How to maintain company culture in a remote world

How-to-maintain-company-culture-in-a-remote-world

We are officially a remote first business and as we have learnt through our recent Flexa accreditation (yes we are now officially Flexified), “true flexible working means powering people to choose when and where they work”. We LOVE giving our people this choice - not only does it make our team happier but it also makes us a more inclusive business.

That being said, one of the challenges that we have faced (like many other businesses) is how to retain our culture in a remote and flexible world. This is an ever evolving topic which requires trial and error to find what works best for your team and your company as a whole. Here are a few things that have worked for us:

1. Have regular touchpoints, even if they’re only short meetings. The last thing you want is for your team to feel disconnected and ‘far away’ despite the physical distance
2. Last year we set up something called Deja Brew - 30 mins every week to enjoy a brew and chat about anything except work ☕ Each group has 3-4 people and is randomly generated so that everyone gets the chance to talk to people they may not be working with directly
3. On a Friday we always round up the week with a virtual iWrap where we share updates, give thanks, reflect on our learnings and run fun competitions!
4. Interlace your company values into your company meetings and your 1:1 reviews so that they remain front and centre in people’s minds and don’t get lost in the day to day
5. Create a public recognition channel. Whether this is done via Slack or something similar, this has become really important in our remote workplace. It means that everyone’s hard work is being noticed regardless of whether they’re 50 or 5,000 miles away

With Flexa being the flexible experts, advising their clients on all things flexible working, we thought you would also want to hear from the experts themselves! We interviewed Maurice O’Brien, one of the Co-Founders at Flexa, to get his thoughts on the topic:

1. What are the best ways to keep the company culture alive in a remote world?

I actually really like the approach that you guys have taken at Instant Impact – and I’m not just saying that because you’re Flexified!

Having regular touch points; making time for non-work chat; and being vocal about recognition are hugely important aspects of ensuring that company culture survives in a remote world.

I also think it’s great to keep an eye on the seemingly minor things that can make a real difference. For us, we have very active Slack channels, both in terms of actual shop talk and also pure nonsense! This gives a sense of continuity to the day and ensures that colleagues don’t feel faceless and “elsewhere”.

2. How do companies overcome some of the challenges they may face by having a remote or hybrid team?

It really does vary enormously from company to company. In fact, this is one of the main drivers for how the Flexa site content is structured – we’re not suggesting every single company should take the exact same approach or offer the same flexible benefits.

Regardless of the approach taken though, the most successful transitions we have seen have always been based on strong communication with the wider team. There’s zero point bringing in an array of changes that the team aren’t actually that excited about. Survey the entire team first and go from there.

Additionally, companies that have nailed remote or hybrid haven’t necessarily gone all guns blazing straight away; we see a lot of companies ease their way into the process by making some changes initially and then surveying staff again after a trial period. This can be hugely beneficial. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that…

3. Working remotely can have many benefits, but it may also lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection for some people - what tips do you have to ensure that this does not happen?

We recognise that this can be a real challenge, especially (but certainly not exclusively) for younger people. I genuinely believe that this is the single biggest challenge when it comes to remote working and is far more of a concern than any technical, practical, or technological complications.

Speaking from our own working environment at Flexa, we’ve focused on some key areas:

1. As founders, we encourage (subtly, I hope!) everyone to get involved in chat on Slack, even if it’s just some nonsense about dogs, or TikTok, or conspiracy theories. It makes the team feel like more of a team and, at least for me, makes isolation less of an issue
2. We do maintain a small office in London, and anyone at Flexa is free to use it. I think having the option is nice, even if people only use it infrequently
3. We meet up as a team once per month, largely for social reasons. Again, this is something of a UK-centric luxury and not all companies can do this, but we do really value that time together. Anecdotally, we know of other companies (including some that are Flexified) taking this approach and finding it immensely valuable
4. We over-index on onboarding. Joining a fully remote or remote-first company is really hard; there’s no casual “water cooler” in-person chat, so it’s difficult to get to grips with the culture initially. When we have new joiners, we run a company-wide call so that they can say “hi” to everyone, and we try to ensure this isn’t too forced (i.e. we usually take the piss out of ourselves on the call to keep it light!)
5. Little things are important. We send people gifts on their birthday, the anniversary date of their joining (their “Flexversary”, of course), or just randomly if they’ve done something fantastic for the team
4. Have you seen anything that hasn’t worked?

Lots of things! Going back to a previous point, the root cause is almost always not asking people what they genuinely want.

What will definitely erode trust is “half-committing” to new ways of working and then rolling back on that commitment. Anecdotally, that is going on all over the place at the moment, I’m sad to say. Reverting to an earlier point, companies don’t need to run before the walk on this topic.

Lastly, one particular piece that we’re cagey with: unlimited annual leave. Multiple studies show that people take less leave when it’s presented as “unlimited”. We’re very generous with PTO (essentially c.45 days pa, including bank holidays) and people actually take it!

We encourage Flexified companies to drop us a line if they are about to embark on any significant changes, as we’ll often be able to provide some guidance on what may or may not work.

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