your business, you can certainly create a similar event designed to engage not just your remote workers, but your entire company.
If you’re an executive, manager, or just somebody looking to engage with your own company better, consider the impact you can create by bringing everyone together — even if it’s just for a week. #LiveAviturian