The importance of building and maintaining culture when the world's gone remote

Okay, so we are all WFH, have mastered the video set up, how to get dressed from the top up and what to do with our commute time, but the real issue is how do we maintain culture.

As the nation has fast-tracked its way to the #WFH lifestyle by necessity, hundreds of articles have been published to help with the day-to-day transition—sharing necessary but basic tips like ‘get dressed’ and ‘use your commute time’ but what’s missing something that’s critical to hold us together: CULTURE.

As an organization that has worked remotely since its inception, and values culture above anything, we know that bigger questions must and will soon arise. 

These are rare times. And the need for core company values and culture to shine has never been greater. Brands are being asked to lead more than ever, but their public face is only one piece of the puzzle. Brands, companies and agencies also need to turn their focus inward to ensure that their own employees are not just coping individually, but coming together as a team. 

Company culture is always a mix of the big and the small. Culture is a daily task. It’s critical to take action to reinforce and cultivate the culture you have. 

After years of working in the space of brand purpose and culture, these are lessons we use daily, now more than ever:

Teams that share the joy, bring the joy

Start and end the week with culture. Every Monday morning we have a check-in just like every other company in the world. But our check-in isn’t about projects or the weeks to-do’s, it’s about culture. Essentially, it’s a mental health check-in to bond, share potential struggles, things you might be dealing with. It allows everyone to bring their whole selves to work. It’s part of what makes us excited for Mondays. 

Another thing that makes us feel super connected is our Friday email. We’d never suggest a corporate Friday memo, but for small teams (keep it at the two-pizza rule: a team size is no bigger than what two pizzas can feed), consider a weekly recap. Tap a new author each week, encourage teams to share small wins, big thank-you’s and high-five-worthy moments. While many rely on Slack for ‘camaraderie’, it falls short in creating meaningful connections. Fri-yay emails require personal conversations to generate their content and offer a clear, high endpoint to the week.

Titles that buck the norm, buck the storm 

While productivity often goes up working from home, so can confusion about how to behave. Encourage teams to flatten the hierarchy and adopt a "jump-in" culture. By that we mean forgetting the phrase "that’s not my job" and being willing to cover each others’ tasks to avoid back-ups and bottlenecks in decision-making. Remote work requires a greater sense of trust, so it’s an excellent time to train future leaders by encouraging more autonomy and less hand holding. Long term, what becomes game-changing is that it creates the ability for a link in the chain to fail. Teams learn roles and skills that provide the ability to ‘bubble wrap’ a teammate. If you aren’t reliant on them entirely, they have more room to heal and adjust, getting them back in the game quicker—all without your team missing a beat. 

Cultures that thrive, thrive on transparency

Let’s be real, every parent out there right now is worried about feeling judged—both for their homeschooling program (please, everyone, give yourself a break!) and for how their kids might be affecting their ability to work. At every level of your org, it’s critical to be transparent in time like these. And this applies not just to parents but to issues of age, financial security, you name it, we’re in new and unfounded territory, beyond even the standard work-from-home issues. 

Share company attitude, policies and actions swiftly and often. The model we see is the model we keep. Share stories, be open about accommodations, and if you can, keep laughing and rolling with the punches. Don’t pretend you aren’t juggling your kids or suppress hard conversations about pay. It’s easy to feel alone without in-person face-to-face time, so stave off employee head-trash with openness and kindness. 

Brands that lead, lead with purpose

Now for the bigger things. Brands that tap into their purpose have long outperformed their peers. Brands that lead with purpose now will undoubtedly be the ones we remember. Brand purpose should impact every decision marketers, agencies, creatives and you, individually, are making. Ensure that your company’s purpose is clearly articulated and shared widely—make your purpose a guiding light. 

There’s no greater bond than coming together in times of hardship. Organize a company wide meeting to reaffirm and reshare your purpose and then open the field to teams and people across the org to come up with actionable, relevant and important ways your company can act. The time is now for brands to step up and lead.

And lastly:

Companies that inspire internally, inspire externally

Today’s consumer expects more—this is true not just for this moment—it’s been true for a while. Every action you take is considered and will be seen. This includes your company culture. How you act in this moment, how you show up, matters. Treat your culture as well as you’d treat any valuable company asset—with daily care, time and the resources it needs.

The companies that will stand tomorrow will be those that stood up and did it right. 

Kirsten Ludwig runs IN GOOD CO, an agency focused on building brands that lead with purpose. The agency and its global collective has been fully remote for over 5 years. 

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