How to Cultivate Company Culture Remotely [Part 1: Embedding & Maintaining]
As a staffing and solutions provider, MATRIX has been hearing many customers discuss how they are maintaining a winning company culture in a remote working world.
A lot of them are asking, “what are we seeing, what are we hearing, what are other companies doing?” as they navigate going back to the office in a post-COVID world.
Forbes recently conducted a survey revealing that 87% of business leaders expect to offer more flexibility, with only 23% expecting the office to be the primary venue for work and 72% expect a hybrid model of working. Thus, many companies are becoming more confident in their ability and their team's ability to be productive remotely, no matter where they're working.
Whether your teams are distributed or you have a hybrid team environment, having a defined plan for company culture and being intentional about how you promote that culture, is key to attracting and maintaining top talent.
Here are some top attributes you might see reflected in a positive company culture that affords employees respect and promotes quality work.
Joyful company attitudes
Team awareness and connection
Strong company purpose
Higher employee dedication to performance
Flexible and nurturing environment
In a recent MATRIX webinar titled “How to Cultivate Company Culture Remotely”, MATRIX Midwest Market Manager Sara McClary facilitated a dialogue between Larry Hack, Chief Technology Officer at CPAP.com and Bich-Thuy Le, VP of Advanced Analytics at Afiniti, discussing these issues in depth.
Watch the full recording of the webinar here or read some of the transcript below.
What are some things you have done to successfully embed both new employees and contractors into your remote or hybrid culture?
Hack: One of the things that I think first about the remote culture is that this is something technology has known forever that can be successful. When I first started, it was CompuServe, and we were online and communicating with people. And a lot of the tech people were very introverted. The computer gave them the opportunity to interact, so I often sent people home to work on projects, because I knew that they could be more effective working remotely and really being able to focus.
As far as the contractors and employees, I think that often contractors get treated like second class citizens and so it’s really important to make them feel a part of the team.
Le: I’ve been both a consultant and a full-time employee on both sides of the aisle when it comes to remote working.
One of the key things that I always appreciated as a consultant is when I'm being made part of the team to the point that I'm actually reaching out to folks, they don't even know that I was a consultant versus an employee.
That is key because as a manager, I have people coming in and out of the project all the time. And if they happen to not have a laptop ready or their password is missing, I can call somebody, and I can quickly get them situated and up and running.
But if they found out it was a contractor, then sometimes the attitude was “you need to get approval”. And it becomes a longer process. So, in other words, by treating your consultants as part of the team, you actually help with efficiency as well as productivity. At the end of the day, we're all working toward the same goal which is making the project, the people, and the company successful.
What practical steps from an onboarding standpoint can you take to get everyone started off on the right foot?
Le: The checklists that we have for onboarding are extremely important. I encourage everyone to step back, take a look at the checklist, and then pretend that you're managing a brand-new employee.
As they go through the checklist, they’ll discover that the new employee doesn’t have a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard, a dongle, etc. So, one of the keys is going through the logistics, making sure that checklist is tight.
Second, make sure that technology support is available to say “if you have any issues come up, reach out to somebody at this number.”
Last but not least, when it comes to onboarding, a lot of companies do a very good job initially. The welcome wagon comes in, but after the initial rush, they go silent. All of a sudden the employee is sitting there for a week or two wondering what to do next.
So, I think it's very important that managers reach out every few days to say, “how's it going? Is there anything else you need?”
I really love the buddy system, because if you assign somebody who's new to a buddy, they can make sure that they're constantly supported and made to feel important
Think of it this way: if I was assigned to be a buddy, and this is a relatively new and junior person, it is my job to figure out who this person is. What kind of skills do they have? What is it that they're missing? The buddy must take responsibility toward a person, and that’s a good step toward management.
McClary: I think that's great because some of the people joining the organization may not understand the company culture or the politics. And now, they have a safe person that they can go talk to without having to schedule a meeting with their manager.
Hack: One of the things we do is make arrangements for laptop, monitor keyboard - all of those things to be sent out right after the job offer.
The new employee doesn’t have access yet, they're not turned on in the Active Directory system, but the day that they start work that's already there available to them, and their first several days are mapped out with whom they're going to meet with, company details, etc. Basically, they go through the same orientation that employees do. Following that they have a 30-60-90-day plan lined up.
We also create documentation for onboarding so that someone doesn't have to show them everything, and they're able to spend time on their own going through that documentation, even though it's not always complete.
We also recognize that someone who's been there a long time may have written the documentation. They may have missed parts that, for a new person, aren’t so obvious. So we give the new people the ability to update that documentation from the perspective of a new employee.
Then we get them access to the groups, so that as soon as they start up their computer, they have the groups in place that they will be working in, and they're seeing the conversations that are taking place right away.
One final thing that can be really helpful is to create a company culture quiz - several pages of questions about where the company was founded, or people who have unique hobbies, etc. The team that's coming in is responsible to find the answers, and they can only get one answer per employee, so it gives them an opportunity to learn about the culture, learn about the people, and to interact with people by asking them questions so they can fill out the questionnaire.
Are there things that you do to foster innovation and keep ideas flowing since you can feel very isolated if you're on Zoom all day?
Hack: We've done hackathons in the past and it's amazing what the team will come up with. When I worked at Blinds.com, one of the guys worked with Google Maps, so that every time someone placed an order, it would show on the map where it was located, and then zoom in to show their house. And we're actually looking at the front window where they want the blinds installed.
Another thing is giving the technology team the opportunity to spend time with the business and see the challenges they're having - watch them do the processing, listen in on phone calls with customers, and see how they interact with the system.
And then the technology team will find ways to automate those things or improve the experience, as opposed to just getting a story given to them from a product owner who had a conversation with the business user.
Le: You can’t build a better mousetrap if you don't understand the mice, so you need to be able to understand the business. What is the problem that you're trying to solve? How are users going to use the product? How does it really impact the business? Because at the end of the day, if you really want them to help think outside the box, you cannot surround yourself with the same people who think the same way, and that includes engineers.
So what we do when we introduce new technology, we try to put a roundtable of people at different levels of the company, so everybody from new hires right out of grad school who know the technology to those who are more senior, who understand the business, but maybe not as up-to-date with technology.
Then, when you come up with a brainstorm of an idea, you can look at it from a 360-degree view. When people don't understand the technology and how it works, maybe it’s because nobody's asking me questions or nobody's challenging me. They probably didn't understand it. or they're afraid of the culture and speaking up.
Hack: Exactly. Another thing that that I like to do is to bring in consultants who are experts in a specific area. Instead of having them just do the work, which then fosters animosity within the team, I'll often not even let the consultants touch the keyboard. But our staff touches the keyboard, with the consultants guiding them through it.
That fosters a really good relationship between the consultants and the internal team and it's not adversarial at all. They're learning at the same time, and the company's getting a deliverable out of it, as opposed to someone being out for training for three or four days.
How do you plan for an intentional and persistent maintenance and development of company culture?
Hack: Planning is important and it's critical, but experimentation is really nice as well. Some of the times we're trying to find a solution, we may try things and it's just an experiment to see how it works. “Hey let's try this tool to see if it replaces a whiteboard. Let's experiment with it.” Once you identify those things and see some success, that can expand into other areas of the company, and you can mature it and make it a more formal process.
Le: I was going to say continuous improvement. To always go in to see if we can do better.
Oftentimes we overcomplicate things when the best solution is actually a simple solution.
That's what Agile experimenting is all about. As long as it meets our goals, as long as it does what we need it to do, and if it's good enough, let's stop. Don’t feel pressured to go further because there are a lot of other things that we need to be doing.
Any tools, measurements, or surveys you recommend to measure company culture?
Hack: We've done surveys in a previous company. There was an initiative as the company was growing and leadership felt like the core culture was changing. I'm all for capturing data, analyzing it, and learning from artificial intelligence.
Le: How do you measure cultural performance? You have to be very careful and have survey experts run it, because they can be misleading, you can lead them into an answer. Secondly, you never know how whoever's filling it out feels that day. Whether they are in a good mood or a bad mood, are they mindful or not.
I highly suggest that we keep in touch with our people on a daily basis. I get a pretty good pulse of what they're willing to say and even what they're not willing to say that also speaks volumes.
Hack: I think it's really important in many ways to let culture happen as opposed to driving it too much. I’ll give you an example. One of the guys on our team started wearing these funky tie-dye shirts. They were so bright, and we’d all joke about it. We asked where he was getting them and he provided the link, and then somebody else on the team bought one and showed up at sprint demo wearing the exact same shirt.
I wanted in on the action, so I bought one of them. And pretty soon, there's a dozen people all wearing that shirt. It’s just been really fun and people who aren't in on it are asking questions about what’s going on.
It's growing very organically now. However, if senior management had said, “we're going to hand out tie-dye shirts and it's going to be a really cool cultural thing,” it just wouldn't have worked at all.
Want to hear more from our panelists? Watch the full webinar recording.