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How to Build Company Culture in a Remote World

26th May 2021
By Ben Westwood
Principal Delivery Consultant

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the ability to create and maintain company culture amongst remote workers was important. Many companies had employees who partially or permanently worked from home, and some were even entirely remote. But as we all know very well, things are completely different now and, as a result, remote work is more common than ever, with no signs of going away any time soon.

A year into the pandemic, it’s clear that we can’t just cross our fingers and bide our time for things to “go back to normal,” and in order to ensure the continued success of your company, you must make sure it can thrive under these (remote) circumstances. And one of the most important factors in this success is company culture. In this article, we’ll explore how companies both big and small have continued to maintain company culture while working remotely – and how you can, too.

Why Remote Culture Matters

To put it clearly, your company is only as strong as its culture. Company culture influences everything from how your employees perform to how your investors, clients, and customers perceive you, to how your organization functions and solve problems. And during a time of change or challenge, such as a transition to remote work or a global pandemic, this becomes more important than ever.

To put it clearly, your company is only as strong as its culture. Company culture influences everything from how your employees perform to how your investors, clients, and customers perceive you, to how your organization functions and solve problems. And during a time of change or challenge, such as a transition to remote work or a global pandemic, this becomes more important than ever.

Company culture is the difference between employees taking advantage of remote work to slack off and teams losing their ability to collaborate and work together or your entire organization becoming even more closely knit and maintaining motivation even through hard times. Company culture is your company’s values being put into action, and when you’re not there to personally champion them face-to-face, building a culture that sustains itself becomes invaluable.

Know Your Values – And Practice Them

As we mentioned above, the core work of company culture is an understanding and execution of your values. As Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of Gitlab, the world’s largest all-remote company, says, one of the most important things you can do for your remote company culture is to communicate and uphold your values. This means three things:

1. Know your values and know them well

2. Communicate your values clearly and often to your organization

3. Walk the walk when it comes to your values

Without one of these, your company culture will fall apart. So if you haven’t put deep thought into what your company’s values are, this is the time to do so. If you haven’t phrased them clearly and forefronted them among your people, it’s time to start. And if you aren’t personally living your values, you have work to do.

So if you claim one of your values is work/life balance, don’t penalize remote employees for taking an hour-long lunch or for not responding to emails in the evenings. If you preach the value of honesty, find ways to open clear communication channels for employees to safely and anonymously register feedback about their remote work experience without fear of penalty.

Your values aren’t just for painting in nice fonts on your office walls (if you even have an office anymore). They’re for practising each and every day.

Focus on Trust and Safety

There is no denying it – a work team cannot function without trust and safety. As Heather Doshay, VP of People at Webflow, emphasizes, the most important thing leaders can do to build a positive remote culture is create psychological safety. For Leah Knobler, Director of Talent Acquisition at HelpScout, the key is to “cultivate an environment of trust.”

Under any circumstances, safety and trust are key to allowing innovation, risk-taking, engagement, and cooperation. But when you’re remote, it becomes something that affects your employees’ day to day in an even more concrete way. When your concern that your employees aren’t using their time wisely in a remote setting manifests itself as micro-management and use of invasive technology that tracks their every move, it creates a company culture of distrust.

In contrast, a safe and trusting company encourages and acts on feedback. It sees leaders and individual contributors alike owning up to mistakes. It creates healthy disagreement and debate. It pays attention to output and outcomes instead of something like how many hours an employee spends on their computer screen. And as a result, people can speak freely, work comfortably, and perform at their best without fear or inhibition.

Keep It Casual

We’re not saying that your company culture has to be all baseball caps and beers and jokes, though that is legitimate if it’s what you want. The idea here is that in-person workplaces have something important that does not exist naturally in remote work situations – casual, light encounters between co-workers throughout the day.

This “water cooler effect” is incredibly powerful, helping to build connections and trust, allowing people to maintain a positive attitude, creating healthy opportunities for breaks and lightheartedness, and simply making work more fun and enjoyable. Like Lea Jovy, founder of Location Independent, says, “culture comes from people connecting with each other, over and above the workplace stuff.”

You don’t want to lose that just because you don’t have a physical water cooler or coffee machine for your employees to congregate around. Instead, remote companies have to be deliberate about creating opportunities for light talk and casual socialization between employees.

At Trainual, this comes in the form of remote lunches, monthly book clubs, and 90-day challenge chat channels to encourage personal and professional goals. At Salesforce, this looks like a daily morning gathering with a “no work talk” policy. And at many other companies, it’s as simple as having dedicated channels on Slack for topics like food, pets, and music. Go with what fits your company identity, but don’t miss out on the all-important water cooler effect.

Communicate – Often and Everywhere

You already know that communication is key, both in personal and professional relationships. And it’s undeniable that communication simply manifests differently in remote work. Gone are the in-person meetings, walk-by conversations, and walking check-ins. Instead, the workday goes by in a flurry of emails, Zoom calls, and instant messages.

We’re not here to say that one of these is worse than the other. It’s just reality for remote companies and, in fact, some people do prefer to keep their communication digital. Regardless, the important thing is that communication should be happening constantly. From morning team video conference meetings to one-on-one check-in calls with managers to company-wide video calls, Aydin Mirzaee, CEO of Fellow.app, points out that “More than ever, teams should insert regular communication cadences to make up for the fact that they no longer see each other as often.”

Not only will these rituals help structure the workday, but they’ll also break down silos, avoid misunderstandings, be critical for collaboration, and sidestep feelings of isolation. So experiment with different protocols and software until you land on the communication channels and cadences that work for you. And then hold them as sacred as they are to maintaining your remote company culture.

Next Steps

We are currently helping many clients across the UK, Canada and USA to build a remote culture across their data teams. If you are looking for help with creating a better culture, or need to hire in this space, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with me at [email protected] to arrange a call and find out how we can help you.

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