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Building Company Culture for Remote and Hybrid Teams

If you’ve got a company, you’ve got a culture. Investing in your culture for your remote team is just as important as if you all worked in an office. Here’s how to improve it.

December 7th, 2022

by Lisa Shaw

in People & Culture

In any traditional office setting, creating and maintaining a company culture can be a daunting task. Many see it as just another new-agey buzz-phrase that doesn’t directly translate to profit and don’t give it a second thought. The thing a lot of big organizations don’t seem to realize, though, is that culture exists in every space we live in, purposeful or not. If you set out to use productivity and profit as the top indicators of measuring the health of a company, you could absolutely be successful. However, recent data suggests that you may have a hard time hiring (and keeping) new employees. People in all stages of their career are demanding more.

"The biggest myth about company culture is the idea that leaders can think about it later, as if it’s something you can decide when you want to decide it.” -Dan Manian, co-founder and CEO of Donut

Increasingly, companies may find themselves struggling with incompatible workplace culture. If your organization is centered around control structures such as seniority-based staffing, durable  hierarchy, and tools that only prioritize efficiency, it may flounder when encountering unforeseen issues that require a more agile or entrepreneurial approach. In this scenario, the tipping point is usually prevailing culture: will people stay the course if they feel the company is taking a turn in the wrong direction or doesn’t agree with their personal values, and they have no say in the future?

William Craig hit the nail on the head when trying to define company culture: “How do your employees act when they’re on the job? Are there common behaviors — either good or bad? What does having this job mean to your employees, and would they go elsewhere if they had the chance. These things are not your company’s culture — but they’re definitely symptoms of either a healthy or unhealthy culture. Remember: your company’s culture was already being shaped before you even hired your first employee. So knowing how your employees are reacting to what you’re building is tremendously important if you want your company to thrive.”

As we are a small team of fully remote workers and always looking for ways to improve, these are some great first steps to start to examine culture in your own work environment, and strategies for kicking it up a notch.

Help Teams Feel Valued

If you fall into the “millennial or older” age range, you probably grew up with parents and teachers subtly laying the groundwork for aiming to secure “a good job” after you finish school. Climbing the corporate ladder was the pathway to success. And sure, those opportunities are still coveted, but we would be remiss to ignore the current trends in workplaces. A recent piece from the BBC focuses on studies done this year showing that more and more workers want their job to be less transactional - they want to feel that they make a difference, and they want to believe in the values of the company as well.

Deloitte, the largest professional services network in the world, is now in its 11th year conducting their Global Gen Z and Millennial Survey. The most recent data had similar findings: “Aligning with Gen Zs’ and millennials’ values is also key. Nearly two in five say they have rejected a job or assignment because it did not align with their values. Meanwhile, those who are satisfied with their employers’ societal and environmental impact, and their efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture, are more likely to want to stay with their employer for more than five years.”

Company culture looks at all different facets of a job — what does the company claim to value, what actions and behaviors are being taken to support those claims, and how does my role in this organization matter. Finding meaning in work goes beyond management simply praising employees for hitting a target or finishing a project early. Job satisfaction and valued work is strongly correlated with employees feeling empowered. Everyone wants a voice at the table, even if it’s to bring attention to a seemingly trivial task, like updating screenshots in a training guide or modifying an outdated Best Practices document. Inviting team members to get involved in decision making is a huge step in the right direction. Other strategies to improve satisfaction: offer rewards beyond compensation, allow for fully remote or hybrid work schedules if possible, realize the need for a healthy work-life balance, plan paths for career growth opportunities, and take a stand on issues that employees are passionate about, like charitable giving, volunteering in the community, diversity and inclusion, etc.

Facilitate Social Interactions

If you asked anyone working on a fully distributed team what the biggest drawback is, they’d probably all come up with a variation of the same response: it’s isolating. Even if you have the cuddliest lap cat or a dog that naps on the anti-fatigue mat at your feet, there’s still something missing - that kind of cultural alchemy that only happens when you’re in a room full of other people. This is where company culture can come into play. Addressing this issue and implementing possible solutions sends an obvious message that your company is invested in a human-centric approach, that your job is something more than just an extraction of labor.

So how do you infuse camaraderie, mentorship, collaboration into a remote workforce environment? One solution could be implementing technology like Donut or Watercooler. These fully integrate into Slack and other communication platforms and use an algorithm to match coworkers together for a shared activity or conversation. It could be an ice-breaker style question that leads to a conversation, matching a new hire with a seasoned team member for a mentor/mentee relationship, or an invitation for two colleagues to schedule a time for coffee or lunch. Interaction types are categorized into Slack channels, and you can join as many as you wish. The focus is strictly helping people enjoy their work and further their career. Per Watercooler’s website: “It is a simple, low ceremony, way of replicating the chance encounters that naturally occur in a physical office. The benefits are immediate: increased well-being and a reduced sense of isolation, improved communication within the team, higher retention of team members and lower chances of burn-out.” Demonstrating intentionality and regard for employee experience goes a long way.

Hybrid teams can also utilize this strategy, though they have the added benefit of face-to-face time that most likely occurs at least once a week, so capitalizing on those in-office days is critical.

Set clear norms for remote teams

Working in a remote environment means most work norms are out the window. If you take time to establish what work days look like for your specific company, department or team, it allows people to easily plan for and predict what their day-to-day will look like. Some items that should be discussed right out of the gate:

  • Team leads and managers should set clear guidelines about where people can work from and how they will be expected to perform said work. If your team is on a hybrid schedule, be sure to tell team members if they are all needed to come into the office on the same days each week, or if each week will be decided based on workload, time of year, etc. Also address where appropriate virtual workplaces are — is it okay to take Zoom calls while driving or at a coffee shop? Or will your team members be required to do flexible work from a private home office space? Not only will this ensure that expectations are the same across the board, it will also invalidate the perception that individual team members have privileges others don’t. You can do this informally in team meetings and check ins, or draw up a remote work policy that is introduced during onboarding and referenced/updated over time.
  • Ask team members upfront when they like to take meetings. If your team is particularly distributed, suggest rotating time zones so that certain individuals don’t always get stuck with meeting through meal times or handling end-of-day tasks just because most people have logged off by the time they log on.
  • Create communication protocols. Clearly define off-hours for things like email and messaging. Lay out expected response times. Be sure every team member contributes to the process of designing the norms. Promote asynchronous communication tools (ahem, did someone say Status Hero) to accommodate remote employees while still encouraging employee engagement. Remote working is all about collaboration  —  everyone should play an active role.

Outfit Home Offices

Where you work undoubtedly influences how you work. A factor that is often overlooked is having the right setup and training to do your job when you’re not in the confines of an office. Technology needs to be sorted out first and foremost — making sure home Internet speeds are up to snuff, double checking technical specs on laptops and desktops, making sure everyone has headsets and camera capabilities. If team members or new hires are having issues, it may be due to an equity gap, or just a lack of tech savvy. Try to provide everyone an option during the onboarding process to self-select their level of technical skills, always offer IT assistance, and encourage workers to speak with their manager about needing any machine or accessory upgrades if what they already own doesn’t meet the criteria for working remotely.

Beyond these first steps, spend time checking in with your team about their actual work space. Setting up a makeshift home office is going to look different for everyone, and the scale of your org will determine how much of the budget can be set aside for each individual’s space. Still, a little can go a long way. Providing everyone with a second monitor, for example, could lead not only to a happier team with a lot less neck and shoulder issues, but also to a big bump in productivity. Looking into standing desks and ergonomic chairs is definitely a huge perk if your company is able. Having a dedicated space that’s comfortable to work in can only benefit, and will most likely lead to high workplace satisfaction overall - it emphasizes that individuals are humans, not just workers, and they should be valued accordingly.

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