Building and Fostering Location-Independent Company Culture

An image of a girl doing sprint planning with her team

Originally published in Forbes by Laurel Farrer

Birthday cake in the break room, ropes courses on in the woods, and chats at the coffee pot - shared celebrations and activities throughout the workday have always been what bonds our teams together to create a sense of camaraderie. Or are they?

The fear of remote worker isolation is a lurking topic for every business leader during this era of office lockdowns. Companies are anxious to keep their employees engaged to prevent feelings of loneliness and abandonment. So, assuming that strong company culture is the traditional solution for employee engagement, leaders are feeling helpless without break rooms and baristas. How can we prevent isolation without an engaging office culture? But the real question may be even bigger than that: did our employees feel isolated before they went remote?

We often associate perks like ping pong tables and cereal bars as “great culture,” but that is a critical error. Those may be expressions or channels of culture, but they are not the culture itself. True organizational culture is based on the mission and values that unify a workforce, and the most effective methods for building unity are soft skills like communication, empathy, and trust. Which is great news for company culture in distributed teams, because all of those are 100% location independent.

As the brand that we’re all relying on to stay socially connected during physical distancing, Zoom’s recent whitepaper on How to Adapt Company Culture for Remote Work couldn’t have come at a better time. In collaboration with remote work experts, Distribute Consulting, the content provides a “5-step guide to ensuring your workforce feels connected and valued, regardless of office location,” including defining, activating, and monitoring your company culture in a virtual workplace.

This conversation proves that culture-building activities can be just as fun and tangible in a virtual workplace as they were in an office. Even better, Zoom and Distribute Consulting explain how to integrate culture directly into digital operations, so that virtual culture can become something that you see and experience on a daily basis, whether you’re in the office or at home. For example:

Discussing and analyzing examples of company values during performance reviews

  • Team members giving recognition by tagging projects or messages as representations of the culture

  • Designing a decision-making process on alignment with the company mission

  • Activating values in leadership and productivity-tracking methods

  • During onboarding, showcase a timeline of the company progressively fulfilling its mission over the history of the business

  • Building virtual events, channels, and or conversations based on cultural values

The recognition that company culture is irrelevant to coworker proximity is long overdue. For decades, we’ve been relying on physical proximity to substitute for true unification. Now that our locations are dispersed, it may become painfully evident that our offices were the only thing keeping our staff together. 

So, arguably, organizational culture is even more important in work-from-home teams than it was in the office, because without walls and ceilings, culture becomes the “office” environment of your company that align our workforces, and delineate their work time from their personal time. Active participation and connection provides a feeling of “being at work” and encourages loyalty and pride in your staff.

Megan Dilley