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Building First-class Culture on Remote Teams


How To Preserve Your Company Culture When Everyone’s Working From Home

Stats Aren’t Skills

You’ve read statistic after statistic on the benefits of remote working for employees and employers alike. But being well-versed in the pros and cons of working from home doesn’t directly translate to knowing how to cultivate a thriving and happy remote team.

That’s why I’m sharing Impala’s 6-pillar strategy for building a first-class company culture and sense of team camaraderie — on a totally remote basis.

Read on for actionable insights, and steal our initiatives to keep your newly-remote team as happy as they are productive!

Pillar 1: Let your team help drive your culture!

Flip the script and stop fearing inevitable change. Invite your people to continue iterating and changing your culture for the better — from creating company-wide inside jokes, customs and traditions, to launching new company committees and more!

At Impala, there’s a steady stream of ‘good morning’ waves in our #general Slack channel. Giphy is widely encouraged and nearly every dog or cat-owning Impalan has a custom Slack emoji of their furry friends’ faces, to name a few of our Impala customs. Let’s not even get started on our private-eggs, Dolly Parton, or rice-cooker related inside-jokes.

We also support Impalans in their personal fitness endeavors and hobbies with dedicated Slack channels and rewards for meeting their goals.

Inviting employees to share their own customs, cookery, and personal achievements will help to ensure no remote employee feels left out based on locale, personality type, extroversion level, or demographic background.

By leaving the door open for every Impalan to contribute, by default we create a culture of inclusion, and a culture that can be lived, breathed, and added to, by all.

Pillar 2: Distill and reinforce team culture in tangible ways

Now, before you launch into ‘Hey! We’re ahead of the game! We’ve got company values, team goals, and a ping-pong table to boot!’ — a well-articulated set of company values is not a fail-proof way to reinforce your culture in a tangible way. (And neither are passé perks like ping-pong tables).

When everyone is working from home, you need to find fresh ways of reinforcing company values and culture from afar.

For instance, you could turn your company values into wall art! Send posters to your team to add aesthetic and a source of inspiration to their home-offices.

Additionally, you could create an internal culture playbook, hub, or start an internal blog! Having a tangible source to refer back to will empower your team to not only understand your culture, but also to live itadd to it and enhance it.

At Impala we use Notion; Impalans can access policies, info on values and culture, and anything in-between in one central repository.

People will also feel inspired to share ideas and solutions they’ve uncovered while working remotely that might otherwise have been kept to themselves.

At Impala we also have a highly-structured feedback system, which sits within our wider Development and Enablement Scheme. A coherent scheme like this is invaluable in maintaining our culture of growth and development.

Pillar 3: Trust by default, verify by performance

Too many business leaders think trust must be earned before it is given. That’s directly contradicted by countless hard stats on how remote workers are typically more productive than their office-based counterparts.

If you’re worried about going remote because you think your team will slack off, you have it very wrong. The challenge most remote workers face isn’t getting their work done; it’s knowing when to stop working.

When going remote, trust your employees to do what is expected whether they’re at home or in the physical office. Then verify this through agreed performance metrics and productivity markers.

By giving people the freedom to work where and how they are most productive, you ignite a sense of ownership in their work.

At Impala, trust and autonomy are some of our underpinning principles, and are a large part of what make up the experience of being a remote Impalan.

The other side of that coin is high-performance culture; we hold ourselves and each other accountable to a high-standard and care for quality, which is clearly metricated.

By setting clear expectations from the get-go, you set people up to not only meet but exceed expectations.

Still feeling apprehensive? Check the proven benefits of trust according to Harvard Business Review!

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout.

Pillar 4: Make time for fun and relaxation during the workday; schedule it so it happens!

In a survey of 2,000 office workers, two-thirds of them said that having friends in the workplace increased their overall happiness. And the overwhelming majority of respondents said having friends at work further boosted their self-motivation and productivity.

By giving Impalans the opportunity to develop stronger social ties, we also enhance collaboration and psychological safety — empowering Impalans to fearlessly voice ideas, perspectives, and opinions they might not have otherwise!

Since there are higher barriers to entry for socialising whilst remote, at Impala we intentionally create easily-accessible opportunities for fun and socialisation to encourage our more introverted Impalans to also take part.

At Impala, we have a number of initiatives in place to give team members the opportunity to learn more about each other, build team camaraderie, and take a welcome break. Here’s your chance to steal our proven ideas for encouraging breaks and socialisation between colleagues — wherever they might be!

  • #Lunch-Buddies: Impalans can opt-in weekly to be randomly grouped for a team lunch via Zoom, al desko. As an added kicker, Impalans can even expense lunch up to £10 if they share a selfie of their lunch buddy call with the rest of the team!
  • Recess hours: Impala’s remote team are invited to take extended lunch breaks any day of the week, as well as weekly ‘recess hours’, to help alleviate some stress and increase general wellbeing and work-life balance — whether that’s by taking a walk, mowing the lawn, or simply reading a book.
  • Virtual ‘coffee bar’: dedicated time each day for 15-minute coffee breaks, joined always by Ben, our CEO. The home of all ‘water cooler’ and ‘parking lot’ chats!
  • Virtual pub quiz: with Kahoot you can create your own online quiz game, but you can also adapt video conferencing tools to offer a more classic pub quiz experience. A great alternative to our Thursday after-workers. At Impala, we even let Impalans expense snacks and drinks for the quiz.
  • Scavenger hunt: to encourage people to take walking breaks and get outside of their workspace, we send randomised teams in search of obscure items. To earn points, teams needed to submit selfies with the various items and coordinate their efforts as a team to complete additional challenges and ‘wildcards.’
  • ‘Guess Who?’ or ‘Show & Tell’: a remote game where Impalans snap pictures of their home workspace or meaningful objects from around the house and post them anonymously in Slack. The rest of the team must use context clues to make guesses around whose space/belongings they think are pictured. It’s a great way to learn about individual lifestyles, values, customs, and culture!
  • Break time ‘tag’: a game of break time ‘tag’ where team members nominate each other to take a quick break and share how they spent their break time. You can use Slackbot to set friendly channel reminders to initiate a quick walk, drink of water, or stretch.
  • Movie night: with Kast you can remotely watch videos online with friends. There are also chrome extensions for shared Netflix viewing.
  • Virtual game nightJackBox TV has a wealth of games that can be played remotely. Similar to Kahoot, users can connect to the game via mobile using a dedicated pin code or password.
  • #LeavingLoudly: One more way we champion work-life balance and empower Impalans to switch off at the end of the day is by ‘leaving loudly’. Instead of waiting for others to go offline first, we make it totally appropriate to power down laptops and leave work on time. With #LeavingLoudly, Impalans needn’t feel any shame clocking off on the dot! We are proud to see Impalans living our values and supporting their extended team’s healthy work-life balance.

By actively promoting social engagements, and scheduling them during the workday, you’ll prevent feelings of loneliness or the pressure to be ‘always-on,’ often felt by remote workers.

We want to encourage all demographics and personalities to get involved in our culture and community at Impala — however introverted or busy they might be — and every company should do the same to maintain a positive, self-maintaining remote culture.

People will appreciate that you’ve gone out of the way to ensure they’re not overworking or suffering feelings of isolation.

Pillar 5: Give recognition like crazy; and make it count!

Approximately 85% of employees said they’d like to be recognised for daily accomplishments with a verbal or written thank-you, according to a June 2019 report from Deloitte. (Although, there are key differences in how remote employees prefer to receive recognition and praise.)

What’s more, a Reward Gateway Survey found that 23% of employees prefer being recognised during specific instances; and 64% believe their managers can improve their approach by giving in-the-moment praise.

But working remotely can dramatically limit visibility. In the absence of physical cues and external stimuli, leaders and teammates alike must actively seek out opportunities to recognise and praise peers.

At Impala, praise and feedback are a daily affair through dedicated #wins and #thanks Slack channels! In fact, they are 2 of our most active Slack channels.

Through our #wins channel, we celebrate team members achievements and call-out individuals displaying our values in-action. It doesn’t matter how big or small the win might be, everything makes the cut.

Our #thanks channel makes it easy to offer timely and public appreciation across the team, for the smallest or biggest thing. It also aligns with findings in neuroscience, which reveal the impact of recognition is greatest when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public.

By embedding team recognition as a part of our culture and daily work routines, we create the right conditions to improve employee performance, satisfaction, and team dynamics all at once!

Pillar 6: Seek feedback like crazy; and operate with a high-level of transparency when issues arise.

An oft-forgotten part of communication in a physical office is actually ‘overhearing.’ Clarifying sidebars, fresh perspectives, and great ideas can all arise from someone ‘overhearing.’ But in a virtual office; those conversations are often muted or tucked away in private messages and emails.

Negative consequences of this can include lost context (e.g. when a change is made that employees feel blindsided by) and declines in contribution (e.g. people feel unable to offer their own insights and expertise unless it’s specifically sought out).

When you’re working remotely, good documentation is key for transparency!

The solution is to operate with a high-level of transparency when issues arise. In the same vein, all team members should learn to seek feedback regularly.

By operating with a high level of transparency you’ll also encourage lasting psychological safety at your organisation and help to prevent damaging gossip.

If your entire company is working from home for the first time, there are going to be bumps in the road in creating adequate documentation and processes to foster transparency.

Fortunately, the right tools and focus can enable you to stay ahead of many problems and address others as they arise with tact and timeliness.

Keep Culture in Focus

Coronavirus lockdown is hurling companies large and small head-first into the world of remote working.

Between revising company processes and policies, plus quickly scoping new tools to sustain team productivity and business performance on a remote basis — don’t let culture escape your attention!

Take inspiration from Impala’s team and find ways to celebrate and enhance your culture while everyone’s working from home.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was pizza, art, or Pavarotti. Invest the time required to make a meaningful impact and change; that means, practice putting culture first every, single, day!