When you hear ‘company culture’, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Foosball and ping-pong tables? A communal fridge stocked with vegan-friendly snacks and craft beer? Yeah, we thought so.

Now, don’t get us wrong – we love roasted chickpeas and West Coast IPA’s as much as the next person, but a strong company culture needs to be built on something much more substantial.

Well? What the heck is company culture, anyway?

If you Google ‘company culture’, you’ll be met with about a zillion search results, each a bit different from the last. In the spirit of keeping things simple, we’ve chosen this relatively straight-forward definition:

“A company’s culture is a sum of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors and attitudes.”

Think of it as your organization’s personality.

So, what are the benefits?

A strong company culture is great for your business, your employees and your customers or clients. It’s basically a win, win… win. For starters, a great culture can help you:

  • Attract new talent
  • Improve employee satisfaction and engagement
  • Increase productivity
  • Lower employee turnover
  • Strengthen employer brand and build brand loyalty
  • Out-earn and outperform the competition

Cool, but what if my team is working remotely?

Thank you! With so many organizations making the shift to a distributed workforce in 2020, it’s high time someone asked the question we’ve all been thinking:

Is it possible to maintain (or even build) a great company culture when the majority of your team isn’t in the office? 

Short answer – you bet! This is an awesome opportunity to enhance and build on your existing culture, and to build a sense of community that extends further than the door of the office. But where to start? What to do?

We know you’ve got questions, so we’ve put together this brief guide to help you get started!

Know what you’re about

What’s your company’s mission? What are your values? Your goals? Where are you headed?

You can probably answer those questions pretty easily, but can the rest of your company’s leadership team? Your marketing coordinator? Your receptionist? Your IT manager?

These things are the building blocks of a strong organizational culture, they influence everything from how you onboard new staff to how you deal with conflict, from how you make tough decisions to how you recognize employee achievements – and every member of your organization should have a clear understanding of your company’s vision.

Here’s how you can make that happen:

  • Figure out what you’re about
  • Make it official and write it down
  • Save it somewhere easily accessible
  • Communicate it to the entire company
  • Reinforce it over and over and over

Words are important, but actions speak louder

Put simply: don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Few things are worse for your company’s credibility than claiming you have a culture that doesn’t actually exist. Find ways to show that your values are more than just a bunch of nice words.

When you’re managing a distributed team, this is even more important, and, naturally, even more challenging. It’s going to be crucial that you’re intentional about highlighting examples of your culture in action, and that your leadership team is fully bought in on the value of remote work and actively modelling behaviour that reflects the company values.

Let’s go through a couple examples:

What you say: Your organization understands the importance of a flexible schedule and promotes work-life balance

What you do: Make it clear that you don’t encourage your team to work later than necessary. Don’t expect employees to be available outside of work hours or checking their email 24/7. Reiterate the importance of taking vacation days, even if there’s no where to go

What you say: Your team is fun, close-knit and genuinely enjoys spending time together – whether it’s in-person or online

What you do: Take to social media and share photos of those infamous Zoom happy hours, socially-distanced outdoor get togethers, and team game nights, ask your staff to write short testimonials or Glassdoor reviews about their experience working with you

What you say: Your company is invested in the community, actively involved with local charitable organizations

What you do: Establish partnerships with charities and associations that align with your company’s values, and organize initiatives that make it easy for your team to get involved – no matter where they’re located

Foster an environment of communication and trust

When you’re working in the office together, communication is important. When you’re working remotely, communication is absolutely essential. Leadership should endeavour to be as transparent as possible, providing clear, consistent communication and encouraging their teams to be candid about their recent achievements, new projects they’re working on and any roadblocks they’re currently dealing with.

Be sure you and your management team are actively creating an environment where your employees feel safe and comfortable, empowered to speak up and share feedback and ideas. When possible, show you’ve taken your team’s feedback to heart by acknowledging it and putting these ideas into action.

Voice your thanks for all to hear

When you’re part of a distributed team, you can’t just glance across the office and see Glenda typing a mile a minute to meet a last minute deadline. You won’t walk by Maurice as he’s putting the final touches on a huge project or watch Alex fist pump after landing a deal with a new client.

Sitting in their home office (or at their kitchen table), it’s tough for a employee to know what their colleagues are working on at any given time, so you’re going to have to make a point of telling them.

Someone did a great job? Shout it from a rooftop! Sing it from a mountain peak! Or, at the very least, give them some recognition at the company meeting. Praising someone’s hard work can do wonders for employee motivation and seriously boost morale.

That fabled ‘virtual water cooler’

Whether it’s discussing the latest drama on the Bachelor or commiserating about the Canucks most recent loss, in-office employees have enjoyed light-hearted “water cooler conversations” since, most likely, the invention of the water cooler.

The term ‘virtual water cooler’ was coined to describe a platform where remote employees can socialize, connect and discuss whatever – as long as it isn’t work-related.

This might be a Slack channel, a monthly Zoom happy hour, a recurring virtual team lunch – or something totally different. Figure out what works for you and your team and encourage everybody to get involved and make time to connect.

Virtual socializing might feel a little forced at the beginning, maybe even a little awkward, but it gets easier – we promise!

Hire great people (and promote the great people you already have)

Guess what? Your new hire’s first experience with your company’s culture happens way before they walk in the door (or log into their first company Zoom meeting).

Does it happen when they sign their offer letter? Sooner. When they come in for an interview? Nope, sooner. When they read your job posting? Ding, ding, ding!

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so be sure your website, social media platforms and, yes, job postings all clearly reflect your organization’s values and personality. How else are you going to attract amazing, talented people who share your vision?

Once you’ve got these great people on your team, don’t take them for granted. Give your star employees opportunities to grow their role within the company. Promoting from within helps improve employee morale, engagement and retention – and happy, empowered employees are the best advocates for your company.

Stay adaptable and open to change

We’ve all had to change a lot (and we mean A LOT) in recent months, and if you’re not used to it yet, now’s probably the time to start getting comfy.

Change is scary, but inevitable. If 2020 showed us anything, it’s how important it is for us to be able to adapt, innovate and evolve. Don’t hesitate to revaluate your company culture as you go – if something isn’t working, figure out what you need to do to fix it and then get to it!

We’d love to hear how your company culture has evolved over the past 12 months – hit us up with your stories!