How do you nurture your company’s culture in a remote work environment?
Broadly speaking, our culture is based on the Relationship Care approach to servicing, an ethos that says service is a people business driven by the power of human interaction. To that end, all of our employees receive constant coaching on how to connect with customers and deepen loyalty. While the form factor may be slightly different – virtual side-by-sides as opposed to in-person coaching – the approach is the same.
We have regular in-person meetups in the different areas where we operate, to give our employees the opportunity to learn and connect with each other. We use chat groups for each team as a virtual “water cooler”—both for important messages and casual exchanges. Our internally developed video training platform, AdaptiveU, allows us to instill our company values in our trainees from their first day, and to continue to communicate our mission and culture to our employees after that. We promote our mission regularly in internal communications, primarily emails.
We consider our remote employees for any event we plan as a company. We limit office parties to only twice a year since remotes cannot always attend. Throughout the year we have virtual events that all employees can participate in like scavenger hunts, health challenges, and word searches to name a few. We also have a badge program to nominate remote employees for work achievements that ultimately factor in the selection of our employee of the month.
Our creed includes the statement, “I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.” We communicate through P2s (WordPress.com blogs that use the P2 theme), Slack, and video hangouts. We communicate not only about work projects, but also about personal things. We have watercooler P2s that focus on music, games, literature, fitness, home ownership, pets, tattoos – about just about anything that creates a bond between Automatticians. We have one all company meetup each year, where we all gather for a week to work on projects together, learn new skills, and socialize together. We encourage product teams to get together once or twice a year in person for the same reasons.
- No gossip policy
- Empower employees who know they are trusted
- Servant leadership—invest in our people (holistically, not just professionally)
- Live out our core values and mission
- FUN! Virtual coffee talks and happy hours over video conferencing, family and service days. Workplace by Facebook to encourage “water cooler talk” in a virtual environment. Work hard, play hard mentality
- Activities that encourage team members to spend time with others outside of their department
- VTO – volunteer time off benefit to serve in your community
Our culture is the product of everybody involved, so we try to reflect if the culture we have is the culture we want to have. Everybody is responsible to bring issues up and improve the way we work, so it’s not something that comes from “the top”. If somebody identifies something that can be improved they bring it up and if it makes sense at the time it gets implemented. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
We talk about our company culture frequently and make sure everyone knows that their voice is valued in each discussion about continuing to create culture. We focus on continuing to iterate on things that could be improved—our culture isn’t perfect.
We ask the Buffer team for feedback in Slack and in surveys, and implement that feedback. The key thing is to show that we’re looking to continue to work on our culture as a company. We have an entire People Team that works on employee engagement and new experiments with company culture that we can try out. Having that dedicated team has definitely helped in further developing our culture.
There are a number of events and all staff communications that strengthen relationships and ensure we have an engaged, high performing organisations. At any point across the year there will be teams attending ‘sprints’ in locations across the globe. Sprints provide an architect for groups to come together for training, working sessions and valuable team social time.
We train our new employees on our company culture, which is based on Accountability, Visibility and Respect. We have weekly onboarding meetings for all new employees to learn about the company and where to access all important information. Also, each employee is emailed a coupon code to order DataStax branded items at our online New Hire Company Store. This allows our remote employees to feel connected, regardless of where they live.
It all starts with the hiring process – we put a lot of time and effort into hiring people who embody our values, like taking ownership, choosing kindness, and providing value. We document those values and make sure we reinforce them with our behavior and in our daily operations, too. Treating our company and each other with respect is a team effort – it’s up to everyone here to lead by example and maintain a culture of positivity and communication!
I’ve found that the little things really make a difference. Acknowledging birthdays and work anniversaries on Yammer. Giving a variety of opportunities to get to know people outside of their role at the company. We’ve done Happy Hour Trivia, Virtual Yoga, Coffee Breaks, and Lunch Hangouts. We’ve sent candy at Halloween, coupons for free ice cream in the summer, and gifts to commemorate milestones in the company. We send welcome packages to new hires. On a more personal level, we recognize and respect that everyone has things in their life that will take up time and energy. And that sometimes that time and energy may impact their schedule or their focus. We preach the importance of communicating in a very open and honest way. We practice that style of communication by providing opportunities for regular check-ins with managers and HR, as well as platforms and norms for easy one-off discussions. Finally, we train our managers to be compassionate and flexible with their teams and to get creative, when necessary, to meet business goals.
Having fun is a really essential part of the Formstack culture. We rely pretty heavily on weekly team meetings, fun IM chats and, of course, gifs and memes to nurture our remote culture at Formstack. We have a Talent Department that plans “Formstack Fun” events for both our local and remote team members. Some past events have included a lip sync competition, team video lunches and poster competitions.
Goodway tries to have our own level of perks and rewards that are equally as desirable and beneficial to remote employees. We use a program called Recognize to thank each other for a job well done with customized badges, we encourage regional meet-ups and lunches, encourage social media connections, sponsor two all-company events a year, have virtual contests like pumpkin carving during the holidays – all kinds of things you can do to encourage connections and culture.
We love the work but we also know when to have fun and connect. Alongside the two retreats a year, we have our Friday Fikas, and randomly we’ll do something where everyone can go to the movies on Friday or maybe a dinner is on the company. We encourage—and are interested—in what people do outside of work, whether social work, coaching, outdoor sports, or building a blog.
We have an incredible Director of Culture and Development who is focused on developing a strong culture in a remote work environment. Examples of some of the unique initiatives include:
Happy Hour: These are held on the last Friday of every month. It’s an open Hangout with a theme associated to it (such as dressing up for Halloween or sharing favourite recipes). Employees are welcome to pop in and out over the course of the hour to share some laughs and continue to build their relationships with their colleagues.
Cluster Parties: With employees in over 30 countries, it’s not possible to have a holiday party or a summer picnic with the whole team in attendance. So, our Director of Culture hosts numerous cluster parties in cities where we have clusters or groups of employees based. The parties include a team-building activity, dinner, and lots of laughs.
Sherpa Program: All new hires are assigned a Sherpa, someone that spends some time with that new hire over the course of their first month on the team. The Sherpa is not the new hire’s manager and is intended to be a friend or act as a guide as the new hire as they are just starting out in their new role. This program helps new hires feel connected to and that they are a part of and belong at ICUC.
We have a “take-your-birthday-off” policy that every team member takes advantage of. On a team member’s birthday, our office manager will send out an email wishing that employee a happy birthday, talking about a unique and personal present that the Parse.ly team will be gifting him/her, and encouraging others to offer well-wishes. We have a special email alias for social emails such as this one, and it really helps to foster a sense of well-being and celebration as a team — especially in a remote work environment.
The best thing we do, I think, is our yearly meetup. It’s a very democratic meetup, meaning that we vote on everything—where we want to go, for how many days, what activities we want to do, and so on. We don’t do hotels, but huge mansions. I believe that too many remote companies use hotels, which aren’t very personal. Keep it personal. Rent a vineyard in South Africa or a farm in Italy. The purpose of the meetup is always to get to know each other. For the meetup, everything is paid for by the company except for souvenirs. It’s optional to join. We’re not the only remote company doing meetups, but what differentiates us, I think, is the community and democracy when doing meetups.
We try to infuse fun into our remote work environment to nurture our culture. We do things online together like get festive for birthdays and babies, hold afternoon video chat Happy Hours after we complete a sprint, hold a weekly book club meeting, and have a regular get-to-know-you “Coffee Time” where people are paired together on cross-functional teams to spend an hour in video chat to talk about topics that aren’t work-related.
Everyone in the company is encouraged to provide ideas, suggestions and contribute to initiatives that they’re interested in and are excited about. Decisions are laid on the table for people to provide feedback and everyone is given the opportunity to voice their opinion whenever they’re inspired to do so. A few specific activities that spur engagement include:
- We have an all-hands meeting first thing every Monday morning. Here is where we talk through our company and customer initiatives for the week, ourselves and learn more about each other. It’s a pretty great way to start the week!
- We have many, many, many project chat rooms, one of which is the Lounge. All topics welcome, usual banter includes cat gifs, earworm youtube videos, sportsball stats and anything else shiny or hilarious that catches our eye.
- Happy hour! Login to the dedicated google hangout on Friday afternoon and have a drink to wind down the week!
- Mentoring & check-ups – we have an ongoing mentoring program and 1-on-1 checkups that keep people connected beyond our projects.
We have remote social hangouts every Friday. Everyone is invited to hop onto a video call to hang out with their coworkers with a beverage of their choice. We also have a program Stack Roulette that matches you with 2 people from different locations and departments in the company to get to know coworkers you otherwise wouldn’t.
Constant communication with all team members. We also use Slack for sharing “water cooler” discussions. Another important aspect of our culture is our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. Every year, each employee has access to $100 to which they can donate to a cause important to them. Employees love this program as they recognize their employer cares about their life outside the office and empowers them and supports them in making a difference in their local communities.
We hire folks with extensive remote experience. We know they’ll thrive in our environment. We get the team together in person 2-3 times per year for fun with a little bit of planning and strategizing thrown in. We also talk a lot internally about how thankful we are to be a remote team.
We make sure to all get together as a company on a regular basis. For example, we have two team members that live out of state. So we flew them into Baltimore for a few days and we took a little bit of time to work, but mostly just spent time together doing fun activities like eating, playing miniature golf, and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. It was really just a time for the team to spend time together face to face and really get to know each other.
We have Slack channels dedicated to all sorts of interests, from fitness to cooking to travel. Our teams meet anywhere from daily to weekly by Google Hangout, and we usually have a weekly happy hour Hangout where anyone can drop in and socialize.
Compared to companies in a physical office, we find that our culture and communication transcends departments or workgroups and it’s easier to get to know people across the entire company.
(a) At the start of our weekly one-on-one calls, we take a few minutes to talk about something that we are enjoying being involved with both at work and outside of work.
(b) We have face-to-face staff meetings every 3 months. And at the start of our virtual staff meetings, we show a picture of our families and share an update about both work and our lives outside of work
(c) We get together once a year with our spouses for dinner
Kathy Sierra has a great video called “Building the Minimum Badass User”, and I think it describes a lot of how we nurture our culture. In short, we try to do things that help the people at Toptal be badass. For example, we encourage, support, and celebrate travel and adventure. A lot of times on team calls, we’ll start by asking people from where they are working today. The answers are often incredible and include exotic countries, exotic locations, and exotic atmospheres.
Since we’re remote, it’s also important that the many things we’re doing are as visible as possible to people at the company. I write about our culture as much as I can, and many of us are constantly traveling and meeting up with each other in cool places. At this point, we have a Toptal event going on somewhere around the world almost every day of the year.
When you see all these other people around you at the company and they’re doing awesome things, I think your culture builds itself.
Our head of community in the U.S., Kevyn Klein, is critical for this process. She understands our teachers so well because she talks to them on the phone and through email all day long. She organizes dozens of events and meetups for our teachers every month and puts her heart and soul into them.
We focus on the pillars of our culture: Fun, Action, Communication, Transparency, Trust (FACTT).
- Fun – Meetups, video chats just to make each other laugh.
- Action – The reason we came together in the first place. Doing good work is satisfying.
- Communication – It’s the oxygen. Don’t assume. Text chat can be interpreted differently depending on the mood of the recipient. If in doubt, voice chat to convey intent.
- Transparency – Creates a sense of ownership. Insurance everyone is on the same page.
- Trust – A remote culture will crumble without trust.