How to Cultivate Company Culture Remotely [Part 2: Overcoming Obstacles]
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.
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.
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.
Any challenges that stick in your head that you’ve recently experienced?
Hack: A big one for tech people is “replacing the whiteboard.” It’s so common at the office to stand around a whiteboard, and all work on a problem together.
We found online tools like Lucidcharts that allow us to do smart whiteboard technology where you can be remote and have a big whiteboard unit where you're drawing on it and there's a triangulation of the pin to the board. It's electronically displayed on a person's tablet or computer and then they can add their notes, so everyone is collaboratively whiteboarding.
We're an Agile shop so our development teams are used to the idea of having 3x5 cards with stories written on them, or post-it notes on the Scrum board. Obviously, you can’t do that virtually, but using tools like Jira take that metaphor of the card and visualize it to make it feel as real as possible without physically being there.
People sometimes feel isolated when they're working remote, and one thing you can do is keep a video conference open all the time and that provides interaction with the team, allowing you to sense the pace that's happening within the company.
Le: I think there are multiple challenges, but the ones I want to highlight are work life balance challenges. As much as we complained about how we hardly ever exercised pre-COVID, we still had to get dressed, get into the car, walk from one meeting to the other, etc.
Now, as we work remotely, we have back-to-back-to-back meetings all day. We don't have time for breaks. We don't have time for snacks. We don't have time to go from one room to the other.
I’m trying to highlight the unintended consequences of our health issues. We have to force ourselves to get up and move around because we need to have that social break where we interact with each other, as well as just walk around a little bit, even if you don't go outside.
Those are the unintended consequences, but I think more importantly with regard to work life balance, we’ve all experienced the disruption when there were kids at home, dogs barking, knocks at the front door, etc. We should learn to be more tolerant because everybody's remote. We're all in the same boat. We now can empathize when we hear the baby cry. And we all smile because we recognize that moment when it has happened to us.
I work now more than I did before, so we need to have some kind of physical boundary of when we start the day, and when we actually end the day. That is extremely important for work life balance.
McClary: One of our Agile coaches always make sure to end meetings seven to five minutes prior to the end of the hour, just so to make sure everybody has a little bit of time to take a breather.
I can relate to staying in one place. Working in Chicago and riding the bus and train, I used to get 6,000 steps in before I even got to the office. Now I have to remind myself to make that up at home.
This week, one of our client CIOs said, “sorry, no Zoom on Friday,” because she realizes there are boundaries that we all need to create for ourselves to me so we can maintain a sustainable pace.
Have you had to intentionally put up boundaries to maintain the company culture and promote it?
Hack: There's a certain. expectation that everyone should have their camera on all the time. But when you have meetings going from early in the morning into the evening, a lot of the times those meetings get scheduled during lunch. And it's one thing to sit around a conference room table and share lunch together, it's another thing to be on a conference call feeling very self-conscious about eating when you know the camera is a few inches in front of your face.
We have this expectation that people have the right to shut off their camera for periods of time if they're eating or if they're wanting to walk around.
At our company, we have unlimited flex time, so at any point in the day, if you feel you need a walk and you've got the time open, you can take it. It really is best for the company because you want people to feel refreshed and mentally alert.
We always talk about velocity and getting as much velocity out of the team, but there's also that red line. You don't want to burn the team out by always pushing them; you need to have a sustainable pace. We're looking at really allowing them to have a morning off. Team members not needed at that moment, we tell them to run errands, just sleep in or whatever, and the team will catch up with them in the afternoon.
Le: We have adopted a policy on Fridays called “project light bulb”, where we allow people to do whatever they want from nine o'clock to noon. Whether it's learning a new tool, getting together to explore this great idea, or getting people to volunteer and do stuff together. Especially nowadays, there are so many younger people who are entrepreneurs, they have all these innovative ideas, so this is a wonderful time to help let them do self-development however they see fit.
Is there one thing you would have done differently to foster a good culture?
Hack: There was one thing I wanted to do, but my company wouldn't let me do it, although I have used it successfully in other areas.
We had a “wall of shame” and when someone messed up, they would go on the wall of shame - and anybody could go on it. I wound up on the wall of shame because I pushed a database change and I broke the application. The team was so happy to put me up on the wall of shame, they made the picture extra big that day.
It's kind of an odd thing, but owning up to your mistakes and learning from them and creating a culture where you can make a mistake and learn from it and people can see the mistake that you made is a great thing. It helps foster a culture of experimentation, but also helps others from not making the same mistakes over and over again.
McClary: I think that's great and as a leader it makes you more real, more relatable, and again, fosters that trust.
Have you experienced any drawbacks when embedding contractors into your culture as full-time employees?
Hack: The hard part is when eventually you have to let someone go. Recently, we decided to launch the release that we're launching today much, much sooner than planned.
So, we had to scale up with a lot of staff and we found a great group to work with. We bring these people in, knowing they're going to leave pretty soon. And that’s hard when you work on a project like this and everybody gets so close and they feel like family. They're not being fired but there's this disappointment and that's a challenge.
There are other places I’ve worked where if you don't keep up with your internal team and keep them sharp, then you're going to get a contractor and at some point the company will want to keep them over your employee. As soon as you keep a contractor and let an employee go, that makes the team very nervous.
I stress with my managers that it's critical to keep the team sharp and to deal with performance issues as they come up because I don't want to be in a situation where we want to choose a contractor who we've brought in for a short period of time over an employee.
Le: We had a contractor who, because of the rules and regulations, only had 12 to 16 months before they had to roll off. You should have seen the amount of effort from my team - everybody was practically knocking on my door every hour, trying to build a business case to convert him.
There are also times when there is company-sensitive information being passed out and you're not allowed to have contractors and consultants be in those meetings.
As executives, you are responsible for what information is being passed out and sometimes it's really difficult for the team to understand that.
So that's the type of discussion that is a little bit on the tough side.
And then the social activities, that again because of the corporate rules and regulations, you might not be able to invite the contractors. So, what we tend to do in those situations is have our own happy hour with our consultants.
Want to hear more from our panelists? Watch the full webinar recording here.