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How to Build a Great Company Culture Remotely

Building a great company culture today has become a bit more difficult.

With the rise of freelancing, digital nomads, and outsourcing the game is changing dramatically.

At the forefront of those changes are tech companies. They are becoming truly global and organizations are becoming more and more decentralized. The same young people want to have more flexibility and have an impact on everything that they’re doing. As a result, even tech giants like Uber or Facebook have problems with retaining employees for more than 1-2 years.

Culture is the link between the strategy and people. It’s one of the key factors that determine your growth and execution and what attracts (or repels) people.

It’s also one of those things today that helps your people stick to one organization (doesn’t matter if it is spread around different time zones or not).

So, how you can create a culture for remote and distributed organizations?

Allow me to teach you a few great lessons learned from successful companies.

# How to Start with the Company Culture – Everybody Should Know the ‘Why’ of Your Remote Company

The big ‘why’, the “mission” or the “purpose” is essential to your company culture. You have to figure out why the company is doing what they’re doing.

Not only ‘what’ and ‘how’, but ‘why’ is also really important for people.

Give them a context: ‘Why’ the tasks that they are doing are important, ‘why’ it matters and what the difference is that they are making in the world.

It’s a game-changer if your employees know the reason you are building the product because they can apply at the each step of their work.

As an example:

Apple 

How they do it: Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use.

Why they do it: We aim to think differently and challenge the status quo. 

What they do: We just happen to make great computers.

Company Culture and Golden Circle.

Image source

A great book on this subject is Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why“.

# How Do You Define the Values of Your Team Culture?

These will be guidelines for your employees, while they take each decision/action on a project/product/human relationship.

Instead of detailed regulations and instructions, focus on high-level rules and boundaries aligned with the ‘why’ of your company and with the values shared by your team (behaviors, mindsets, approaches and skills they value).

It empowers your team to take responsibility and innovate and empowers you to delegate tasks, decisions, and responsibilities. More often than not, instead of asking for permission, your team should consult the values. 

As an example:

Airbnb

  • Host
  • Champion the Mission
  • Be a serial entrepreneur
  • Embrace the adventure

# Setup Your Core Company Culture – Environment of Passion and Innovation

It doesn’t matter what business you are in, the people who you like to work with are those that have common interests and passion for the product that you are building. Innovation for your business arises from the passions of those talented people you work with.

If you are a tech company – find people, who are passionate about technology.

If you are a design company – find people, who love design in any form.

Think about an area in which your employees should be passionate and give them an area to improve, test, play with their passion and in the end innovate.

In our case, we tested:

  • Hackathons – One day sprints to build and launch a simple product from the ground up. Thanks to that one day spark, we created a sparked a passion for creating our own products like a time tracking system suited to developers, an internal book management app or component libraries for React,
  • Open-source Friday’s – Once per month we focus on helping grow the JavaScript community by contributing to open-source software on Github,
  • DevDuck – A meetup for the local community of JavaScript developers where we share our knowledge about JavaScript and exchange it with other developers,
  • Today I Learned – A channel on our Slack/Mattermost where we share what we have learned this week/today that may help others in company to grow,
  • Goodreads – A channel where we share interesting blog posts/books or ebooks that we buy for ourselves or the office.

Find people who are passionate about the work that they are doing and create a place where they can turn their passion into innovation – check our post on how to motivate a development team.

Hackaton at Brainhub
Hackathon at Brainhub

# Integrate People

Nowadays, work is something more than the place where you go and do stuff only so that you can pay your bills. The work started to be a place, where you socialize, where you meet new friends, and where you do something meaningful for yourself and other people.

Therefore, it’s really important that you know your team, not only from a professional standpoint but also from a personal one.

We have a really simple rule while hiring new teammates at Brainhub that fit our company culture. We ask ourselves a question:

Does this guy/gal values what we believe in and what we practice?

If the answer is no, probably it will not be a good fit for your company. We’ve created a few practices to get know each other better and integrate like:

  • Team retreats – we organize a team retreat twice a year where we go somewhere together for a whole weekend to have fun, play, drink beer and get know each other better.
  • Team events – every 2 months, we try to go out together even in small groups (doesn’t have to be the whole team) to e.g. an escape room, a movie, go-karts, pool, etc. It’s a great way to integrate a local team working together.
  • Bi-weekly Fridays coke – organize an online conference call on Friday, grab a coke and simply talk about the stuff that might be interesting for your colleagues from the team. Maybe you’ve created an awesome UI design for an app or wrote a blog post that got thousands of views or you as a CEO have an interesting project coming or new people. Share knowledge/news related to your company and you as a person.
  • After lunch coffee – it’s hard when you work fully remotely with your team to get know each other better, but it’s really important. One interesting thing could be to have a coffee after lunch with your teammates to just talk about how it’s going, your interests and what you do in your free time. Try a 15-minute call.
  • Let people travel and work together – have a budget for people to travel and work together from a co-working space/the same apartment/coffee shop, so they may travel and work together for a bit if they’d like.

Though more difficult in a cross-timezone environment, it’s still doable. For a remote team culture, think of:

  • An annual meeting with the entire team combined with retreats,
  • Regular cross-site visits combined with a visit and beer at closeby bar,
  • Location exchange programs.
Departure of Christopher Columbus
The departure of Christopher Columbus

# Transparency and Company Culture

It’s an unstoppable trend.

People want to have an impact and be aware of things going on in the company. It’s really worth the effort to deliver this information to them.

At the end of the day, they are the business partners, not just employees – it’s great when they understand it and feel that way.

The company is nothing more than a group of people working together. 

Share the news, be honest about what is going on, share the plans, your KPIs. Treat the people who you work with as your partners. Make it part of your company culture.

What worked for us? 

  • Weekly updates – Each week on Thursday, we have a weekly online update for everybody at our company

Some examples of a great company culture:

# Give People the Chance to Influence Your Company’s Culture

We consider ownership to be the single most important factor of a successful project/business. Letting team members decide and take on more responsibility is a great ownership booster.

Secondly, most C-Level people don’t know the reality of problems their subordinates face. It refers both to down-to-earth problems, as well as business problems (sometimes also strategic).

Serve as a consultant and let your team know that they can take matters into their own hands and let them build the solutions/processes/company that they want.

If you have a look at the Maslow Pyramid, then you’ll likely notice that your employees probably aren’t motivated anymore by basic needs, especially in industries when the competition is very high and it’s hard to hire an expert.

Image source

# How Have We Improved Our Company Culture? 

# Tribes

We’ve given everybody the ability to speak/make changes/improve how our company works.

Our focus is set on being the best remote JavaScript Team in the world. That’s why we created a tribe where anybody can participate (ex. front-end/backend/DevOps tribes) and talk about what we can do to make the software better.

Brainhub as a company sponsors beers/pizza to ‘fuel’ the discussion and budget in the future to implement the initiatives,

# Investment Fund 

Anybody can come and get funding (mostly time or sometimes money) to build their idea – ex. open source React library, write a blog post, build an application to improve our work, test a new technology/framework/library etc.

You just need to justify your idea by saying – how this will influence the company/people?

What will be the ROI?

# One-To-Ones

As founder or HR/Culture manager, be sure to have a one-to-one meeting with your teammates once every 1-2 months. It is really valuable for both sides – to get a feeling for how things are going and to check if you’re on the same page regarding all aspects of collaboration.

Even if you work with a freelancer/agency, treat them as an integral part of the team because they can contribute and improve your product just like any of your in-house team members.

Based on a large amount of research from Gallup involving 80,000 managers, they came up with a set of questions and areas to help you interview or conduct a simple feedback session.

You could put the questions into the following groups:

  • What do I get as an employee?
  • What do I give as an employee?
  • Do I belong here?
  • How can we all grow?

–> Read Book Summary

# Take Your Time While Hiring – Company Culture Fit

AirBnB spent 5 months interviewing before they hired their first person.

Before that Brian Chesky (CEO) went through thousands of applicants and interviewed hundreds of people.

Each person in the company should fit into the company culture, which Chesky defines as “the shared way of doing something with passion.

When hiring, put in the effort – don’t rush and don’t go for quick wins. The benefits of a person-company culture fit seem obvious, yet the downsides of hiring the wrong person are often underestimated. Remember, a bad hire may be toxic for the company culture and do more harm than good.

Steve Jobs and Apple, they took a tremendous amount of time to fill a role. Even though it took really long time, but they understood how important it is to find the best people and to give them some of the responsibility.

# Tools to Help You Support Your Organization Culture

We use multiple tools on daily basis. We have tried various solutions and continue playing with new ones – one of the questions we ask ourselves when trying something new is whether the tool fits our company culture.

Here’s what we use currently. Let’s divide the tools in a few groups:

Daily Communication

Slack, Mattermost, Hipchat

Video Communication

Hangouts (G-Suite), Appear.in, Zoom, Webex

Collaboration

Jira, Asana, Trello, Confluence, Google Docs (yeah!)

Storage

Google Drive (G-Suite)

Email

Gmail (G-Suite), Zoho

Productivity

Wunderlist, Google Keep

Summary

Now it’s your turn.

Think about the values and mission of your company, how to build a transparent environment for your team or what tools to use to integrate people into your business.

Align everybody on the same page and let them help you shape the culture.

Start to build it and set a clear vision and goals for your team. In today’s world, without having a company culture, it will be impossible to create a long-lasting business. Treat it (doesn’t matter if remote or in-house) as the core of your firm and the reason why you are doing it.

Remember, that the culture implemented in your team is not about fancy offices, free lunches or fun in free time. It should be a reason for you and your people, why you are doing what you are doing.

Company culture should be your ultimate purpose of building your business.