Working together while being physically apart doesn’t mean that creating a team culture is impossible. Today, we’ll talk about company culture, how to build it, and how to take care of it in times of remote work, when your team is working from home.
Company culture – the personality of a company
It’s ingrained into its identity and reflected in many day-to-day processes, and when built strong, it shouldn’t be disturbed even when working remotely. Every single decision needs to be compliant with company culture. Company communication relies on it and each problem should be solved according to the rules set by company culture.
You can even call it a “brand book” of each company.
Company culture ensures that each team member knows where their work fits into that of the whole team. They will know, and feel, their importance to the project. They also share similar mindsets, values and work ethics, which will be reflected in the work that they deliver. Then, they will know how the work of their team suits the organization’s business goals. All the time, they feel confident, appreciated, willing to listen and know that they are listened to. They keep working towards the company mission and on constantly improving their own work behaviour.
A team culture approach sets some rules on belonging and behaving as part of a group, whilst recognizing and encouraging good practices, then constantly working on improving them.
Now, when work and personal lives are blending together in the light of remote work, staying in touch and on top of things matters more than ever before.
Why is having a company culture important? Understanding team culture
Working on team culture even when working remotely requires a deep understanding of why it matters and how it can help the team.
Company culture to merge the team
You shouldn’t mistake teamwork culture with regularly catching up for a coffee during lunchtime. It’s also not about having a fußball table in the “chillout room”.
Company culture is way more than that.
Company values are reflected in the mindset and skills that are sought in team members, so the company culture itself is a set of values that each member should share. No matter if it’s about communication, passion, paying attention to details, sharing feedback or learning: company culture is about believing in the same things and showing it in every inch of your work.
Company culture to weather the storm
At the time of writing this sentence, we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak and the world is facing one of the biggest crises of our time. This is where having a remote work culture steps up as a real lifesaver for many companies. Not for only those organizations that were already used to working remotely, but also for those whom the concept is a brand new strategy.
A strong company culture oversees problem-solving and crisis management, recognizes various scenarios and teaches team members how to deal with them. It also ensures that team members or projects won’t be left alone during black hours.
Remote work can work
Is building a company culture in a remote team even possible?
“You don’t need everyone physically together to create a strong culture. The best cultures derive from actions people actually take.“ – Jason Fried, Remote
You really can build a strong team culture with people you’ve never even met in person, but whom you work with on a daily basis. A powerful company culture for teams working remotely keeps team members motivated and goal-oriented. They can feel like a part of a team even if they work in other locations or time zones than the rest of the team members.
With a company culture right in place, remote work might be easier to manage and control. Team members may also feel closer to each other, which can positively impact on overall productivity and satisfaction.
How to build the right team culture
Each team is different: there are various personalities, locations, industries and rules to adhere to. While there is no universal answer for creating a team culture that will work under any circumstances, we do know a few ingredients of the secret recipe.
Have clear goals
If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that your company already has a vision, a mission and a set of core values. To be sure that everyone involved in the project is on the same page, you need to communicate these goals and show how company culture may help the whole organization achieve them. It’s in your best interests to get your team attentive and dedicated to the mission.
Screen your team
Before you start diving deep into the details, make sure that everyone in your team is on the same wavelength. Everyone needs to work at their own pace when contributing to company goals and towards building a solid teamwork culture.
A company culture ensures that you have a team whose members have the skills to leave, but choose to stay.
Netflix, for example, has a strong approach of “avoiding superstars with bad attitudes or poor work ethics”. You may have some exceptional people in your team who make terrible team members, by ignoring teamwork and disobeying all of the rules. You may reach a point when you have to decide whether to let them stay in your team (and thus discourage others to join it) or lay them off, losing their skills but also eliminating potential problems.
The company culture applies to your current team, but also to every single person who you’re going to hire.
Introduce culture rules
Company culture is not something that stays in the same shape forever. People come and go, but the company culture remains and constantly improves.
Rules are what get the company culture up and running.
Creating some rules, traditions and habits with managers and employees keeps the team coherent and supports frankness.
As strict as they may sound, they are rather “templates to follow” that reflect company values. Some identify them with values, actually, while for others they’re more of a “culture code” (Asana).
The most important thing is to keep everyone in the loop, and make sure that the rules are acknowledged and obeyed.
Ignite discussion and employee engagement
No great story starts with a salad, but they may start with a discussion.
Sharing feedback is one of the key elements of creating a team culture, especially in a remote team. Learning how to give good feedback through only chats, calls or videos takes time, but is a blessing for efficient communication and more effective work.
No company culture can work without employee engagement and genuine involvement in decision making.
Some of your team members may struggle at first with sharing their thoughts or getting involved in conversations. This may happen especially when you have to switch from in-office chats to fully remote communication. This is where team leaders should come and encourage members by igniting discussions, so that they can give honest, direct feedback and know that they will be heard. This is also where communication tools come in handy: it’s often quicker and easier to send a short message than trying to reach someone over the phone.
Care about team satisfaction
The sooner you recognize potential sources of disagreement and disappointment, the sooner you’re able to fix them.
Sometimes even such trivial things as endless email chains may lead to frustration and therefore disturb the creation of a solid team culture.
You can also use tools like TeamMood to quickly evaluate the “mood” of your team and identify problems or situations to solve.
Building a company culture requires transparency on every level. The company should be genuine about their plans, processes and operations. Openness between employees and managers is a pillar for building a team culture based on respect. Transparency creates trust and makes bonds stronger.
Your teamwork culture should be led by discussions in a judgement-free environment where everyone is welcome to share their comments and receive constructive feedback. While doing this remotely, you need to be careful with words since you can’t see emotions. Sometimes a single emoji (or lack thereof) or a single word may come across as offensive or passive-aggressive, causing unnecessary hassle and stress.
Everyone in the team should know where it is heading, what a particular project is about and why its accomplishment is so crucial for the company. It’s not uncommon for the CEO to take over a regular call for a few mins to give a quick update from the very top. Team members may feel more secure after being given such a message, especially if they work remotely without meeting the CEO in person.
Actual benefits over trendy perks
Benefits sound great and may be appealing at first, but if they are not accompanied by salaries being paid on time or by company culture pillars, they start meaning less and less.
Many of these benefits are burdened with a massive problem: to use them, you need to stay longer in the office. Gaming Tuesday? Free pizza on Friday? Integration workshops on Wednesday? They all require team members to stay in the office – when they would probably rather head back home after a hard day’s work. This also creates a problem for those working remotely: it’s great that there is an amazing gym in headquarters, but such people won’t be able to use it at all.
For example, Basecamp chose a different way to deal with benefits. They actually want to provide their employees with benefits for making their lives easier, better and happier. During summer, they only have 4-day working weeks. Every three years, employees can take a paid sabbatical. They are also covered for expenses up to $1,000 every three years for creating a home office. Basecamp also sends their employees on paid vacations: where paid means that they both pay for that time off, and for the cost of the actual trip. All of the benefits that really make a difference are covered in their Employee Handbook.
Create an ideal work environment even when working remotely
Creating a team culture for remote teams requires effort from both managers and employees. Below, you can find a few tips on how to provide the best environment for remote working.
Use tools to foster communication
Work can be a breeze with the right set of tools. Automating some tasks can save time for creating a team culture that works. A good practice is to create a list of resources, tools and templates, and keep them in one place, so they are accessible for everyone.
What tools are worth considering for remote work?
- Kontentino enables efficient team collaboration in terms of social media management. It’s ideal for remote work, as you can send content to your clients for approval, discuss and edit everything directly in Kontentino. Your remote team can simultaneously work on content plans, edit them and exchange comments in Kontentino instead of playing e-mail ping pong. You can also use it with your team to assign tasks.
- Filecamp may come in handy if you’re looking for storing your files and turning them into digital assets with appropriate tagging. Your remote team can share and access files from wherever they are [note that Filecamp provides a free offer on their software until January 1st, 2021].
- Google Docs provides a simple solution for working collaboratively on documents, presentations and spreadsheets. Its resemblance to Microsoft Office software can be helpful for many.
- Google Meet is a video conferencing app that is suitable for teams of all sizes. Until September 30th 2020, they are offering their premium features for free.
- For internal communication, you can use several accessible apps: Slack (with many apps to integrate it with), Discord or Facebook Workplace, for example.
- For task management, tools like Asana, Nozbe and Trello are some of those to consider.
Care about collaboration
Collaboration in-office is different from remote collaboration, especially if your team has only just recently gone remote. To build a strong teamwork culture, you need to provide your team with the right tools and also to glorify collaboration. Highlight its importance, care about the right information flow and encourage working together on projects. It’s not necessarily going to be all rainbows and butterflies at first, but practice makes perfect.
Collaboration is the glue that binds remote work culture.
Eliminate “meetings that could be an e-mail”
Don’t confuse managing and supporting with over-controlling. Of course, they need to keep an eye on what’s being done, but everyday communication should be based on trust, respect and transparency.
Instead of setting up a series of meetings with everyone in the team, make a regular statutory call with the whole team once a week, say. Instead of long calls every day, introduce “a daily stand-up”, during which everyone briefly describes their tasks. Those are the tactics implemented by Groove – you can find more of their amazing practices here. Such a 10-minute stand-up brings everyone closer and gives an update on tasks without causing a reduction in productivity.
Remote work can be a challenge for many people, so make it easier for them by simplifying processes, resigning from “meetings that could be an e-mail” and stop making unnecessary calls that could have been a message on Slack.
Make it fun
You don’t have to suit up when working remotely – and nor does your team. Working remotely can be stressful, particularly for those who have never worked like this before in a large team. When creating a team culture, don’t forget about those lighthearted moments amongst the thicket of work and business goals. You can introduce a watercooler chat for sharing random things, funny photos, memes and gifs.
And don’t forget birthdays! Everyone celebrates them, and with a bit of marketing automation you can keep everyone in the loop just like Zapier does:
Another good practice for nurturing your company culture, even when working from home, is to start virtual gatherings. Online meetings once a week, for example on Friday afternoons, with a drink in hand and just leading casual conversations. This can help to clear the air and relax the atmosphere.
It goes without saying that creating a delightful company culture takes time, patience and work. There are many things to be established at the very beginning: the method(s) of communication, decision making, integration and project accomplishment. Then, both managers and employees need to work hard not only on their own tasks, but also towards seamless collaboration.
It may be difficult, even painfully so at first, but this can eventually result in building a strong teamwork culture and the efficient work processes that it brings.
Building a company culture in a remote team comes with additional challenges: you need to constantly make sure that the team is motivated, understands company values, stays in touch and is updated with the latest news.
You should aim to build a remote work culture at maximum productivity in a dedicated team who can still share their coffee breaks, even though they’re limited to taking place online.