Working Remotely: Company Culture Beyond the Office Walls
This series on “Working Remotely” is inspired by “Remote,” the book by the 37Signals guys, and by my own experience working remotely for many years.
I read an article recently that regarded remote workers as people in other countries and locations who you hire to save money – freelancers, virtual assistants, contractors, or consultants. That’s outsourcing, and it’s not what we’re talking about here.
Remote workers are like any other employee of the company – a W-2, not a 1099. They’re on the payroll, receive the same benefits, and are privy to the same perks. They just work elsewhere, usually in their home, a local co-working space, even a coffee shop or library. And, they’re treated like any other employee. Or, they should.
Employers who are serious about their remote workforce must figure out ways to extend the company culture to include and support them. And, remote workers who are passionate about the work they do and the company they work for should take their employer to task if they don’t feel supported.
Here are a few practices and procedures that will help remote workers feel appreciated, passionate, and productive.
Culture defined – Before we dig in, let’s define company culture. Broadly, it’s the personality of a company – its mission, values, ethics, expectations, goals, and work environment.
In Remote, the guys laid out a few extremes, including: What quality is acceptable – good enough or perfect?, How we talk to each other – with diplomatic tones or shouting matches, Workload – do we cheer on all-nighters or take Fridays off?, Risk taking – do we favor bet-the-company pivots or slow growth? Most companies fall in the center or lean one way or the other, not at the extremes. All workers, and especially remotes, should be aware of exactly where their employers and managers fall on the spectrum.
Culture evolves and adapts and cubicle dwellers get feedback daily – sometimes directly, and other times, by observing. Remote workers get none of this so it has to be spelled out. More than once.
Like 37Signals, Automattic, the folks behind the popular WordPress blogging and website platform, has a mostly remote workforce, scattered across 141 cities and 28 countries. This Business Insider piece details five elements of Automattic’s “remote worker” company culture:
- All important conversations happen in chat rooms, so that no matter where you are in the world, you can be an equal participant.
- All employees get “the latest greatest Apple devices,” like a high-end Mac or MacBook and a big monitor.
- All employees get $2,000 when newly hired to improve their home offices.
- Any team can meet whenever they want for a “hack week” in any location in the world.
- Once a year, Automattic management pays for a “Grand Meetup” in a fabulous place, bringing every person in the company together.
Now, this is all awesome and fun, and who wouldn’t want to work there? But let’s not forget the day-to-day, seemingly mundane, and often overlooked, elements of a company’s culture. Here are a few:
Communication – We discussed communication earlier in this series, but that was from the remote worker’s perspective. Here, we’re talking about how an employer or manager communicates. Feedback and acknowledgement – instructions, praise, or constructive criticism – are critical. Or, just shoot the breeze without any agenda. Employers and managers need to do this regularly to make the remote worker feel part of the team, and to avoid the misunderstandings that silence often brings.
Process – Many large organizations have processes and policies in place for the range of activities and responsibilities of their departments and employees. These need to be updated to include the challenges and nuances of working remotely
Expectations – Communication and process help manage expectations. These can include flex time (do remotes need to be available 9-5?), workload, turnaround time on projects, self-improvement, and so on.
Team Building and Personal Growth – Lots of companies do wonderful things to deepen relationship and help build a stronger team. They have an “idea room,” ping-pong room, the occasional happy hour, luncheons, celebrating milestones, discounted kick-boxing at the local gym – the list is endless and activities are limited only by one’s imagination.
These are all very good and should be encouraged. But what about the remotes? Employers must find ways to include remotes in these activities. This can include joining by video feeds, planning quarterly or biannual visits to the mother ship, attending webinars and conferences, and making arrangements for similar initiatives locally – like subsidizing a yoga class.
A quick question to wrap-up: do you know your company’s core values or mission statement? No? Then you should find out and write it down.
As I reviewed this post, a common theme emerged: employer, manager and remote worker are all responsible for creating and ensuring that elements of the company’s culture extend beyond the office walls. Working together, they can create a nurturing environment that not only leverages, but strengthens the culture.
POSTS IN THE SERIES:
Working Remotely: The Many Benefits
Traits of an Effective Telecommuter
How to Manage Work-at-Home Employees
A Productive Home Office
Communication and collaboration
Managing Time, Boundaries, and Balance
Evaluating Employee Performance
Company Culture Beyond the Office Walls
How Lee Rosen Moved His Law Firm to an All-Remote Workforce
Working Remotely: Have Computer, Will Travel