“Meaningful work, creative work, thoughtful work, important work – this type of effort takes stretches of uninterrupted time to get into the zone. But in the modern office such long stretches just can’t be found. Instead, it’s just one interruption after another.”
~ excerpt from Remote
In order to get work done with fewer interruptions, more and more employees are requesting to work remotely, whether that be from home, a coworking space, a coffee shop, or a yurt in Montana.
Employers are also finding that, by establishing a remote workforce, they are no longer limited to just hiring candidates that live in their city or state. If a perfect-fit candidate lives two time zones away, the employer can still hire them and leverage their talent.
Remote work is becoming increasingly common, due in large part to advances in technology that have made it much more feasible for people to collaborate and connect with their team members while working from wherever they choose.
The reality is that in most cases work really can get done from anywhere. But the concern that some employers and employees have about working remotely relates to work culture. A common question is, if everyone is doing their thing and working independently from home, how does the organization foster a strong culture of collaboration, innovation, creativity?
Building a great culture within any organization can be challenging, regardless of whether team members work from the same office or are spread across the globe. But there are key things that companies with remote workers can do to help build a happy, productive work culture.
Here are six things that we do at AP that we feel have helped us develop a positive, high-performance, and dare we say, fun culture with our remote team members.
1. Hire the Right People
As Jim Collins writes in his book, Good to Great, “Start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who.’ Start by getting the right people on the bus (your company), the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Recruiting and hiring the right people requires a tremendous amount of time and investment, but it’s worth its weight in gold in the long term. For a company with remote workers, the right people are likely to be those who want or need to work from home, who really know how to work as a team and like doing so, and who are willing to help their team members, even if it doesn’t directly benefit them or their department.
And once you’ve hired your superstars, it’s essential to have a comprehensive, in-depth onboarding process. Onboarding introduces new hires to the social and performance aspects of their jobs and provides opportunities to learn what’s required of them in order to function effectively within your organization. Onboarding sets them up for success, makes them feel welcomed, and better prepares them for their new job.
2. Invest in Technology
Technology plays a vital role in a company’s ability to have a remote workforce. It’s important to have software, hardware, and other tools that support information sharing and make communication easy. Here’s what’s in our toolbox:
- Zoom video and web conferencing. Zoom is our go-to tool for our bi-monthly company-wide meetings, individual team meetings, and occasionally, client meetings. Zoom allows us to not only see one another, but share our screens as well, which makes it easy for team members to interact and collaborate with one another.
- Skype. Skype gives us the ability to communicate and collaborate in real-time. Team members use it to video or phone conference, send quick individual or team messages, send photos or files, and to just keep ideas and communication flowing. It’s also incredibly reliable and compatible with just about every platform imaginable.
- Asana. Asana is a productivity and task-management tool that allows team members to share, plan, organize, and track progress of the tasks that each member is working on.
- Basecamp. Basecamp is a project-management tool that helps team members manage multiple projects at a time with to-do lists, file sharing, chatting, messages, calendars and time tracking.
- Google Docs. Google Docs is used company-wide at AP for collaborating with team members and clients on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and the like.
- TINYpulse. TINYpulse uses anonymity and simplicity to assess how workers feel about everything from their job and team members, to what they’d like to see from the company’s leadership team and any issues/concerns they might have. Each week, a one-question survey is sent out to every team member and the anonymous responses are provided to the management team. This allows the company’s leadership to constantly take the pulse of their organization and stay up-to-date on the environment and any issues. A particularly great feature is the “Cheers” section within TINYpulse. Even if they don’t participate in the survey for that week, team members have the option of sending cheers to their peers. Cheers can recognize peers for their hard work, thank them for being such great team members, or just make them feel valued.
3. Face-to-Face Company Meetings
Twice a year, the AP team gets together for a few days for team building, training, and face-to-face collaboration. Even though we see each other’s faces via Zoom and Skype on a regular basis, there’s a lot to be said for interacting face-to-face, sharing meals and laughs, and getting to know people’s personalities a little better. Face-to-face meetings are also an important time to bond and create fun memories.
For example, at our summer meeting in Boston, we held a scavenger hunt around the city. Team members were joined together in small groups with matching T-shirts and given a list of clues to solve in order to figure out which landmark locations to go to. Once there, they had to take group photos or videos and submit them to the scavenger hunt organizers via Twitter. Afterward, everyone met up at a restaurant for dinner and spent the evening laughing and sharing stories of their adventure. This “Great Race” was a great way for team members to get better acquainted with one another, bond, and team build.
4. Professional Development
Investing in the personal and professional growth of your employees is critical if you want to cultivate a culture of continuous learners, forward-thinkers, and motivated leaders who know how to inspire others to reach lofty goals. At AP, we offer two professional development programs: AP Fellows and Next Level Leadership (NLL).
AP Fellows is more focused on management training and base-level leadership skills and NLL is geared toward leadership training. However, both programs are really about creating a culture of collaborative, connected team members who are invested in the growth of the company.
5. Be Transparent
At many companies, topics such as company financials, submitted RFPs (request for proposals), and operational developments are held close to the vest by the top leadership. At AP, we share all that information and much more on our bi-weekly Zoom calls. We encourage our team members to ask questions about what’s happening within our company and the direction we’re going. On occasion, we also discuss the anonymous TINYpulse questions, especially when they pertain to questions directed at our CEO. He takes the time to answer them on the calls and invites further discussion from team members.
When company leadership is transparent, credible, respectful, and fair, it fosters a culture of trust. And the more trust team members have in their coworkers, managers, and company leadership, the more empowered they will feel to be open and honest about their work and areas where the company can improve.
6. Create a Culture Deck
A culture deck is a visual representation of the things that your organization holds near and dear. It tells the world who your company is, what you’re about, and what you value. It also conveys your company vision and the expected behaviors of your team members. You can download our culture deck here.
If you think you’d be a good fit for our team, check out our careers page. We’d love to hear from you!