Organizations have always held company culture in high regard as one of the basic necessities for employee satisfaction and overall success. Leaders have spent years cracking the code for the best way to promote a positive culture at your organization—to meld company vision, values, norms, systems, beliefs, and habits—in an effective and inspiring way.
Today, markets are evolving and organizations are facing unique challenges with the growth of remote workers, virtual teams, and a globalized economy. The growth of virtual teams can be attributed to significant technological advances that make it possible to collaborate across borders.
Consider virtual teams as employees that are either telecommuting, distributed, or remote. The number of individuals working remote or on virtual teams is dramatically growing with each year. Flexjobs, a professional job service devoted to flexible, remote, or virtual employment experienced a 75 percent increase in these flexible opportunities from 2013 to 2015. Not to mention, 80% of all U.S. companies are currently offering flexible work arrangements.
Many of the traditional best practices previously used to maintain culture only work when your employees are under the same roof. A core set of values pinned to the refrigerator will not survive the global business models emerging today.
This poses a significant challenge for modern organizations—how do you maintain a unified culture when your employees are spanning across regions, languages, and time zones? Easy. You don’t need to be under the same roof, you simply need to be on the same page.
Company culture can persist across virtual teams, but there is no doubt that the practices to maintain it will be forced to evolve. Here are 9 actionable tips for you to enhance and maintain culture across virtual teams.
1. All-Company Virtual Gatherings
For virtual teams spanned across multiple locations it is especially important to bring the entire company together at least once a month. Thankfully, this doesn’t require a plane ticket—only an investment in videoconferencing software. Consider having a ‘great room’ at each office location where all employees can gather for this meeting comfortably. You can use this time to discuss monthly goals, new initiatives and company updates. Don’t forget to make some fun out of this gathering—introduce new employees, exercise, play games, and recognize hard work.
2. Communication & Collaboration Tools
Virtual teams cannot succeed without the proper communication and collaboration tools in place. The growth of collaborative technologies—ranging from chat, video and virtual workspace applications—are allowing virtual teams to work together with ease. For smaller companies, Skype, Google Docs and Slack provide adequate collaboration across virtual teams. For larger organizations, or those scaling, it is common to invest in conferencing tools or project management software to properly collaborate across borders. Collaboration tools are no longer an option, they are a necessity in our global economy.
Global collaboration enhances employee relationships, enhances productivity, and most importantly, strengthens company culture.
Virtual teammates typically come from different locations, backgrounds, cultures, and values. Take the time during onboarding to learn how each of your employees are unique and make sure to be sensitive to cultural differences. Invest in a translating software instead of expecting everyone to speak the same language. Learn about their passions, values and what they enjoy doing during their free time. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you ask people to talk about themselves.
Recognize all holidays (not just U.S.) and ensure the entire company has visibility to when different employees or offices will be celebrating holidays. Holidays tend to slow down productivity but are an integral part of respecting your employees and showing them that you appreciate the work-life balance.
Don’t forget time zones! Regardless of if your employees range across time zones, leaders recommend having at least three to four hours per day when all employees are online and available to communicate. No preferential treatment here—make teams rotate having to work odd-hours.
4. Social Media Challenges
Virtual teams are typically tech-conscious simply because they are forced to use communicative and collaborative technologies—take advantage of this—use social media as platform for company bonding and competitions.
For example, host a challenge where employees are encouraged to get outside, wear company swag and compete for the best instagram picture. No rules - just show your city, your swag and #hashtag your company. This is a free and simple way for employees to become more involved and connected to people outside of their office.
5. Physical or Mental Exercise for Team Building
Physical or mental exercise is a great way to reduce stress and bring a team together. Even if your company is across multiple locations, promote an “exercise hour” that the entire company can attend together. Dedicate a team a month to come up with the exercise. Keep it simple, nothing too strenuous. Think yoga, meditation, stretching, or even trivia to get your mind off of work.
6. Virtual Sales Bell
For anyone who has had the opportunity to work on a sales floor, you surely have seen and heard of the sales bell. Typically, the sales bell sits in the middle of the floor and is rung when a salesperson hits their goals or quota. Incorporate a sales or motivation bell into your virtual workspace. This can be as simple as creating an all company slack channel and uploading a GIF of a bell every time a worker hits a goal. Encourage co-workers to engage on chat when a team member is honored.
7. Personal Hotspot
For organizations that have remote or virtual workers, it is critical to have a backup plan in case employees come across any issues with their Wifi. Virtual teams have no value without access to the internet. Ensure that every worker has internet access—regardless of if they work from home, the office or a coffee shop. The TEDtalk Tech Team is a huge proponent of providing personal hotspots for employees. During the onboarding process, all employees receive a MiFi—a personal and portable hotspot—just in case you lose connection.
Providing unique resources, like MiFi, encourages company culture by recognizing the importance of each employee. Organizations that fail to provide adequate resources typically make employees feel unappreciated and not needed. This is a sure-fire way to lose employees and ruin culture. Give your employees the tools they need, even if you are the first company doing it. They’ll thank you and you will be thanking yourself in a matter of weeks.
8. Growth Hack Getaway
One major perk for organizations with numerous remote workers is the lower cost of rent. Take the savings from real estate and plan a week-long growth hacking getaway. Some companies call these summits, off-sites, or vacations. Take advantage of having the entire team together with minimum distractions. Keep in mind: you don’t need to take them to the Caribbean, but getting your whole company on a trip together is a great way to enhance culture and promote team bonding. Go somewhere not many people have gone—experiencing something new together is priceless!
The Tech Team from TED agree that taking a trip may seem lavish but is worth it in the long run—the amount of work that is accomplished on these trips is astounding—so much that what one week of work justifies the cost of travel. The TED Team appreciates the benefits of working virtually, but agree that getting everyone under the same roof is key to success. That is why the TED Team believe in getting the entire team together for quarterly TED Summits. They host these summits 2-3 times a year and typically head to a neutral location and candidly talk as a group about goals and ideas. Consider hosting a summit or growth hacking week for your company as a way to inspire new innovations, bring dispersed teams together, and expand culture.
9. Virtual “Facewall”
If you have worked in a large company with many employees, chances are you have forgotten a name from time-to-time. Hubspot faced cultural challenges when the number of employees grew dramatically. Back in 2011, Hubspot had less than 200 employees. By 2013, they had more than doubled. In response to this huge growth and anxieties around a disconnected workforce, Hubspot implemented a “Facewall” to help employees get to know each other.
In hopes of maintaining a small, startup culture, Hubspot invested in a digital wall of all employee faces for the lobby as well as the web. They call this display the “Facewall” and it rotates through employees and allows you to virtually get to know your team. For companies with multiple locations, a facewall in every office may get a bit pricey. Instead, maintain a virtual facewall within your company’s workspace or website. Make it easily accessible for all employees, make it interactive, and make it entertaining. If you have to gamify the wall to engage employees, incentivize them with prizes for getting to know their co-workers.
As technology and globalization continue to dominate, leaders are forced to change the way they run their business. New business models and a changing economic landscape have changed the way we run organizations forever. As long as technology continues to advance and borders stay irrelevant, it is imperative that leaders recognize that traditional methods of management may no longer do the trick. If you just scaled up your organization and are employing your first virtual team, take time to invest in tools and practices that make them feel included, appreciated and at-home. Company culture continues to be a priority for organizations—regardless of borders, geographies or distance.