As much as we want them to, ping-pong tables, free lunch, and craft beer on tap don’t equal company culture. At its core, a company’s culture is a shared ethos—the values, goals, and practices that give it a unique personality and character. This ethos can be influenced by many factors, such as a visionary founder or even the company’s location.
But how do you instill values in team members who are distributed across the country (or world)? Creating a culture that retains its employees and motivates them to do their best work starts with leadership.
Start with the North Star
When a company is only composed of a handful of people, its vision and goals don’t need to be written down on stone tablets. The founders of a company come to a shared understanding of values by working together. As a team grows (especially a remote team) and roles become more specialized, there are fewer ad hoc conversations to share those values. This is when writing down the company vision and goals, or mission statement, becomes increasingly important.
If you’re one of the founders tasked with defining your company’s mission statement, you may find the process of putting this intangible vision into words to be cathartic—a renewal of the energy that led you to start or join the company in the first place.
Keep your mission statement short. For example, “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.” Explain it the way you would to a five-year-old. Use real and passionate language. Share it with the existing team to get feedback and revisions. When you’re happy with it, share it widely—on your website, in the new employee handbook, etc. (If you’re struggling and need guidance, think about hiring a copywriter—we can recommend a few!)
Hire Good Culture Fits
Good culture fit doesn’t mean hiring people who look, act, and have the same hobbies as you. Instead, good culture fit means hiring people who work hard, have the skills you’re looking for, and believe in the vision of the company. That’s why defining your company’s mission and values is so important. Without it, a hiring manager only has a vague sense of what the company stands for, which can be easily mixed with personal bias. With these values as a guide, a hiring manager has something to measure candidates against—which is especially important for evaluating the suitability of someone they may never meet in person. Noting extracurricular activities in related fields is a great way to gauge genuine interest. For example, if your company sells solar panels, and the candidate participated in a solar vehicle challenge in college, it’s a good indicator that they’re genuinely interested in fulfilling your company’s mission of solving energy problems with sunshine.
Foster Tradition and Ritual
Traditions and rituals can’t be manufactured. They happen over time, forming a medley of inside jokes, made-up anniversaries, and tongue-in-cheek ceremonies. Remote teams have to work a bit harder to create serendipitous situations. Software like Donut schedules random hangouts between team members on Slack, a remote substitute for impromptu water-cooler chats.
Company retreats are also important for remote teams. For example, Buffer’s team collectively organizes a meetup about twice a year in different places all over the world. If your company has a mix of remote and on-site employees, offer to fly in remote employees once every few months. Plan time off so remote team members get a chance to socialize and bond outside of working hours. Paying for retreats can be expensive, but remote teams still end up saving companies money in the long run.
Start with Trust
One of the biggest mistakes that remote managers make is not trusting their team. Avoid this pitfall by making it clear that you trust everyone to do their job — you’re just there to help get them the tools and resources they need. Underneath trust is an assumption that everyone wants to be working together and believes in the company vision.
The counterpart of trust is transparency from the top down. Until fairly recently, Google held a company-wide TGIF meeting that included product demos, company news, and most importantly, a Q&A session hosted by its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Doing something similar with your remote team once a week or month can go a long way toward making far-flung employees feel like they’re part of a larger team.
Much of modern creative work is already intangible: Social media posts disappear from feeds within hours or days, software is constantly updated, and few remote teams make physical products. Without tangible artifacts to signify the completion of major milestones or Herculean efforts, tokens of appreciation for remote employees’ contributions are incredibly important.
Publicly compliment remote employees on a regular basis—during company meetings, team meetings, and one-on-ones. Over time, these compliments and gifts can become cultural trophies symbolizing tenure, achievement, and merit beyond their face values.
Whether your team is all over the world, all in one place, or a mix of both, Artisan can connect you with great remote talent. Reach out and let us know what you’re looking for.