I can still remember when my family first discovered the digital meeting space. It was maybe six...
Why a remote-first work environment might be just what your culture needs.
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It’s “common knowledge” that building culture remotely is difficult. But what if our “common knowledge” is wrong?
By now, you’ve probably had to navigate the complexities of remote and in-person work. In the last few years, many companies that shifted to exclusively remote work have struggled to bring their people back to an office setting; others have realized the benefits of hybrid work but are still figuring out how to advance a healthy work culture now that traditional rhythms have shifted.
Remote-first is… easier?
In our recent Culture Lab conversation, Dan Kasper sat down with Culture Architect Darcy Mayfield. In our Culture Labs, we make it a point to move out of the abstract and into the everyday lives and problems leaders and teams face when it comes to building a healthy corporate culture. Here’s how part of the conversation went:
Dan: Let's change gears here a little bit… Say you're the first people leader hired at a fast-growing remote-first company, and you work directly for the CEO, and he essentially charges you with codifying the culture. But the interesting piece is you're remote-first. So, how do you go about codifying a culture in this unique environment?
You know, I think a lot of people may challenge me on this, but I actually think it's easier to do it in a remote-first environment.
And here's why. When you're remote, there are no offices holding the container of the culture, right? Behaviors and values are the only things that are espoused. And so what you really have to do is look at what is implicit and make it explicit. And so the number one thing I say is, “Write the culture down!”
Darcy goes on to talk about the high value of intentionality and recommends making everything explicit, from how people are expected to use platforms and technology to the communication styles (even the emojis we use)!
The more I sit with Darcy’s counterintuitive claim, the more I realize she’s on to something. To illustrate why, let’s talk about awkward high school reunions…
Awkward High School Reunions and Remote Work
I’m getting ready to head to another high school reunion. And I think this perfectly illustrates why remote-first work can be so valuable for shaping the culture you want.
The awkward thing about reunions (at least for me) is that I am now so different from the kid who graduated high school almost two decades ago, and yet I can’t help but fall back into the same patterns I was a part of when I was a student. I liken this to an office setting where no one has done any work to build a cohesive culture. We’re all showing up and inevitably fall back on the one thing we once knew—how we acted in high school.
This is what gives remote-first work one major advantage! In an office setting, like high school, everything from the walls to the desk configuration to the implicit assumptions about how people should behave all contribute to a culture that may or may not be in line with the vision from the top. But in a remote environment, we have the ability and responsibility to build those “walls” from the ground up. So, write down exactly what you want your culture to be like, and bring in the whole team to discuss and fine-tune these expectations. They’ll be more free to engage without fear, and your onboarding process will be smoother than ever.
Practical ways remote-first leaders can build culture:
- Explicit Communication: In a remote setting, the lack of face-to-face interaction necessitates clear and explicit communication. This requirement prompts leaders to define values, behaviors, and expectations more explicitly, leaving little room for ambiguity. This clarity helps ensure that everyone understands and follows the desired cultural norms.
- Inclusion and Adaptability: Remote environments tend to attract diverse talent from various backgrounds and locations. This diversity can enrich a company's culture but also demands a deliberate approach to ensure inclusion. Remote cultures are more adaptable and inclusive by design, as they must cater to various perspectives and work styles.
- Documentation and Accessibility: In remote work, written documentation becomes crucial for maintaining consistency and avoiding misunderstandings. These documented values, behaviors, and practices can be easily accessible to all team members, promoting a more standardized and consistent culture across the organization.
- Behavior Focus: Remote work shifts the focus from physical presence to behaviors and outcomes. This emphasis on results encourages a culture where individuals are recognized based on their contributions rather than superficial markers of office presence.
- Flexibility and Experimentation: Remote-first cultures often embrace flexibility and experimentation. This openness allows leaders to adapt cultural aspects more quickly and test new approaches without the constraints of physical office spaces.
- Digital Tools for Culture Tracking: Technology can play a significant role in tracking and measuring remote culture. Various tools and platforms can provide real-time insights into employee engagement, interactions, and sentiment, offering valuable data to inform culture-building efforts.
- Remote-first Mindset: Organizations that embrace remote-first approaches are inherently more likely to value communication, transparency, and inclusion. This mindset aligns well with the principles of effective culture codification.
While Darcy's perspective challenges conventional thinking, it underscores the notion that remote work forces companies to be intentional and transparent about their culture, making it a potentially more structured and deliberate process. Ultimately, whether in-person or remote, codifying workplace culture requires thoughtful planning, consistent communication, and ongoing efforts to ensure alignment across the organization.
Powered by AI
All of this, of course, is made simple with the power of AI. Instill’s comprehensive platform works with you to measure, build, and advance your culture and turn it into your greatest asset. And it works great with remote teams!
One way to elevate your virtual meetings is with Instill Sense™ – it’s the game-changer you've been waiting for. Actively participating in your meetings, it gauges language patterns and sentiment in real-time, providing instant insights without the survey grind. Seamlessly integrating with platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, Instill Sense™ offers real-time feedback so you can quickly evaluate and adjust the way your teams experience working together. This technology helps you align your meetings with your values, fostering unity and direction in the virtual realm. Learn more about Instill Sense™ and all the ways Instill can help you unleash your most powerful asset, your culture.