Even Though My Team Works Remotely We Still Have a Strong Company Culture -- Here's How We Do It
Building a strong culture without four walls has a lot in common with raising children. You've taught them well. You've nurtured them. And now the time has come to let them go. You'll lie awake wondering if you've made the right decision. Should you give them all this freedom? Will they make good choices? Can you really trust them? If you've built a resilient culture, the answer is yes.
I know this because, as the co-CEO of a virtual company, I've lived it. Working on the road in sales and consulting earlier in my career taught me that I didn't need four walls to be productive. After I was promoted to lead a sales team, I worked with a virtual assistant for the first time. Her terrific performance convinced me that a virtual workplace wasn't just an alternative to a brick-and-mortar setup -- it was better for both employees and employers. This inspired me to launch my company.
The way we used to work doesn't work anymore. In the future, the virtual workplace will become the norm. It's already happening: Intuit research suggests that the gig economy makes up 34 percent of the workforce now and will grow to 43 percent by 2020. But, outdated beliefs and unfounded fears are holding too many business leaders back. What they lack is confidence in their culture -- that's what it takes to succeed as a virtual company. It requires trust in employees.
So, what is culture, and what does it take to create a strong culture without being surrounded by four walls? I quickly found that culture isn't Secret Santa gift exchanges, karaoke contests, Nerf gun fights, catered food truck lunches or a zip-lining, outward-bound excursion with your co-workers, although those activities can be awesome. Sometimes employers mistake awesome team-building exercises for culture, but while one can be part of the other, the two are not interchangeable.
In its survey of great company cultures, Entrepreneur defines the elements of a high-performance culture: "Work should be gratifying. We should appreciate our colleagues. Our peers should inspire us. And our happy, efficient, productive workplaces should -- and will -- lead us all to greater success." Notice there's nothing in that definition about walls.
At my company, our vibrant culture is what makes working without four walls work. It's inextricably linked to our vision, and by design, our team willingly -- and enthusiastically -- embodies that. We leave no margin for a "kinda sorta" cultural commitment; you've got to be all in, contributing to the greater good. Our culture is a hum. A verve. A vibe. An electricity. Here are just a few ways we keep our work family bonded by culture while experiencing cubicle "empty-nest" syndrome:
1. Make time for face time.
There are countless ways to build relationships with people, even if rarely in the same room with them. We know this in our personal lives -- a generation of children are growing up talking to Grandma on a live streaming app. At BELAY, we keep in touch constantly through messaging and email. We also leverage video conferencing, company retreats or quarterly face-to-face events to further develop the human ties that bind.
2. Get social.
No office? No problem. We do virtual happy hours, virtual coffee talks, Friday highs-and-lows shared on social media and more. Basically, we'll slap "virtual" in front of anything as an excuse to get together. Just because we don't have an office doesn't mean our team can't have meaningful activities and share rich connection points -- and yes -- have fun.
3. Support work-life balance.
We have an executive team member who, like many of our colleagues, is a parent. We had a call scheduled, and I could hear commotion in the background. When I inquired, she explained that she was at the bus stop with her child but insisted she could still conduct the call. I refused. So often, we're expected to sacrifice our personal life for work. But, being at that bus stop -- really being present -- is a priceless gift. Our virtual culture lets you be flexible without fear. We want you to work to live, not the other way around -- and we strive to honor that every day.
Driving a strong company culture without sharing a physical space requires authenticity, support and engagement to elevate your culture beyond the physical. It lays the foundation for your company to thrive, regardless of ZIP, area or even country code. Most of all, it requires trust. When your employees leave the nest, you can be confident that they -- and you -- will soar if you've created a culture that nurtures success. That's how your company can make working without walls work.
Related Video: The Leadership Style You Need to Drive Your Company Culture