In todays world, corporate culture is becoming increasingly more important. And though it sounds like a new generation buzz word, I would argue that company culture is one of the most important factors to not only keeping employees motivated and productive, but keeping them at all.
As an entrepreneur or manager, you might think company culture comes down to the fancy kitchen food you stock or t-shirts you give out during the holidays, but frankly, that’s just not the case.
When I had my first colleague who worked remotely resign in 2017, I worked hard to figure out why. It was not family, it was not that the work was not that exciting, it was that I did not communicate with him enough to know how we was doing with his work. And when he decided to leave, it was too late.
It was the moment I realized company culture doesn’t stop existing because you don’t have a physical space. Culture in a business is about communication, it’s about transparency and personal interest in your team’s well being.
I spoke with the heads of some pretty incredible companies to better understand their communication styles with remote teams. From how they carry out daily stand ups to the way they invest in their teams by creating core company values that benefit not only their customers, but their people.
One thing I’ve learned about building teams and training new employees is that great talent is hard to find, and the right attitude is priceless. That being said, I’m sure you understand that when you have the right candidates at your fingertips, you’ve got to do as much to keep them onboard as you did to recruit them.
Here are some critical communication strategies as told by some of the best leaders who manage small and large remote teams.
If Communication is Key, Repetition is the Only Way to Turn The Handle
Communication is probably one of the most common issues between two people in life. Whether in business, under personal circumstances or in a relationship — Whether it’s your spouse, your manager or your friend; getting to a level of equal understanding takes more effort than just a few words can provide.
Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero spoke quite a bit about communication. From the nuances of hiring internationally, to working with individuals from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, Josuweit is no stranger to the importance of sending a clear message. He reminded me that communication barriers aren’t always due to speaking different languages, sometimes it just comes down to working with employees who are less experienced in the business world.
The bottom line is “you’re not always speaking the same language and creating a shared language that the team can use and rely is super important.”
Regardless of whether or not you think you’re being clear, Josuweit noted, your employees on the other end may not have as strong a grasp of what your company goals are, or the impact of certain metrics on the business. The key to creating a culture of thriving employees is really to explain things in different ways over and over and over again.
They might not get it the first or the second time, and maybe the reality is, they think they do. But calling someone out in a standup meeting is a great way to figure that out. Not to put them on the spot, but to make sure they have a moment to express their understanding in an open space, because others might have understood that way too.
Consistent Daily Meetings Should Be As Vital A Part of The Day as Brushing Your Teeth
The art of meetings seems to be a precise science for Chris Chasteen, Founder of Content Cucumber told me,
“When Content Cucumber launched, it was 100% remote. Even the co-founders lived in different cities! This taught us just how to be organized when it comes to meetings.”
The core team now works together in Content Cucumber’s Bloomington, Indiana office. However, their writers are spread out across the US and Canada — and video meetings are still an important part of how the company operates.
The content of the meetings are always structured toward facilitating small steps toward big-picture goals. Daily meetings reserved for micro-improvements and daily agendas, while weekly are aimed at acknowledging accomplishments and improving upon shortcomings. And monthly is more about working “on the business rather than in the business.”
For my company, just like any startup we adopted daily stand-ups for product and engineering teams inside our online workplace tool Remo, where it can be visual and helps you connect with each other everyday. But for operations and customer service, we reduced the frequency to weekly and in some cases bi-weekly meetings.
Some things just need to be said, discussed and hashed out verbally rather than a written back and forth, creating a culture of clear and periodic communication is critical.
Make Your Values and Mission So Central That You Can Bonus Your Employees Off of Them
You might think I’m kidding, but after speaking with Dan McGaw, CEO of Effin Amazing, I’m actually pretty convinced. From building trust, to creating transparency to committing to personal development, the core values at Effin Amazing are pretty…. well, effin’ amazing.
“it’s how we look at every decision we do in the business with and without our clients. And then that’s how our team gets their bonus.”
The company has also implemented mandatory FaceTime, including requiring video conferencing during standup meetings and during one on ones. They even start by asking everyone how their weekend was going, just to keep the personal connection — which might seem small, but looking back might have saved me an employee once upon a time.
Since the company is roughly 70% rather than completely distributed, McGaw found FaceTime with the office to be a key metric to great company culture. To make things more seamless, he had a television installed in the physical office space specifically for Google Hangouts. The screen, which remains on throughout the day, allows remote employees to get people’s attention, and even chit chat with other employees close by.
“people like the fact that they can just kind of pop in pop out, they need to get somebody’s attention they can. And sometimes people just sit in a room like don’t say anything, right, and wait for something to happen in the office. So that is definitely been something that’s worked out pretty good.”
Whether it’s keeping things personal, keeping them accessible or being completely transparent. Effin Amazing teaches us that it’s just as critical to practice what you preach on your employees as it is to implement on your clients.
Communicate Three Essential, Yet Personal Messages to Every Single Employee
We’ve all lost some great people, and the sting is pretty painful. Sometimes it might have been preventable, but in some cases life just got in the way. Though Paul Sprokkreeff, Managing Director of the marketing agency Webprofits is proud of the incredible employee retention rate of his company and distributed team, he’s also lost a few good ones along the way.
“I hold the Millenial generation in extremely high regard” Sprokkreef told me, when I asked him about retaining millennials in his firm. “They’re very smart, tech savvy, and embrace anything that’s new, which is great when you’re operating in the digital realm where everything is constantly evolving.”
From his experience, it’s about communicating three essential messages: firstly, that they know what they’re meant to be doing in their job role; essentially that they understand their position description. Second, that you’ve communicated and they understand the value of their role as it contributes to their specific department and the company, to better understand the opportunities and threats. And third, you’ve conveyed and they’ve grasped the direction of the company as a whole, in other words, your vision or mission.
This way, as Sprokkreef points out, “They start to have a much better understanding of what it is they do, and how they are making a difference.”
Finding The Right Communication Tools is as Critical as Finding the Right Words
When you think about remote working, you’re probably thinking about the last decade or so in terms of work, the age of instant emails and slack channels make it fairly easy to stay in touch even when you’re away.
Rus Sellers, however, took me back to 1987 when he and his brother started their graphic design business together and the first thing they bought was a Macintosh II, that ignited their growth. Fast forwarding to 2001, the year of the infamous dot-com-dot-bomb crash, they had grown to 150 people with large offices in London, and realized they were going to have to completely start over — and it was then that they decided to black list having an office space.
Back before WhatsApp and Slack, Rus and his brother Ben, the co-founders of Starberry, an incredible and efficient web design & development agency, were using ICQ, AIM, Yahoo and MSN messenger to communicate internally with their distributed teams.
As an age old company with a start up mentality, as well as an attitude for embracing new technologies, it was no surprise when Sellers told me that in 2003, as soon as Skype was launched, he traded the MSN messenger app for the new video chatting system. The new technology, unlike messenger, could be used for exchanges with clients as well as his team.
And just the way Sellers continues to handpick his team, interviewing each and every one of his employees, he’s continued to handpick and selectively decide on his companies strategic communications technology.
Slack for internal communications, a tool he lives by. Zoom for video conferencing, Monday.com as a project management tool for the various workflows within different teams, Basecamp for putting out fires, and Typeform for capturing every lead.
“We have visibility of every project, and we’re on a mission to make sure that every meeting is as short as possible.”
The key factor in team success, is keeping everyone up to date and on the same page with over 70 people spread out over multiple countries without a singular office space. Sellers makes it a personal mission to ensure everyone’s caught up, in the know and up to date with the latest communication tools in order to make his team feel like they’re always in the loop, “you’re part of the family, and we want long term relationships, not short term, with our team and our clients.”