“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the souls of its people,” Gandhi is often credited with saying. The Indian activist and civil rights leader believed a country’s success depends on the culture of its citizens.
As a CEO who employs team members across seven time zones, I believe this truth also applies to business. And I’m not the only one. A 2021 Global Culture Survey by PwC found that 67% of executives say culture is even more important than a company’s strategy or operating model.
By now, in response to the pandemic, many businesses have transitioned to a virtual environment. This itself requires a great deal of effort, but the most important challenge comes afterward: how to maintain your company culture.
It has been almost two years since our agency went fully remote. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that defy conventional wisdom about remote work, but have helped our team become happier and more productive.
1. Communicate Better (Not More)
Almost all advice about succeeding as a remote company emphasizes the importance of communication. While it’s true that communication is more difficult when your team is never in the same building, it’s vital to communicate the right way.
One of the first things companies often do when going remote is establish a weekly cadence of recurring virtual meetings. This makes sense; a team needs to meet to remain aligned. But make sure that every meeting has a purpose and clearly defined goals. Face time does not always equal productivity. Take extra steps to ensure that every virtual meeting has a structure, agenda, time limit and action items.
Many people will tell you that it’s impossible to overcommunicate when it comes to remote working. I beg to differ. There are times when even the most well-purposed meetings can interfere with productivity. The majority of work my company does for our clients occurs outside of meetings. This is when we have our noses to the grindstone. During busy weeks like the holidays and Prime Day, we cancel many recurring staff meetings to focus all of our energy on doing our work. It might seem counterintuitive for a remote company, but NORM (No Recurring Meetings) Weeks are one of our secrets to productivity and profitability.
Remote businesses should also take steps to prioritize nonverbal communication. My company mandates that everyone turn on their cameras during internal meetings. Video calls enable nonverbal signals like body language and facial expressions that are just as important as the words people are speaking. Some might argue that this can lead to Zoom fatigue, but I would counter that Zoom fatigue is often caused by inefficiency. If you communicate the right way, you will require fewer meetings.
2. Celebrate All Wins, Even The Little Ones
One of the pitfalls of working remotely is falling into silos, which can cause productivity bottlenecks and inefficiencies. That’s why remote teams should use mechanisms that facilitate communication across the entire company — not just within departments.
We hold a weekly all-staff meeting where we celebrate the latest achievements of each department. Too often, companies reserve celebrations for major victories like landing a key account. I believe acknowledging the little wins can have an even more significant impact on company morale. Employees feel motivated when they know their work is noticed and appreciated. We also celebrate our team members when they go out of their way to reflect our company values. These weekly rewards, called GEMs (Going the Extra Mile), are important because they help reinforce our culture.
3. Encourage Socializing
According to the 2021 State of Remote Work by Buffer, the second-biggest challenge for remote workers (after not being able to unplug) is loneliness. Not only are remote employees isolated during the workday, but they also miss out on in-person events like office lunches, holiday celebrations and team-building exercises. These activities help increase morale by building and maintaining friendships.
To reduce feelings of isolation, my company formed a committee dedicated to organizing virtual social events for our team. Online activities like escape rooms, happy hours and scavenger hunts have proven to be a fun way to socialize in a remote setting.
We also host a virtual lunchroom every Friday where team members are free to talk about whatever they want. These nonstructured meetings simulate the relaxing environment of an office lounge and provide a sense of community.
4. Let Your Employees Lead
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned since transitioning our company to a remote workplace is to let our employees lead the way. I can implement a new policy that I think will strengthen our culture, but our employees will decide if it works or not. Some of the most significant improvements to our company culture have stemmed from employee surveys, such as our open PTO policy.
Other valuable feedback comes from our one-on-one touch bases with employees. These weekly meetings provide a space for leadership to listen to our team members individually, which builds trust and transparency. This is important for remote and nonremote companies, but both often overlook it.
At the end of the day, our agency is only as strong as our values. I will always look for better ways to strengthen our culture because it is the foundation for growth. Whether these changes work or not comes down to how they impact our team. After all, our culture is rooted in the hearts and souls of our employees.