Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
We have a strong company culture, and we are 100 percent remote. We do this by making sure our company core values are not aspirational, but instead descriptive of who we already are. Then we promote them various ways.
We hire and fire based on values. We tell stories to define our core values. Our leadership team is always talking about them and hopefully living them.
We meet yearly in person. Not everyone can meet due to cost, but we try. At our yearly meeting, we take the time to rate our core values and make any changes.
Absolutely. Maintaining a healthy culture is an important challenge for any organization, and probably less dependent on being in one place than one might think. Today, people are well accustomed to communicating through technology. So it’s more a matter of creating the platform for people to do at work what many of them already do in their personal lives—interact with all kinds of people, all over the world, whether they know them well personally or not. A remote model may even help organizations develop their culture in a more considered way than they otherwise would. A remote company can’t set up a ping pong table, stock the fridge, and call it a day. Building a remote culture takes proactive effort to facilitate and encourage communication and build trust. Internally, we have run many initiatives around fitness, health, sustainability and lifelong learning. These initiatives are fun, engaging and help rally our teammates around our mission.
Absolutely! It really comes down to a lot of communication and leading the way from the top down in the company. It’s very similar to a company that has a central office: you want the leadership to reflect the values that you want to promote within your company. We just have to communicate it differently, using the means available to us. For instance, we have group activities and group meetings to bring the team together, but they are on Google Hangout or Skype rather than in a meeting room.
Sure! Clearly defining the culture and hiring with that in mind is important. One thing we do that is through pairing sessions but also by sharing what we read and care about. Also obviously a key part of the company culture is the fact that it is a distributed team so it makes sense to make sure whether this is a good fit for the people who join.
Absolutely! We’ve been working on building Buffer’s healthy company culture from the start. The key thing for us was setting values as a team in the early days and having everyone agree on them. We’ve since worked to continue iterating on those values as the Buffer team evolves. The values we created have been so powerful in how teammates at Buffer behave. For example, our first value is “Choose Positivity” and our team chooses to see the positive in any situation.
Another core reason we’ve been able to have a healthy company culture is that our executives take the lead in living by our values and cherishing our positive company culture. With them placing priority on this it’s easy for the rest of the company to follow suit.
Absolutely! A company culture is embedded throughout everything the company does, not a result of all employees being in the same physical location. We also have a #random channel on Slack to discuss non-work stuff. Being able to share jokes, funny gifs, and personal stories allows remote employees to socialize and builds team morale.
Of course. Culture isn’t only a product of proximity, it’s a product of how you treat your staff. We know from studies that remote companies can suffer when team members start to feel distanced from their peers. However, if we’re engaging with team members every day, getting on video chat with them regularly, encouraging them to contribute their ideas, and continuously treating them with respect, the outcome will be a healthy company culture and a satisfied staff.
Sure, by following a similar transparent process and a welcoming environment nurturing remote teams and rewarding proactiveness, feedback, and criticism. Our CEO and our top level managers pay specific attention to each and every request or question from a team member, and make sure that “there are no stupid questions or suggestions” – we welcome and are thankful for all of the feedback we can get, and whenever something is not applicable, we address it in details, explaining the consequences that a suggestion may have on the business growth, website speed, marketing or branding corporate identity, or other connected factors that a team member may not be aware of yet.
Our business operations assistant conducts monthly or bi-weekly calls with the team in order to ensure that they are happy and feel excited about their work, and reports otherwise so that we could adjust the process and bring more creativeness or introduce new challenges for people to tackle in order to maintain a healthy company culture.
This is our #1 priority. As a bootstrapped company we’ve always had a conservative approach to scaling the team– we don’t hire faster than the culture can absorb new team members. We work very hard to preserve our culture by being mindful of the way we work (asynchronously) and by investing heavily in the health and wellbeing of our team members.
Doist as a company has existed since 2001, but it wasn’t until the first company retreat in 2015 that the concept of “Doist” truly started to come to life. Many of the team members, having worked together for several years, met each other in-person for the very first time. There, the camaraderie and bonding solidified what it meant to be a Doister.
Retreats undoubtedly help bond the team together and reignite energy in what we’re working toward, but the fact is that it’s just one week a year. Everything else we do throughout the year to live up to our core company values is much more important.
Absolutely – if anything, it’s especially important for a remote company! It takes extra effort to prevent the remote work experience from feeling isolating, so an inclusive and welcoming attitude is always important to maintaining a healthy culture. Along those lines, it also helps to manufacture the aspects that people might miss from a traditional work environment. For example, our company maintains a Slack room dedicated exclusively to watercooler-type conversation, and individual teams hold short daily standups that help them stay connected both professionally and personally. Generally, the risks of team members isolating themselves are far greater than those of over-communicating, so create an environment in which communication happens as organically as possible.
Absolutely! It’s important to help everyone feel engaged, and we do this in a variety of ways. Our CEO holds an all-company meeting via conference call every two weeks. Many of our teams have short production or “stand-up” meetings each morning. We have a virtual walking club and a virtual book club. And of course, every day at Fire Engine RED is “bring your pet to work” day!
We also hold events like our “REDuce Your Bills Day.” Our CEO put together a tip sheet with practical ways to lower our bills, and then gave our team the entire day “off” to call our cable providers, cell phone companies, insurance agents, and others to get better deals. (Our team’s annual savings totaled $25,000.)
Definitely. Like every other aspect of leading a remote team, it requires an intention and sense of mindfulness. The true culture of a company is woven into the fabric of the business model, the structure and organization, and the leadership. Programs and initiatives can be built that support and extend that culture out to a remote workforce. Companies who operate with a distributed team should have someone dedicated to keeping their fingers on the pulse of the team and to be actively exploring opportunities to engage the team and demonstrate the value they bring to the company.
We host a weekly “Huddle” where the team checks in, gives a quick update on how their week is going, and then answers the weekly question. These questions are just for fun, but allows the team to get to know one another. We also have a #scrapbook channel in Slack where we post photos or stories of what’s going on in our lives.
Absolutely, although it takes a lot of hard work and conscious effort. You simply have to be honest about the challenges of working remotely, actively look for ways to mitigate their impact, and consciously set good precedents so that everyone in the company (including people who start next month) know that it’s acceptable to call things out and question them.
Company culture evolves over time, and the way remote work fits into that needs to evolve too, so you need to view it as a continual investment and a constant work-in-progress. I’m not sure that you could ever claim that your company culture or your remote working practices are “done”.
Absolutely. Culture is something that we are constantly working on. For us, it started with a globally connected workstyle, an independent lifestyle, and pride in our work. We believe travel and intercultural connections are key to growing oneself and a business. These values resonate with our partners, and create a strong bond. In addition, recent tech innovations have propelled remote working forward. Within minutes, you can be face-to-face with a coworker to solve a design problem, or assign a peer a task to help you with in the click of a button. In just about every country, you can find a co-working space to share ideas, connect with other remote workers, and open your mind to any possibility the world has to offer.
Absolutely. In fact, in order to have a successful remote force, it’s vital to have a healthy company culture to keep employees inspired and working hard. How we work and interact with each other virtually drives a huge part of our culture – being on time for calls, meeting deadlines, a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to work, thanking each other and just being considerate of each other’s time. You can be respectful of other people just as easily virtually as in person.
Absolutely! But as with any culture, you have to put a lot of effort into building it in order to have a strong one. Since culture is all about little interactions between team members and how daily life at the company feels, you have to find ways to get those interactions even if you’re not in the same place. Team hangouts and even in-person meetups help a lot (we make sure we do this at least once a year in a chosen destination). But we think you also have to make sure that there’s a genuine sense of fun and caring within a remote team, in order for a strong culture to emerge. Working without physical interaction can be draining, so it’s really important to build a culture that’s extremely supportive and ensures that no team member feels neglected or lonely. That’s a challenge, but it’s certainly possible!
It must in order to do great work. Everyone in Help Scout loves what they do and we all share common values like excellence, craftsmanship, mastery, helpfulness, and more.
When you hire people who embody similar values and work ethic, it’s effortless. When the founders communicate their values and company mission honestly, it resonates with the group at large. Human beings want to do meaningful work and they want to feel like they belong. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be shoulder-to-shoulder.
The one thing I’ve personally noticed is how connected everyone feels after a retreat. Stories are shared, everyone is getting to know one another, and everyone is up to speed with the company’s goals. This improves our video chats, communication over Slack, and overall collaboration.
Of course. I would argue that having a team that feels fulfilled in their work and personal life provides the best company culture. It also naturally removes some of the negative things that you sometimes see in the corporate world, like office politics. People just really enjoy working together and spending time with each other. I believe if you have a strong hiring process then your team will naturally gel to form a very healthy company culture.
Absolutely, one great way to have a healthy remote culture is through work retreats: We are all social people; team members who work remotely still need or may demand a chance to meet up in person. Work retreats are great for this because they allow everyone to come together on unfamiliar ground and build that in-person rapport from scratch.
Yes! It is a different kind of culture, but you can definitely have one. In a lot of ways, you eliminate some of the annoyances when you are not sharing physical space – you don’t have to hear the people in the next cube humming or clicking or smell their lunches. Speaking of health – nobody at LoveToKnow has ever caught a cold from a co-worker!
We do regular scheduled meetings – phone and chat depending on the groups – as well as sending out regular news and this helps everyone feel connected. In addition, we have closed Facebook groups for our teams so they can connect on all kinds of topics – both work related and not. For example, our Facebook page might include some “kudos” for a job well done to a worker, some news about the company and a thread about what everyone’s favorite things to drink while they are working are. You’ll find pictures of people’s offices and furry office assistants there, too.
Yes definitely, but communication is key. As a group we all understand the culture of the company and what that means, what our core principles are. People are then encouraged to ensure that this culture is maintained and developed at every opportunity, whether from simply taking five minutes at the start of a call to say hi or ensuring they have a meal together when meeting.
Absolutely. One of our biggest assets is our company culture, and we work hard to cultivate it. It starts with hiring the right people. There are lots of people that are really good at what they do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right fit for our team. Running a remote agency means finding the right personalities that can do more than just get the work done. We like working with people who make us happy and make the team better as a whole. That might mean our recruiting process is a little longer than other agencies, but it also means that when we find the right person, they want to stick around because it’s the right fit for them and for us.
Remote companies can often foster health and vitality more so than an office culture. By granting trust to your employees to choose their own, optimal work environment they are able to weave health into their routine as they see fit. As opposed to being forced into a stressful commute and rigid office hours.
Yes, definitely it can. A healthy company culture involves good communication and mutual respect among members. It also needs people who are happy and healthy in their life. We encourage people to do things they enjoy. We have a scholarship program intended to get team members away from the computer and to do things they like while becoming active. Some members use the program to learn something new, such as playing an instrument or doing photography courses. Others use this as an opportunity to take up a new activity that involves being more physically active, such as rock climbing, hiking, yoga, dancing, tennis, etc. You can read here some stories about happy and healthy people in our company.
Absolutely, but it probably takes more time. The “watercooler” conversations might have to happen in a chat room, and company-related extracurricular discussions and the like might have to happen in Yammer. It takes consistent and thorough communication, documentation and persistence to communicate expectations, the way we do things, what we value, and the like. And it takes leadership to further the culture. I do think it’s helpful, though, to get together in person, if possible, once in a while, even if once or twice a year.
Absolutely, any company can have a healthy culture if they nurture it well. We try to foster foster a strong performance-based culture by having a shared set of values, recognizing employees for exceptional work, holding employees accountable, and providing a high degree of individual flexibility in terms of work environment.
Absolutely. I think being remote defines our culture. It demands self-discipline of all parties, which yields top performers. In our case we leverage a management style in which all parties are given a realm of responsibility, are held accountable for the results, and most importantly are given the authority to make decisions on their own in the context of achieving the company goals.
Yes! At Parse.ly, we believe that a distributed team is an asset, not a problem to be managed. It allows for radical transparency about how we collaborate on projects together, and allows a “swarm” mentality for solving problems. It also gives every employee the flexibility to work when and where they want to — without worrying they don’t have all the tools they need to be productive. It really allows the collective intellect of our employees shine through in every decision.
That said, when you have a co-located team, it’s easy to celebrate a big company win by taking everyone out to drinks at the nearest bar, or having a big fancy dinner on the company’s dime. But with a remote team, these team-building gestures aren’t as easy to execute. Parse.ly tries to combat this problem by holding “team retreats” regularly, where we fly a bunch of employees to a single city and celebrate recent company victories together, while also collaborating face-to-face for a few days.
Most recently, the team went to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic!
Remote companies can have a healthy culture. In one sense, you don’t have the constant interpersonal contact that can sometimes damage relationships which might inadvertently hurt the culture. On the other hand, not having that interpersonal communication can be a challenge for some. Like any company, however, the culture is established by the leadership through clearly defined expectations and the sense of accomplishment towards the company’s end goal and mission by the employees. At the center of it all, like any company, is communicating the expectations and making sure people are on board with how things should be.
Remote companies can absolutely have a healthy company culture. At Remote Year, we are constantly discussing what needs to be centralized and what needs to be distributed. In traditional organizations with physical locations, it is much easier to centralize culture. For remote companies, we have to determine what elements of culture to centralize while also embracing local team and city cultures. The big things—values, mission, and brand—are centralized; many of the other elements of a healthy company are decentralized to teams and team leads.
It can. Culture is half core values, and half what everyone puts in. We keep our core values prominent and everyone gets it. We encourage connection and discussion. We created Slack channels around interests, whether they’re work related (like WordPress), or non-work related (like our Dogs and Babies channel). People connect and form relationships on the channels, and these connections often continue privately. We also try and get everyone together physically at least once a year, and the regional groups meet more often to work together, grab a beer, whatever.
Here are our core values, printed on the wall of our shared workspace:
The company culture is something that exceeds the office boundaries, it should drive what you do and how you do it, at all time. So figure out your culture, and apply it to everything you do. People will notice and follow you, weather they work with you in an office or remotely. Having a good HR team or person is important to keep the culture aligned with team members, that’s how we do it. HR should regularly reach out to the team, discuss and understand their needs. This becomes more important in a remote working company deprived of watercooler chats, where this type of feedback takes longer to flow and escalate.
A remote company can absolutely have a healthy company culture. It’s important to keep the conversation about culture active. We try to broach the topic during our all-team meetups to keep people engaged and thinking about the culture and how it will evolve as we grow. Again, communication here is key.
Absolutely! The most important thing is for the leadership to actively discuss and decide what the company values are up front, and then act upon those values to build the culture into the team around them. It’s important to establish and reinforce these values consistently with your team, lead by example, and provide them opportunities to demonstrate how these values translate into your culture.
I think company culture could be defined as the way that people think and act within your company, the way they treat each other and how work gets done. I don’t think that being remote in any way changes this – it just means that communication is done in a different way.
Perhaps we have our laughs in team chat, or we have video calls instead of walking to a conference room, and we screen share instead of looking over someone’s shoulder.
I feel like we have a very healthy company culture, and we’re constantly working to make it better. We do little things sometimes like spend 15 minutes just making jokes or bantering before our weekly recap meeting on Fridays. We have a Slack channel called #WatercoolerChat for any random or fun convos.
This all comes down to hiring. It’s critical to hire like-minded folks who genuinely want to work together. For us, we have way too much opportunity in front of us to waste time on drama and egos. So we make sure to hire team players only. As a result, we’ve created an environment where execution and fun go hand-in-hand.
Of course! A few things that we do is have team retreats to get together where we all meet in person. This helps bring a new level of connection to the team. The other thing that you have to keep in mind is that remote work isn’t for everyone. Some employees can’t thrive in the remote setting for one reason or another. We work very hard to find people who thrive in a remote work environment.
We keep a constant communication flow in Slack, organize team meetings weekly and also throw weekly hangouts where our new employees introduce themselves or current team members share their plans and exciting news from conferences every team member visits.
We also have yearly team events such as summer retreat in Estonia and Toggl Challenge that takes the whole company to a new country for a week to work together and compete against each other in building/creating something innovative that’s not directly work related..
Yes, definitely. At Toptal, we do a mixture of onsite and virtual events.
Online, the company is like a MMORPG. We always get a lot done, but it’s informal at the same time. There are constantly emoticons and even memes flying around in any chat. We’ll also do things like have a virtual company Christmas party with everyone on a massive Google Hangout (some dressed up in Santa costumes) in many dozens of places all over the world.
Onsite, we have lots of meetups going on around the world all the time, and we periodically have large core team events in exotic locations. We’ve done things like rent a villa in Thailand and a house in Africa for team members to come together for extended periods of time. We’ve organized a Toptal house for a big music festival in Hungary. Everything is optional, but many of us always go. There are also plenty of Toptal dinners and other events going on every week around the globe.
Being remote has allowed us to build our culture in these extremely unique, fun ways that would not have been possible under a different company model.
Many of my consultants are local and we do attend many travel related functions together regularly. For those not local, they do visit headquarters several times per year. In addition, the team travels together upwards of five times per year. We also do webinars and conference calls on a regular basis.
Absolutely. The key is having the right communication tools and connecting regularly. We use Slack for constant text based communication throughout the day. We find that text based communication really lets our team fully form their ideas and everyone has a say. You don’t end up with someone who is more dominant or with a louder voice dominating the conversation. It leads to a much more egalitarian culture.
We also have regular one-on-one Skype meetings or team meetings and we use voice only – no video which is distracting. That creates a great culture and we’ve had team members become good friends via personal messaging or chatting on Skype.
Absolutely! Our teams tend to focus on communication because we do have so many remote members. We hold Town Halls quarterly so everyone hears the same information from our leaders. That information is then discussed in more depth within the teams to ensure understanding and encourage feedback. Technology is utilized to keep information readily available to everyone. Individual teams, and the company as a whole, come together annually to reinforce relationships, celebrate accomplishments, and plan for the future.
This is a common critique I’ve heard — that a remote company can’t possibly have the same deep level of culture that a physical company has. What I find shocking though about X-Team is that the culture we have is exponentially more powerful and healthy than what I’ve found at any physical company I’ve worked for.
Culture as it turns out has very little to do with physical presence. You can’t even count the number of communities that have formed online (entirely remotely) with incredibly strong culture. Building a business remotely with a strong culture is ultimately not much different.
We’ve been able to rally our team around ideas like ‘unleash your potential’, and have found ways via chat rooms to constantly inspire people to want to learn and grow by showing them ways that each person in the company is doing just that. We also have chat rooms for fitness where the team challenges each other to grow with their health.
We also have a culture of high-fives, which means we’re always looking for ways to give each other positive feedback. All throughout the day, you’ll see people giving and receiving a “/five” (high-five) to someone on Slack for achieving something or helping them out or perhaps they just spoke at a conference. It’s such an awesome environment to be in when there’s so much positivity and warm, welcoming attitudes like this.
From the first day they meet us, they know we’re a company that wants to build a flatter world where every extraordinary developer can have access to great opportunities. That’s a mission that people in any part of the world can connect with, and they take it seriously because of how it changes others. We’re all bonded through these cultural foundations, and it’s incredibly powerful and creates great retention.