How To Maintain Company Culture In Distributed Teams

Reading articles and studies, listening to anecdotes, learning from workplace experts - whichever way you go, you’ll discover there’s one challenge everyone has in the distributed workplace: company culture.

Maintaining company culture and redesigning it to fit a remote world may sound like a buzzword or phrase, but it’s the core challenge of every company going remote, hybrid, or distributed. As many People Operations and HR teams already know, you can’t just replicate what used to work in the office and digitalize it - you need to come up with ideas, processes, and procedures almost from scratch.

If you’re one of these People and Human Resources professionals, we’ve got you. We made this guide for all the People teams out there wondering how to rethink their values and culture and showcase them to their distributed workforces. Here are the steps to maintaining a great company culture when you’re distributed.

Map out your company values

Before diving into steps to maintain workplace culture, we should have the foundations laid out. If you don’t have it already, write down the company's mission, vision, and core values. These should be available and clear to all stakeholders, from executives and employees to customers and the public.

Laying out the company values is the first step towards building a strong company culture, as culture is basically the core values translated into behaviors. This is where you list the behaviors that are rewarded in your company and note if the leadership style is top-down or more collaborative.

This is also the time to identify if culture change is needed to adapt to remote and distributed work models. As companies enter rapid growth, their corporate culture changes. It’s not the same at a startup where the co-founders exude culture the most and at a large corporation where every employee contributes to the workplace culture.

Having a clear picture of the organizational culture you want to implement has many benefits. It helps with the hiring process, enabling you to look for employees who are a culture fit (or culture add!).

Weave flexibility into your company's DNA

A recent report by the ADP Research Institute shows that 64% of the global workforce would rather quit than go back to the office full-time. Statistics like these are everywhere lately, and People teams have been paying attention: flexibility in the workplace has become their priority.

But as many experts will tell you, flexibility isn’t about location anymore or how you call your work model. It’s about listening to your employees' needs and trusting them to choose when and where they are most productive. In a way, for People professionals, the challenge is incorporating flexibility and distributed work into the DNA of your organization, workplace, and culture.

Whether you’re evolving from an office-based company or starting remotely, location-agnostic hiring will bring its set of challenges your way. You can do two things to ensure employee experience is leveled for all employees: give the same benefits to everyone and try to bridge the geography gap.

The team at Rhino started using Gable to ensure employees outside of big metro areas have the same experience as their teammates in big cities. For Rhino, adopting distributed work came with a chance to design a superb remote culture across the company, and they used that chance to the maximum.

Tailor a unique remote onboarding experience

What’s the best way to showcase the work culture to new employees? We’d bet on the onboarding process. In remote teams, onboarding is even more important, as it makes new hires feel welcome on their first day, even if their coworkers are miles away.

There are many ways to create an exciting work environment for new remote employees, from sending swag bundles to their homes before they start work to assigning them a work buddy for onboarding.

Memorable and effective onboarding helps companies improve employee retention, as employees often cite poor onboarding as the reason for leaving their jobs within the first year. Combined with a good benefits package, onboarding goes a long way to showcase and maintain a positive company culture in remote companies.

Facilitate collaboration

Technology is the first thing that pops up in most people’s minds when we talk about collaboration in a distributed workplace. However, collaboration poses a broader challenge for People operations and Workplace experts: how to ensure your employees are genuinely connected wherever they are?

From a culture standpoint, it boils down to giving employees unifiers - things that will serve as a basis for collaboration outside of their core work tasks. And while Slack groups and Zoom happy hours do an excellent job for team members who never meet in person, collaboration has a different meaning for those who have a chance to see each other.

In-person meetings become more intentional, purposeful, and deliberate when they’re not mandatory or don’t happen every day. In practice, this means enabling employees to connect and collaborate when they want to without having them sit on Zoom calls all day.

Postclick’s employees leverage Gable to get together outside of scheduled meetings. They can come in whenever they want and work together for the day. The leadership team at Postclick sees these collaborative encounters translate to higher engagement and better teamwork.

Listen to employee feedback

Taking employee feedback and acting on it is essential for remote companies and can help achieve company goals, retain and engage employees, and provide a better employee experience.

Employee feedback can come in many formats, from one-on-one check-ins and engagement surveys to meetings with executives and company-wide AMA initiatives.

Another good way to gather employee feedback is to implement an open-door policy, where new hires get to chat with executives and department heads during the onboarding process. This showcases a culture of approachability, collaboration, and valuing employee opinions.

Nurture employee engagement

And as we hit the topic of employee engagement, it’s worth noting that both companies and employees are still learning how to get the best out of distributed work. Everyone is working towards a distributed workforce that is happy, productive, and engaged.

When we look at companies with highly engaged distributed workforces, we see all they have things in common. They focus on fulfilling the needs of employees, providing workers with benefits they need and use, and making belonging feel effortless.

Most companies are rushing to offer employees benefits centered around flexibility to bypass The Great Resignation. Most of them don’t consider the need to match these benefits to what employees need and will actually use. There is little value in providing coworking memberships that nobody will use or won’t be able to leverage with their teammates.

When considering how to approach the engagement strategy for the distributed workplace, think about benefits employees will want to talk about, share among themselves, and enjoy together.

Companies that use Gable and their employees enjoy transparency and complete visibility into how they use remote workspaces. With Gable’s Team View, everyone can see where their coworkers are headed on a specific date and can join them with a single click. This helps bring remote workspaces front and center, encourage people to connect and collaborate, and give People teams the knowledge about how their workplace is doing every day.

Help employees battle burnout & improve work-life balance

A recently published article by Quartz showed Google Trends data saying searches for burnout hit an all-time high in April 2022. And while Google Trends isn’t a definitive study or research, it indicates that the inability to switch off from work, unrealistic expectations, and overworking have put employees at risk of burnout.

Pair this with the fact that not every remote employee has the ideal working conditions at home, and you get a workforce with flexibility but no tools to make the best out of it. As a People professional, it’s up to you to offer your workforce different options for how they can work.

One part of this is remote workspaces, which aren’t just good for improving collaboration but also help employees get out of the house, change scenery, and achieve better work-life balance. For many employees, spending a couple of days every week in the office, alone or with coworkers, makes it easier to disconnect from work when they get home and set boundaries for their time off.

For employees at Nava, access to Gable and a vast network of remote workspaces lets them decide for themselves whether they want to come in once a week or every day. For their People Operations team, Gable gives them the peace of mind of meeting every employee where they are and helping them design their best workplace experience.

Design intentional in-person experiences

When distributed teams get together, unlike in an office-based culture, those encounters need purpose and intentionality. Whether you’re organizing meetings, training sessions, or offsites, the key is to let your team unwind, get to know each other, and connect - because that’s what enables them to work together better.

Apart from providing spaces where people can get work done, facilitate purposeful encounters with agendas that aren’t strictly work-related and focus on the human connection between employees.

Remote-first teams like the one at Kasa use Gable to facilitate and organize team meetings and offsites all across the US. With easy access to the best workspaces a few clicks away, their leadership focuses on making in-person encounters memorable and meaningful, not just another work trip.

Empower employees to make decisions about how they work

Distributed work is an exercise in innovation, creativity, and trust. At the same time, it’s a challenge and an opportunity for companies to show they think about distributed work differently and lead with their employees’ needs coming first.

The priority for People teams is empowering employees to decide how they work by giving them decision-making power and good options to choose from. If employees know they can choose and are empowered to make those decisions, People teams will be able to steer the ship of the workplace and stay in control while still providing the flexibility your workforce desires.

At Augury, employees know they can go into a nearby workspace as often as they like. Depending on what they need, they can work by themselves, have a collaborative day with their team, or organize a meeting. Their Workplace team gave them the power to decide and let them run with it while still staying on top of budgets, usage, and feedback from every employee.

Use feedback and data to have meaningful conversations

All of the points we mentioned above are important for showcasing organizational culture in a distributed work setting - but this last one is the most critical. The single most significant benefit of the distributed workplace for People Operations and HR teams is the ability to run a data-driven workplace.

Everything the office didn’t give People teams space for is now coming true, from gathering employee feedback to capturing new metrics and identifying employee needs as you go.

The workplace is now a measurable category of employee experience, and the fastest route to designing the best experience is to use data and analyze what works. Be ready to act on data and feedback your employees give you, and double down on what they need and use most.

Going back to the team at Postclick, they do a fantastic job at running a data-driven workplace. They track how many people use workspaces and then look into locations, job titles, seniority, and locations, to get a complete picture to make informed decisions about the direction of their workplace.

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Andrea Rajic