How to build and retain team culture at a distance

How to build and retain team culture at a distance - key takeaways

Last week Onezeero hosted a webinar in partnership with our client 10up on recruiting, onboarding and maintaining company culture at a distance. Web development specialists 10up have always had a fully distributed workforce, so it was a fantastic opportunity to draw on their experience of long-term remote working to help our clients navigate the choppy waters of a totally remote workforce.

As more and more companies see the potential benefits of homeworking – from better work-life balance to reduced spend on rent – more companies are considering their options when it comes to returning to work. But how can a business still maintain its ‘essence’ at a distance? Here’s some of our key takeaways.

1. Be transparent

It’s important to be realistic about both the positives and the negatives of working from home. While it offers greater flexibility, independence and in many cases productivity, there can be frustrations and at times, feelings of isolation. Being honest with candidates about these challenges and explaining the provisions in place to mitigate the negatives, helps candidates to positively select into the idea of remote working. At 10up, they ask candidates to complete a questionnaire about their previous remote experiences, such as working with different timezones, and talk everything through on a video call.

Ensuring candidates are comfortable and understand what they are selecting into means that the candidates you attract will fit into your culture, and be more likely to stick around.

2. Be explicit

Set out a framework including tools, processes and policies to help new and existing employees understand how things work in your business. This should be stored in a centralised, and easily accessible, place so people can refer to it whenever they need to. For example, explaining the different communications channels and how to use each one can help individuals work out how to fit their diary together, like blocking diary slots out for synchronous work or starting a Slack thread for asynchronous work. Being clear about expectations sets out a common language for how people work together.

3. Have a common vision and values

Develop a crystal clear vision that can help steer employees in the work they do every day. This should relate to who you are today – not who you want to be tomorrow. This can then be used as the rubric for hiring. By asking candidates how they align to your vision and values you can ensure that your future starters fit into your business from day one. Setting out and reiterating clear values is also important for ongoing workforce management. Firstly, because it gives people a collective identity and purpose, even remotely. They understand what they stand for. And secondly because it gives people a standard to aim for and to mark themselves against. At 10up, values and vision are considered in everything from job titles to performance management to group workshops.

4. Build networks and keep communication flowing

When working remotely, it’s easy for people to feel distanced from their co-workers and their company. People often end up in departmental silos even in the office, and this is even worse remotely where there are less organic cross-departmental watercooler moments. So how do you make people feel like they are part of something bigger?

At 10up, they have a number of different approaches to slice and dice teams and keep communication flowing. All their people have weekly one-to-ones with their manager for pastoral care, and weekly one-to-ones with their discipline lead for skills care (e.g. Is the project interesting or challenging to you? Do you need to upskill, and if so what training and support can we give?). On top of this, they have shared interest societies on Slack and virtual ‘brown bag’ breakouts over Zoom – where people can gather around the remote watercooler to share thoughts and ideas. As with everything, visibility of contact points is essential and so are open door policies.

Network building starts from on-boarding. In addition to breaking down on-boarding tasks into bite-sized chunks, one of the priorities for hiring managers with new starters should be thinking about different orientations requirements, who they need to know and at what point. New starters should never be uncertain about who to go to, so introducing them to relevant team members and colleagues early on is essential.

There are also so many tools available – from videoconferencing to networking platforms – to keep conversation as natural as possible, and many of them are discounted at the moment due to the current climate.

5. Check-in on health and wellbeing

It’s important to keep a temperature check on your employees and to understand how their personalities might require different support styles. For example, while you might assume that introverts are more likely to cope well working remotely, they are also less likely to reach out and seek help if they need it. Understanding the people in your team and what they need is crucial for ensuring that everyone is supported.

10up do weekly feedback surveys to help understand individual employee sentiment. This, alongside write-ups from the weekly one-to-ones with managers and discipline leads, is passed up the chain and shared with the leadership team. This helps them to flag any problems and offer help quickly. 10up also has a dedicated Good and Welfare Officer to act as ongoing support and an additional contact point for any issues, creating a network of open communication and support.

Lockdown has been a challenging time for many of us, and has tested our motivation, morale, and business relationships. But for many of us too, it has been a period of enlightenment into improved flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance. When the green light for the return to offices goes on, there will be many companies debating whether returning to work is essential, or at least, desirable. And while we all have our own decisions to make on that front, we hope these top tips will help you find a way to manage your team culture remotely – whether that’s now or in the future.

And of course, you can’t have the team culture without the team! And there’s no reason to put your recruitment on hold now – as discussed above there are lots of ways to continue hiring remotely and to ensure you get the best fit for your business. Contact us here for more information on recruiting and on-boarding at a distance.


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