“How We Culture” With Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian

Are you gearing up for the Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s speakers, Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Belonging of Atlassian.

 

Name: Aubrey Blanche

Position: Global Head of Diversity & Belonging @ Atlassian

 

What initially attracted you to the Culture space?

I honestly didn’t join this space on purpose, necessarily. I’m profoundly motivated by a sense that the world should be a fair and just place, and I’m flabbergasted when people just accept that it isn’t. When I joined the tech industry after dropping out of my PhD, I was shocked to find that I was one of the only Latina women I could find. When I started asking around for answers, I heard myths like “we’re a meritocracy” or “we don’t want to lower the bar,” which are just excuses the industry has used for years to justify discriminatory hiring practices and toxic cultures. That really motivated me to do what I could to make the system and therefore work culture and a substantial part of people’s’ lives better.

 

How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?

Most days, I wake up and can’t believe that I get to go to work and help people all day. But what really keeps me excited is the constant challenge the issues I solve are systemic and culture is constantly evolving, which means that there are always new things to learn and ways to continue improving.

 

If you couldn’t work in the Culture space, what would you be doing?

Practically, I’d probably still be a researcher, perhaps still looking at the use of private military contractors in counterinsurgency. In my dream life, I’d curate and own an independent bookstore that was a gathering place for the community and had a really excellent tea and snack selection.

 

How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?

Culture is fundamentally how people interact and get work done. Defining exactly what culture is, is a bit difficult, but we’d likely all agree that we know how it feels. At Atlassian, we talk about the fact that our values stay the same but that our culture is constantly evolving. I think that helps us move past damaging concepts like “culture fit” and instead look for people who are excited to work in line with our values: with candor and directness (Open Company, No Bullshit), a sense of fun and consideration for your teammates (Play, as a team), and willingness to go the extra mile to make things better (Be the Change You Seek). We’ve built these values into our interview process and our performance assessment, which helps our culture align to those values even as it’s changing as we scale.

 

What are some common misconceptions about culture?

The biggest misconception is that you would want to look for “culture fit” in a teammate. Empirically speaking, culture fit is really just a morass of unconscious bias and helps ensure that teams have low innovative potential and huge potential for groupthink. Teams are better off looking for people who align with the type of work practices you’d want to encourage and add something new – a perspective or competency – that wasn’t there before.

 

What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?

“Culture is what you repeatedly do, what gets rewarded and punished.” I think this is incredibly valuable because it’s easy for us to define culture by how we want it to be or based on some abstract principles. But if you take it from that lens, we’re all accountable for our actions and their impact, and it’s really empowering.

 

If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?

Delete referrals. Knowing someone is not a job qualification, and indexing on people very similar to who you already have on the team builds a homogenous, exclusive culture.

 

If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?

Every choice you make about the design of people processes and business influences your culture. Do you prioritize hiring from elite schools? Then you are actually just providing opportunities for people whose parents are economically privileged. Look for geniuses or rockstars? You’ll likely hire many more straight White men because fixed mindsets about talent cause us to rely more on stereotypes than objective data in evaluating candidates. Spend more on the beer than learning & development budget? That’s what your values are. All of those things are choices and ones that leaders actively control. Make sure you’re choosing intentionally and aligning yourself with what you truly value.

 

It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about?

I hope that we are having a serious conversation about how to build roles that give people balance and fulfillment. I’d love to see companies intentionally designed for individuals’ full-life wellness, and helping people learn and grow in ways that are important to them.

 

What are you excited most for at Culture Summit this year?

I’m always excited to learn what other amazing practitioners are doing in the space, to get ideas and increase my knowledge. Also, kind of hoping for some excellent book recommendations.

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

“How We Culture” With Michelle Lee and Jenny Gottstein of IDEO

Are you gearing up for the Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s workshop facilitators, Michelle Lee and Jenny Gottstein of IDEO’s Play Lab.

Name: Michelle Lee

Position: Portfolio Director, Design For Play @ IDEO

Name: Jenny Gottstein

Position: Design Lead, Design For Play @ IDEO

 

What initially attracted you to the Culture space?

Michelle: Early in my career, I switched from the aerospace industry to toys because I needed to understand how my work could create positive emotional impact. Seeing a child deeply engaged with a favorite toy energized me in a way that couldn’t be matched by the launch of a satellite that, while amazing in its own way, was virtually invisible to the end cell phone user. My days in the toy industry taught me that through human-centered design, I could inspire joy, creativity and optimism.

Jenny: Before working at IDEO, I worked at The Go Game for 7 years (first as a game producer, and later as director of the game design department) as we designed team-building games for companies around the world. It was an eye-opening experience – I saw firsthand how much culture contributed to the overall success of the company. After a while, it became easy to spot the teams that were driving that success.

Here was the key indicator: they played well together! They cheered each other on, they complimented each other’s strengths and worked collaboratively to find creative solutions to curve-ball challenges. All of these teams, no matter what industry, had the same magic ingredients: Trust, laughter, curiosity, risk-taking and creativity. Based on those observations, I knew I wanted to design playful opportunities to help teams tap into those magical ingredients. 

 

How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?

Michelle: I’ve had the fortune of being a designer at a time when the role of design has greatly expanded. Previously seen as a way to make products more aesthetically pleasing, design has now evolved into design thinking – a method that is being widely applied to meaty challenges that extend to systems and organizations. We now create impact not only through products, but also through organizational tools and processes. This includes teaching teams to use design thinking themselves. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is seeing team members light up when they realize that they can be creative and have fun while tackling some of their company’s biggest challenges.

Jenny: As a game designer, I know how to design for a healthy competitive spirit that will produce outstanding results. But I’ve also seen that, when unchecked and rooted in individualism, competition can be disastrously toxic. At IDEO, one of our core values is “Make Others Successful”, which is why the company’s culture is so vibrant. Watching my colleagues embody this value every day has been a huge inspiration, and has reinforced my passion for designing experiences that help people bring out the best in each other.

 

If you couldn’t work in the Culture space, what would you be doing?

Michelle: I’d probably be co-writing a children’s book with my kids. I love the idea of a role where there’s limitless potential and room for creativity. This should be true of most job opportunities, but children’s books are boundless, letting you imagine the craziest characters and adventures. Add in some pretty rad co-workers, and it makes for one amazing work environment!

Jenny: Wind-tunnel dancing.

 

How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?

Michelle: Culture can be difficult to define because it’s so much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s how a group behaves, what it believes, what’s acceptable and what’s not, but more so it’s a feeling you get when you’re surrounded by a certain group of people that drives how you act in those surroundings.

In game design, we talk about the concept of emergence. In emergence, individual pieces come together and interact to generate something new that could only have emerged through those interactions. If you think about this in terms of culture, culture isn’t static. It continues to evolve as different players interpret and act upon elements of the culture that have previously been established. The role of HR gets really interesting here, as HR can help shape culture by hiring, recruiting and elevating individuals who may reinforce an existing culture or push it in a new direction.

There’s definitely room for different interpretations of culture. Just as I think of culture from the perspective of game design, others will have their own ways to approach culture.

Jenny: Culture is like a party. When it works, EVERYONE wants to show up. When it feels forced, everyone makes lame excuses to leave early. Like a party, culture should be thoughtfully designed, and yet no one should feel like they are forced to attend. It’s important that everyone can co-create the party experience!

 

What are some common misconceptions about culture?

Michelle: Many people look to management to establish culture when it can actually be influenced by anyone in the company. It also doesn’t need to be established through company-wide policies, values or traditions. Individuals contribute to culture through how they interact with others on a daily basis.

Another misconception is that play contributes to culture only by providing breaks from productive work. In fact, integrating a playful culture into key aspects of work can make for greater creativity, innovation and satisfaction.

Jenny: Culture is not an “add-on” feature, nor a switch you can turn on or off with happy hours and perks. It’s a practice that has to be exercised every day in every corner of the company’s operations.

 

What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?

Michelle: When David Kelley first started IDEO, he talked about never wanting to employ more people than could fit on a single school bus. While the company now has more than 700 employees, it still feels like a small company. This is largely because David set the stage with his early vision. Within IDEO, different locations, disciplines and portfolios are empowered to create their own subcultures within the larger company culture, enabling them to have their own flavors while still holding human-centered design and IDEO’s company values at their core. Each group is like its own school bus in a fleet of buses all headed in the same direction.

In the Play Lab, where the Design for Play team resides, puns are commonly mixed into everyday conversation, fun surprises will be left on desks, meetings will conclude with purposely awkward high fives and prototypes are often seen flying through the air. On top of this, you’ll find a team that loves to collaborate, isn’t afraid to throw out crazy ideas, is quick to prototype and truly believes that all ideas belong to the group. Having smaller subcultures such as these creates a sense of pride and connection that feels authentic and right. It also enhances an employee’s sense of stake and purpose, in the smaller group identity as well as the company as a whole.

Jenny: The managing director at one of our IDEO locations is a huge proponent of hiring “unicorns” – people who don’t necessarily fit in a prescribed role, but have a unique perspective and combination or quirky skills. Each time he hires a unicorn, he tells them “The only way you will fail here is if you conform. We hired you because you DON’T fit. The whole point is for us to grow in new directions – you can help us change our DNA.” I think that’s brilliant because it flies in the face of hiring ‘good culture fits’ which can lead to homogeneity.

 

If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?

Michelle: One practice that often gets missed in the race to constantly innovate is taking the time to reflect, celebrate and look beyond your walls. This can take the form of an annual review to look back and see how much has been accomplished over the course of a year, but it can also be accomplished through smaller gatherings that happen quarterly, monthly or weekly.

Every Tuesday, our location gathers over lunch. The meal is cooked fresh by James, a beloved member of our Experience Team, giving the event a very personal flavor. Katie, another member of the team serves as MC, providing her own energetic and quirky flair that have become critical to our culture. The next hour is filled with individuals sharing lessons from recent projects; inspiration from personal trips, local events or global news; celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries; and occasionally a heartfelt, if slightly goofy, award for someone who has gone above and beyond. In a world of emails and Slack messages, there’s still something very magical about physically coming together in one space.

Jenny: Listen for laughter! Studies have shown that laughter increases creativity. Wherever laughter is, innovation is not far behind.

 

If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?

Michelle: Cultures can be designed, just like products and services can be designed. At the heart of it, it’s about creating positive human experiences.

When we design, our first step is to build empathy – taking the time to listen and observe. Next, we identify opportunities. What elements of culture are already bubbling up from different sources? What’s resonating with your employees while aligning with your company mission? What can you continue to nurture and grow? Also, where is your company facing challenges and how could culture help address these challenges?

From here, don’t be afraid to prototype. Rather than make one big statement about culture, try small experiments to see what works and surface leaders who are excited to build your experiments into larger agents of culture change. Finally, iterate to create a stronger culture over time that can evolve with your company’s changing needs.

Jenny: You can’t mandate culture, and it won’t change over night. You have to till the soil, tend to it with TLC, and have patience until culture blooms organically.

 

It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about?

Michelle: Technology advances are putting an abundance of data and information at our fingerprints. Over time, it will be interesting to see how those tasked with shaping workplace culture embrace these new tools. As we can track more and know more, there will inevitably be discussions about how to do so responsibly, balancing quantitative data and statistics with the understanding that our jobs are to support complex human beings who shouldn’t be simply distilled down to numbers.

Jenny: Play audits and laughter metrics as key performance indicators! Inquire within for details… 😉

 

What are you excited most for at Culture Summit this year?

Michelle: I’m extremely excited to meet with others highly invested in creating positive human experiences at companies across a wide range of industries. Knowing that we may be facing similar challenges, I look forward to opportunities to mindmeld and cross-pollinate ideas, discovering amazing ways that individuals are approaching culture at their respective organizations.

Jenny: I’m excited to play with all of the brilliant culture designers in attendance! Looking forward to sharing what we know about leveraging play to design vibrant work culture, and learning from others in the room. Please come find us before, during, or after our workshops. We can’t wait to meet you all!

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

There is just one thing you can be sure about in your business – and that is the fact that it’s going to change. Whether you’re someone that drives change for the sake of progress or someone who tries to resist change, it’s inevitable – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

What you can do is control how you handle change, including the way you communicate it to your team. This is even more important if you’re part of a company with distributed teams.

Delivering the right message to the right people in the right way is key to ensuring your team understands:

  • What’s happening
  • Why it’s happening
  • How it will affect them
  • What (if anything) they need to do to facilitate the change

Get this wrong, and you risk alienating employees and hindering how effectively change is implemented.

Managing this is a challenge in businesses with just one facility. When teams are distributed over multiple facilities and locations, the risks increase substantially, which is why it’s all the more important to implement and follow a strategy when communicating change.

Preparing to Communicate More Effectively for Distributed Teams

We’ll run through a step-by-step strategy for communicating change across distributed teams in just a moment, but before that, let’s go over a few things you can do (and probably should do) to prepare to communicate more effectively, in general.

Implement a company-wide communications platform

It’s vital that to communicate change – and to communicate, period – distributed teams all use the same web-based communication platform (and use it in the same way).

I use Slack, but there are countless other options if that doesn’t fit your needs or budget. Here are just a few:

Once you’ve picked a platform, you need to lay out the foundations of how you’re going to use it. This will, to an extent, evolve over time. However, it’s important that you’re all on the same page from day one.

The majority of these platforms revolve around two key features:

  • Private messaging
  • Shared message boards, groups or channels

Private messaging is just that – a private, instant messaging service between two or more users.

“Boards, groups or channels” (which are essentially all the same thing, just with different titles) are where messages you want to distribute to specific departments, teams, or the company as a whole, are shared.

This is where ensuring all users are on the same page – and by that I mean that they’re all using the tool in the same way – is so important.

Not all members of staff are going to have access to every “board,” so it’s critical you ensure the right team members have access to the right information.

For instance, you might have a board for “customer service,” another for “sales,” and another for “HR.” Chances are your sales team isn’t going to need to view the same messages as your customer service team, and vice versa. They only need access to boards that concern them and their work.

Establish “golden hours”

Time zones commonly cause problems for distributed teams. If you have teams operating in wildly different time zones, there’s a high chance there will be minimal, if any crossover, between working hours.

To counteract this, you can establish “golden hours” – a time period in which the maximim number of staff (ideally all staff, although that’s not always possible) will be at work.

Figure out when this crossover is, and ensure all key communications are made during this time.

Foster a transparent culture of continuous communication

While some announcements need to made using a specific process (like the one we’re going to go through in just a moment), there are going to be many more snippets of information that are worth sharing, but don’t call for a formal announcement.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for these sorts of things to fly under the radar and not be announced – at all.

Fostering a culture in which sharing information becomes second nature to your team is key.

For this to happen, when a staff member hears or receives new information, they should:

  • Ask themselves or find out if it’s confidential
  • If it’s not confidential, decide who else it concerns
  • Share the information via an appropriate channel – depending on who else it concerns, this is likely to be either in person, or via email or your company communications platform

A Step-By-Step Strategy for Communicating Change

Some information can be shared informally. I’m referring to things a team member or members need to know, but that do not have a substantial direct impact on them – either positive or negative.

Other information, such as significant internal changes that will impact employees’ day-to-day lives, calls for a more formal approach – like the following strategy, which is what I use to communicate change to distributed teams.

Step 1: define your message

Before you can broadcast your message, you need to define exactly what your message will be. This might sound straightforward – you just say what needs to be said, right?

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of your attempt to communicate change, especially across distributed teams, begins with what you say and how you say it. For that reason, defining exactly what you’ll say ahead of time is essential.

To do this, you need to establish:

  • What does your team actually need to know?
  • How should you word the message (in such a way that you eliminate the risk of crossed wires?)
  • What questions are employees likely to ask?

Use this information to craft a statement that divulges your message clearly and concisely. Before signing off on the message, ensure it only contains essential information, and that nothing within it is liable to be misunderstood. Consider the connotations of the words you use, too. “X is leaving the company” has very a different connotation than “X is pursuing a new opportunity” – the first one can potentially be construed in a negative light.

Step 2: decide who’s best-placed to deliver the message

This step ensures that multiple people don’t attempt to deliver the message – all potentially in slightly different ways.

One person at each of your premises should be assigned the task of delivering the message, or, if it’s to be delivered via your communication platform (more on this in step 3), handling questions and follow-ups.

Step 3: decide the best channel for delivering the message

There is no one “best” way to deliver your message – it all depends on your company culture, and the nature of the message itself.

Townhall announcements

A “town hall” announcement (i.e. a public announcement made in an open domain to as many members of staff as possible) ensures everyone hears the same message, at the same time. This greatly limits the odds of the message being misheard or wires getting crossed.

Townhall announcements are best suited to positive messages that help bring the company together. Do not use this method for delivering potentially bad news (unless you want to instantly shroud your offices in negativity).

Line managers to teams

This might also be referred to as “the cascade.” It involves messages being passed “down the ladder” from management to the level below them, and then again to the level below that.

It’s well-suited to the delivery of “bad news,” since it limits how many people will hear the message at once, and allows for (if needed) the message to be delivered in different ways, to different people. It also means concerns can be raised and addressed immediately.

Be aware, however, that this method is vulnerable to the “Chinese whisper effect.” However well you plan your message, each additional person involved in delivering it increases the odds it will be changed or diluted.

Internal communications platform

Messages delivered this way are usually presented in a written format, which eliminates any margin for error: you have total control over the wording used and you will know, without doubt, what’s been conveyed to each employee. It also makes it really easy for employees to follow up with questions, and in turn, for you to answer them.

On the downside, this method can be seen as impersonal or even cowardly – like you’re intentionally hiding behind a screen (which, perhaps, you are).

Step 4: prepare to handle follow-ups

It’s almost inevitable that when you announce change, employees are going to have questions. As part of your strategy for communicating change, you need to be prepared to answer them. Specifically, you need to formulate a process for employees who want to ask questions, raise concerns, and provide feedback.

Your internal communications platform is ideal for this.

If you used it to deliver the initial message, just let employees know that any questions or comments should be posted there. You may even want to create a specific “group” just for delivering the message and addressing follow ups. This ensures all information pertaining to the change is stored in one location.

Even if you’re delivering your message by another means, you might still want to consider using your internal communications platform for handling follow-ups.

In all cases, you need to:

  • Decide who will be responsible for answering questions
  • Ensure they know who to talk to if they don’t know the answer to a question
  • Brainstorm questions that are likely to be asked and prepare answers to them
  • Implement a system for asking questions privately, and ensure all staff members know what this is

You might also want to consider setting up follow-up meetings, or at the very least, repeating the message and encouraging staff to speak up if there’s anything they’re unsure of.

If you aren’t prepared to deal with the aftermath of your message, and you don’t provide a clear route for asking and answering questions, you risk staff trying to decipher what’s happening between themselves (or in other words, gossiping). Employees will raise and ponder questions with each other, which will inevitably lead to incorrect conclusions and more often than not, a worried and unhappy workforce.

Of course, there is no foolproof approach to communicating change – especially when it’s bad news. You can, however, control the impact of the change on staff morale by taking the time to plan how to communicate it and preparing to deal with what happens after.

Have you ever been responsible for communicating change – either to distributed teams or a single team? How did you do it and what, if anything, would you do differently next time? It’d be great to hear your thoughts if you have the time to leave a comment below.

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

One of the biggest challenges facing remote teams is how to create and maintain a positive company culture. In fact, it’s hard enough keeping a whole team happy and motivated when you all share a workspace. Get a remote team of employees that have limited, if any, face-to-face contact, and this problem gets magnified a few times over.

That said, while it’s undeniably difficult to create a remote company culture and ensure distributed employees feel that they’re working towards a common goal, it’s certainly not impossible.

Here are 10 tips from pioneering companies that have bucked the trend of remote working = isolated working, to create a positive company culture across their remote teams.

1. Acceleration Partners – Invest in the right technology

It’s pretty much impossible for a remote business to operate successfully without the right technology. Legacy on-premise systems need to be replaced with cloud-based solutions that allow employees to work collaboratively and communicate with ease, regardless of where they’re located.

Acceleration Partners is a leading affiliate marketing company that boasts an impressive client list including brands like Adidas and Target.

Technology has played a key part in ensuring their remote team members feel as much a part of the culture as those who work from the office every day. Their chosen suite of tools includes:

  • Zoom – for video conferencing and other meetings.
  • Skype – to simplify real-time communications between employees in different locations.
  • Google Docs – to streamline task collaboration.
  • TINYpulse – to anonymously gauge workers’ feelings and identify any issues or concerns that may need addressing.

Read more about the steps Acceleration Partners has taken to create culture across remote teams here.

2. HelpScout – Leverage video

Help Scout’s team is spread out across the world – a setup that, as we know, can make it extremely difficult to create a positive company culture. Video is key to remedying this.

The company hosts weekly “Monday morning video parties” that are designed to “keep the team informed about new feature releases, birthdays and other company-wide news.” The meetings can be viewed live or team members in incompatible time zones can tune in later, so they don’t have to miss out.

Help Scout uses video for more than meetings, though.

I love their “Cribs” idea, in which team members were encouraged to give their colleagues insight into their life by making video tours of their homes.

They also host monthly “Troop Talks,” which they describe as “a lightly structured monthly video chat centered around a single topic.” Participation is totally optional, and staff members are notified in advance of the discussion topic, so they can decide whether or not they want to come along.

Read more about how Help Scout leverages video to create a remote culture here.

3. 15Five – Embrace transparency

Embracing transparency is something all businesses today should be trying to do. However, the additional challenge of building trusting relationships in remote teams makes transparency even more important.

15Five leverages their own tool to help foster a company culture based on “trust, accountability and transparency.” The company is always open to hearing feedback to the point that they encourage employees to give feedback on the performance of management.

Read more about how transparency is part of 15Five’s remote culture here.

4. Groove – Assess potential employees’ “fit” with a trial period

I can’t really state enough how important employees are to your company culture. Staff members who don’t share your beliefs or values and who don’t “buy into” what you’re trying to achieve will – almost certainly – have a negative impact on your culture.

To help minimize “wrong hires,” help desk software giant Groove assesses each potential employee’s “fit” with a trial period. This is designed for the benefit of both the potential staff member and Groove themselves. Not only does Groove want to ensure the potential hire will “fit” into their team, but they want the assurance that the person is going to feel happy and fulfilled in the role.

Only once the trial period is completed and it’s decided the potential hire “fits” the Groove culture, will they be taken on full time.

You can read more about how Groove hires top talent remotely here.

5. 6Q – Introduce new remote workers to the whole team

It goes without saying that when a new hire comes to work with you on-premises, you introduce them to everyone they’ll be working with and, depending on the size of the company, potentially to the whole team.

Unfortunately, this social ritual is often sidestepped when that employee works remotely. 6Q, which offers tools for collecting employee feedback, follows a process that ensures this doesn’t happen when they welcome someone new.

They send an introductory email to every member of the team that includes, alongside the new hire’s contact details, their answers to five non-work related questions.

In addition to this, they encourage the new hire to arrange one-to-one meetings with as many members of the team as they feel comfortable with.

You can read more about this, and other ways 6Q fosters a positive company culture in a remote team, here.

6. Teamwork.com – Acknowledge and reward hard-working remote workers

When you all work from the same location, it’s generally pretty easy to see how hard employees are working and pick up on their achievements. You can hear them go that extra mile for a client on the phone and you know when they’re staying late or arriving early.  This also makes it really simple to thank those staff members for the effort they’re putting in.

Things are very different on remote teams.

You need to have a great deal of trust in your staff and pay extra attention to the work completed to assess who’s slacking, and who’s going above and beyond.

You also have to make a particular point of thanking and rewarding those who deserve it.

To ensure their remote workers’ achievements are acknowledged, Teamwork.com holds quarterly “Teamwork Legend” awards in which their employees’ contributions are rewarded with certificates and gift cards.

You can read more about this and other ways Teamwork.com manages successful remote teams here.

7. Buffer – Schedule regular retreats

One of the biggest barriers to creating a great company culture in remote teams is a lack of face-to-face contact (video helps, but is no substitute for working with your colleagues in person).

To get around this, Buffer schedules all-expenses-paid retreats for the whole company, three times a year. This means they’re paying for flights, accommodations and (most) meals, as well as a few activities.

It’s worth bearing in mind that these retreats aren’t “holidays” as such. The team is expected to work their usual hours (give or take), but for these 10 days the team can come together and operate like a “typical” company (except for all the after-hours social activities).

You can read more about Buffer’s retreats and watch a couple of videos on what they’re like and why they do them here.

8. Edoc – Create a culture of learning

One of the secrets to being happy and fulfilled at work is feeling confident in your abilities – being sure that you’re good at what you do. Questioning our ability to do our job will drag us down, and understandably so.

This is why it’s important for every company to give their staff the tools they need to develop their skills and perform their jobs to the highest possible standard. Of course, ensuring remote employees have what they need isn’t always easy. Often senior members of staff will train more junior employees in-house – an approach that’s difficult, if not impossible to replicate remotely.

However, just because it’s more difficult to keep remote staff up to speed than in-house staff doesn’t mean you should leave them to figure things out for themselves and hope for the best.

Edoc, which builds tools designed to aid in productivity and collaboration, understands this, and as a result has incorporated a “culture of learning” into their overall company culture.

As well as ensuring employees have access to courses and other training opportunities, Edoc hosts a whole month of company-wide professional training sessions every year.

In fact, Edoc’s CEO Jim Mullaney once hosted six weeks of “Friday leadership trainings” from his own home. Local staff were invited to come along in person while those who lived further afield could telecommute.

The result is happier staff that sticks around longer. As Jim says: “If employees aren’t learning, they’re leaving.”

Read more about how Edoc built a great remote company culture here.

9. Basecamp – It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

Often when we think about remote working, we think about employees on the other side of the world from their employer, or people traveling the world, working from a palm-tree lined beach (totally impractical, but it makes a great visual).

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The reality, however, is that not all remote staff always work remotely. Often staff that lives locally will switch between working remotely and coming into the office as it suits. This is great for company culture, since staff benefits from regular face-to-face contact. It’s also an ideal middle ground for many employees who have obligations that prevent them from working in an office full-time, but that would miss the social aspect of sharing workspace with a team.

In other cases, some companies will employ a mix of remote and in-house workers.

This is something the project management specialists at Basecamp have done. Their team started out working in a traditional office setting but found that the space they had was bigger than they anticipated needing, and that the rent was too high.
As a result they decided to rent just a few desks instead. Today, the majority, but not all, of their employees work remotely.

10. Zapier – Trust your team

Trust is essential in all companies, but it’s even more important when you work remotely. This is something Zapier has come to understand while building a team of remote workers.

The issue largely comes down to the fact that distributed teams don’t know how much or how hard their colleagues are working. While some companies try to resolve this with rules dictating things like when bums should be on seats, or even requiring them to be on camera all day (yes, this is a real thing at some firms) most companies, like Zapier, understand that all you really need is trust.

If the work’s getting done that’s a sure sign your remote employees are pulling their weight, and really, that’s all you need to know.

Read more about how Zapier has built their remote company culture here.

Do you have any tips to add for creating culture across remote teams? Comments are below if you have a moment to share them:

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees

What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees

As a company grows, something that can make or break it is its culture. A good culture creates happy, hard-working employees who stick around for the long haul. Conversely, a poor culture leads to disengaged employees, poor productivity, and high staff turnover.

Which of these scenarios do you think is going to help a company be more successful?

Needless to say, if your employees are happy, everyone’s happy. But what does it take to create an environment that your employees want to be in, and can thrive in? And how will this change as your company grows?

Some companies think that if they offer a few fun perks, their staff will be happy and the culture will take care of itself – but they couldn’t be more wrong.

While we’re going to discuss perks that can help foster a great company culture, there is so much more to company culture than free beers and flex time.

“Company culture is not a foosball table.” Melissa Tsang, Referral Candy

  • Your core values.
  • The mindset of your team.
  • The environment or “feeling” in the workplace.

These are the things that define your company culture. The perks just help to shape it.

“[Culture] lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.”” Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule, writing for Harvard Business Review

The ideal company culture is built on people who are there to do more than collect a paycheck – they’re there because they love their work and the people they work with. They’re along for the ride, basically.

Of course, company cultures like this don’t create themselves. It takes hard work, consistency, and an open mind to cultivate a great company culture – and it only gets more difficult as your company grows.

Here are a few key things that every company culture needs at its critical stages of growth, and how your approach to managing company culture needs to change with them.

 

Company Culture at 10 Employees

Startups have it pretty easy as far as company culture goes since it’s much easier to keep 10 staff members happy than 100. It’s also a good time to experiment and figure out the company/culture fit – after all, if you’re going to get it wrong, it’s better to get it wrong now. That’s because the bigger your company is, the longer it takes to implement cultural change – reportedly about three years, for medium and large organizations.

A solid hiring process

Your employees are the foundation of your company culture, so it’s critical to lay down a process for finding and hiring the right people as soon as possible.

You want to hire (and keep) the people that want to be there. Take Zappos. They offer new hires $2000 – to quit. This is because they only want to keep people that want to be there. If you’re only there for your paycheck, you can take your cash and leave.

Zappos Cubicles

While you don’t need to go that far, you should at least be asking interview questions that are designed to determine whether someone’s a fit for your company culture.

Things like:

  • What is (or was) your relationship like with your current (or previous) colleagues?
  • What sort of management style do you work best with? (Ask this question when hiring for both management and more junior roles).
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve in the workplace?
  • What things are most important to you in your professional life?

An open door policy

Your relationship with your employees is as important as their relationship with each other. Prioritize getting to know them. Ensure they always feel comfortable coming to talk to you.

An open door policy should mean literally that – an open door. Sure, there are times you need to keep it closed, but make sure that only happens when absolutely necessary.

Let your employees know that if the door’s open, they’re welcome to come in. If it’s shut, they can send you a message, or come back later.

Of course, simply telling employees they’re welcome to talk to you doesn’t mean they’ll want to. You have to be the kind of manager your staff wants to approach.

This means you…

  • Don’t criticize staff when things aren’t going according to plan, and certainly never patronize them. Support them in making improvements, instead.
  • Work as hard, or harder, than they do.
  • Never, ever, appear put off when staff asks questions or for help. You only have to do this a couple of times before employees start to learn (consciously or unconsciously) that they have to be wary about when, how, and how often they approach you.
  • Be transparent – it has a direct correlation to employee morale.

Bear in mind that as your company grows, it’s critical that all new management adopt an open door policy, too.

Keeping leaders close to the rest of the team has been a priority for Power Digital Marketing, which holds monthly, personal one-on-one meetings between execs and juniors – the reason being that (in the words of their CEO Grayson Lafrenz) it “ensures everyone feels like a priority and that their voice is heard. It also deepens the bonds and relationships between our team members.”

A break area

Break areas should offer a comfortable place for downtime where employees can socialize away from their workload.

Prioritize comfortable seating, arranged to encourage conversation, as well as a dining area. Offering entertainment is nice, but not necessary – at least at this stage. As your company grows, the break area and the facilities it offers will have to grow with it.

A regular schedule of social events

Aim for one a month. It doesn’t have to be anything “big” – drinks in a local bar should make most people happy. Don’t feel you have to fund events, either (although a goodwill gesture, like getting the first round, will definitely be appreciated).

Trust in your employees

If anything, this last point is the most crucial.

This is because one of the worst things you can do for any company culture is to micro-manage your employees. Happy employees are born out of a management team that is there for them when they’re needed, but that ultimately trusts them to do the right thing.

“Do not keep smart people on a tight leash.” Barry Appelman

Company Culture at 100 Employees

As your company grows, relationships will naturally change.

10 or so employees are likely to form one, single, tightly-knit group. You’re probably also going to have a very flat management structure.

As more people join the ranks, different “tribes” are going to develop – regardless of how adept you are at bringing the right personalities on board – and there’s a greater chance that some people will feel like they just don’t “fit in.”

In fact, research has shown that the faster your company grows, the more apparent these shifts will be.

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It’s certainly not impossible to maintain a close company culture as you grow, though. When MyCorporation started out, they felt like family, a feeling they worried they would lose as they expanded. However, through regular team activities and a culture of kindness and encouragement, they’ve stayed “close and connected.”

That flat management structure which was so fundamental to your company culture in the beginning is likely to change, too. That’s normal, and in most cases, necessary. What you need to do, however, is implement systems that ensure all voices are heard and that everyone, regardless of their role or relationships with others, feels that they’re working towards the same common goal.

A mission statement

While you can write a mission statement at any point, it often makes sense to hold off until the company reaches a certain size and you have a concrete idea of both your company’s and employees’ values.

It’s always a good idea to involve your staff in creating your mission statement, too. Ask them to share what they see as the company’s mission or values, look for common themes in their responses, and work this into a statement that everyone agrees reflects why they come to work and what they’re trying to achieve.

Here’s an example of this in practice from when Buffer set out to define their company values. This is the form they distributed to staff:

And here’s one of the completed forms they got back:

Regular culture reviews

Ask employees to rate your culture on a scale of 1-10 and provide feedback on what they do and don’t like about it.

Do this once a year, unless responses signal that more regular reviews are needed.

Input from employees

Allow your staff to get involved in shaping company culture. Encourage feedback and make speaking up easy by implementing a system in which employees can share thoughts and ideas anonymously, or at least without judgment.

An onboarding process

The bigger the company, the more difficult it generally is for new employees to fit in. This means that implementing (and following) a set of procedures for onboarding new employees is essential.

This should include things like:

  • Ensuring someone is in the office and ready to greet the new hire as they arrive.
  • Getting everything they need to work (computer and phone, for example) set up and ready to go before they arrive.
  • Giving them a tour of the premises and introducing them to everyone they’ll be working with.

It’s also a great idea to assign each newbie a “buddy” who will take them under their wing, show them the ropes, and be their first port-of-call for answering questions.

An ability to adapt to changing staff dynamics

The sort of relationships a company of 10 might have are often impossible or inappropriate to maintain in a company of 100 or more. Learn how relationships change as companies grow, and figure out how you can help your staff foster and maintain strong relationships – with both existing and new staff members – as the number of faces they see every day increases.

Company Culture at 1000 Employees

A company with 1000 employees probably has multiple sites in different cities. They may well have even expanded into other countries. One of the biggest challenges, therefore, becomes maintaining, across all branches, a culture that’s in line with the company’s core values, but that also accommodates the unique needs of each location and its people.

The delicatessen chain Zingerman’s is one such company that has dealt with the issue of maintaining their culture across different locations. Their solution was to push for a coherent culture across all locations, but to allow for cultural variations across different departments and shifts. Specifically, they encourage their leaders “not to fight against this diversity, but rather to focus on the positive.”

Here’s what else you need to do to ensure your company culture is consistent (within reason) in a company with 1000 employees or more.

A plan of attack for dealing with organizational change

Change puts staff morale and, in turn, company culture at risk. Devising a contingency plan that details how to positively communicate and roll out organizational changes can help staff adjust, and reduce impact on company culture.

A systemized yet personal and approachable HR department

Big companies need systemized HR departments – without this, they’re very likely to buckle under the pressure. At the same time, an effective HR department needs a personal approach. The challenge is how to balance these opposing working styles.

You might want to start with easing their workload by outsourcing some of their more basic administration tasks.

A head of company culture

A business of this size likely has divisions that operate autonomously. This puts communication and company culture at a high risk of being siloed. If you value your company culture, hiring someone who’s responsible for overseeing and helping maintain that culture across sites and divisions is essential.

Take Google, which offers perks including free, chef-prepared meals, subsidized massages, nap pods, and death benefits.

A Nap Pod in action

They understand that these perks are not enough to create the culture they want their employees to enjoy, so in 2006 they employed a “Chief Culture Officer” whose job included protecting “key parts of Google’s scrappy, open-source cultural core as the company has evolved into a massive multinational.”

It’s probably safe to say this culture has had a big part to play in the impressive 4.4 rating Google has on Glassdoor.

What do you think companies need to create a positive culture as they start out and as they grow? Do you have any company culture stories to tell (good or bad)? If you do, it’d be great if you could spare a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

Making the Business Case and Getting Leadership Buy-in for Culture Initiatives

Making the Business Case and Getting Leadership Buy-in for Culture Initiatives

Marta Riggins, Global Marketing Director at LinkedIn Talent Solutions

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

Scaling Culture: Insights From Leaders at Various Levels in a Company

Scaling Culture: Insights From Leaders at Various Levels in a Company

JD Peterson, Chief Growth Officer at Culture Amp

Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer at Zillow Group

Konval Matin, Director of Culture and Talent Development at Shopify

Sarah Nahm, CEO at Lever.co

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

Creating Authenticity, Connection, and Growth

Creating Authenticity, Connection, and Growth

Sean Kelly, CEO at Snack Nation

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

Play Better Together

Play Better Together

Jenny Gottstein, Director of Games at The Go Game

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

Building Culture and Uncovering Innovation in Global Companies

Building Culture and Uncovering Innovation in Global Companies

Monica Adractas, Director at Workplace by Facebook

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.