It isn’t a secret that the best company cultures often have the most productive teams, satisfied customers, and lowest turnover rates. They’re also able to attract top talent and help drive employee motivation.
In our hyper-fast digital era, competition is incredibly fierce. People are recognized as a powerful competitive advantage—and from this perspective, remote companies have a considerable leg up. They’re capable of recruiting and hiring the best person for the job, and can invest more in people (with perks like better benefits, a higher salary, and team retreats) since they have less overhead than brick-and-mortar companies.
The ‘Why’ Behind the Work
While the candidate pool is much larger, the remote hires these companies are trying to attract have big expectations—perhaps the most significant being a focus on mission. And while some studies attribute this value to the millennial generation, it isn’t exclusive to those in the workforce who were born after 1981. In a survey of over 20,000 workers from around the world, researchers from Harvard have found that why we work determines how well we work.
This is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than in a story about the late President John F. Kennedy. JFK once famously interrupted a tour at NASA’s headquarters to introduce himself to a janitor whom he had noticed nearby, broom in hand. When the President said hello and asked him what he was doing, the man replied, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
That’s a connection to a much bigger cause, and a testament to NASA’s culture at the time. But how do you build that level of motivation in a company without an office?
Here are five ways that fully remote companies drive employee motivation through company culture:
1. Define your values and make them public.
Sometime after its 9th or 10th hire, Buffer’s leadership team recognized its team dynamics were changing. In a recent interview for Product Hunt, Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne explained why he felt a sense of urgency around defining and cultivating the right culture. He cited Zappos as a company they looked up to as having an especially strong company culture—and heeded Tony Hsieh’s advice about putting values into words and documenting their company culture ASAP. “After we did so, it really moved us from the company culture being ad-hoc and left to fate, to us deliberately shaping it,” Gascoigne said. Check out Buffer’s 10 values and you’ll see a lot of employees sharing their perspectives on how each serves to motivate them in their roles.
2. Empower employees through ownership.
Nick Francis, co-founder at Help Scout, believes that a smaller team that has a lot of ownership over projects and deliverables fosters a culture of overachievers. He calls this an MVH: a minimum viable headcount. Help Scout employees “get more done in less time and foster a ‘we’re in this together’ attitude.” In a recent post titled Keeping Our Overachiever Culture, Francis describes the company’s approach. “Most people will overachieve if they know the business is counting on them to do so. Given the right amount of trust and ownership, everyone on the team can and should be able to maximize their net productive output.”
3. Communicate early and often.
Zapier CEO Wade Foster felt so strongly about culture that he created an entire chapter on the subject in his company’s ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work. In it, he says that while co-located companies might (falsely) assume that culture will develop organically, “with a distributed team you know going in that culture will be really hard to build.” He emphasizes that it isn’t about ping-pong tables, it’s about how you work with one another. That hinges upon both the frequency and modes of communication his team uses to discuss project updates, celebrate small and large wins, and share about their lives. Zapier team members often add a personal touch by sharing funny memes and GIFs via Slack or Skype. (Who doesn’t love a good meme?)
4. Commit to greater transparency.
Knowledge is power, and a number of remote companies are embracing ways in which to empower employees through sharing information wherever possible. At Automattic, an “aggressive approach to transparency” has given the globally distributed team a very egalitarian feel. Hospitality Evangelist Simon Ouderkirk explains that “open source is in our DNA.” Information is accessible, and few—if any—questions are off-limits. The fully remote company’s executive team leads by example: their commitment to transparency is demonstrated by the fact that conversations between company executives are visible to team leads.
5. Inspire far-flung employees with a shared vision.
CloudPeeps CEO Kate Kendall shared her thoughts with Remote.Co on ways to keep employees engaged, and it starts with showing each team member how their contributions are part of a greater whole. According to Kendall, having a clear mission and goals allows the CloudPeeps team to see the impact they’re making, both on meeting company goals and growing the business. “I think it’s really important to share the vision, direction, and bigger picture often—the ‘why’ at the heart of what we’re doing so everyone can interact with it.”