How 4 HR Leaders Are Building Remote Company Culture for the Long Term

HR leaders share what they’ve learned over the last several months of remote work.
Quinten Dol
July 7, 2020
Quinten Dol
July 7, 2020

People and HR teams have shouldered much of the burdens businesses have faced this year: COVID-19 health and safety concerns, adjusted revenue forecasts, interrupted hiring plans and a mass transition to remote work being chief among them.

Now, several months into the work-from-home era, a new challenge has emerged: how to foster company culture when physical gathering remains impossible? 

With large teams spread over multiple cities and countries, many enterprise businesses already have some experience building company culture from afar. But with the dissolution of corporate headquarters into thousands of individual home offices, the question of how to maintain a shared sense of purpose and community becomes even tougher. 

When asked how they’ve managed over the last several months, people operations leaders at cloud computing company Nutanix, enterprise consultancy Perficient, cybersecurity firm Datto and conversational AI builder LivePerson pointed to communication channels and social meetups as key incubators of remote company culture.

 

nutanix SVP of people and business operations
Photo via Nutanix

Rukmini Sivaraman, SVP of People and Business Ops at Nutanix

How has your company culture evolved over the last several months of remote work?

We’re lucky to work for a company that develops technology that enables people to work remotely (among other things), so we were tactically prepared to go remote almost immediately. Over the last several months, we have seen our people go above and beyond to make our customers successful — even during these trying times — and help set up their remote environments in a matter of days. 

We have also come together organically to help each other. We created a Slack channel specifically to source ideas for weathering the pandemic, on how to thrive during this period of remote work and architecting the future of work. We are all dealing with very different environments (whether chaotic or lonely) and our responsibility as a company is to build a culture that supports everyone.

 

“Priorities can change and so can personal circumstances, so keeping an open mind with a willingness to evolve is key.”

 

What can team leaders do to foster a strong company culture from afar?

It’s important for team leaders to focus on three things during this remote work environment and beyond: communication, clarity and flexibility. 

Find out what modes of communication work best for your teams, and use them often. It can be challenging to replace the face-to-face interaction, but keeping in touch can help. 

Provide clarity to your teams on the direction of the company and the team — at Nutanix, we use the objectives and key results (OKRs) framework to accomplish this. 

Above all, be flexible and ready to adapt. Priorities can change and so can personal circumstances, so keeping an open mind with a willingness to evolve is key. It’s also important to offer employees flexibility — from hours to virtual workspaces — equipped with innovative technologies and tools, and a small stipend to improve their work-from-home set-up.

 

perficient vice president of people
Photo via Perficient

Andrea Lampert, VP of People at Perficient

How has your company culture evolved over the last several months of remote work?

There’s nothing quite like shelter-in-place orders to remind us that culture isn’t limited to an office. Our teams have embraced the new digitally-centered culture, with regular events like virtual lunches, themed happy hours, book clubs, game nights and retirement parties as a substitute to in-person contact. 

Colleagues are also driving conversations both internally and externally through personal anecdotes posted on the Life at Perficient blog and our dedicated COVID-19 response hub. Topics have included tips for preserving mental health, how to remain physically active while working from home, favorite hobbies and everything in between. 

Our leadership recognizes the importance of ongoing communications. They have a regular cadence of communication with colleagues, commending their efforts and providing timely business updates.

 

“Leaders would do well to give their teams the space and time to chat, empathize and check-in with one another.”

 

What can team leaders do to foster a strong company culture from afar?

A large portion of Perficient’s workforce was already working remotely prior to COVID-19, which helped our transition to a fully remote company. The sudden lack of in-person social interactions can have a negative impact on the well-being and productivity of colleagues. 

Leaders would do well to give their teams the space and time to chat, empathize and check-in with one another. Simply building in an extra 15 minutes at the end of a meeting for small talk or giving colleagues a platform to share their insights with one another can empower human connection, enable collaboration and reinforce a company’s culture around the value of its people.

 

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Datto Digital Workplace & Intranet Manager
Photo via Datto

Jessica Anavim, Digital Workplace and Intranet Manager at Datto

How has your company culture evolved over the last several months of remote work?

Datto built a strong cultural foundation before the majority of the company began working remotely in March, which has made for a seamless transition. We’ve embraced one of our core values — transparency — by keeping two-way communication channels open between executives and employees. That looks like no-frills email announcements, intranet articles and resources, virtual town hall events and continuing our practice of publishing anonymous questions and answers posed to company leaders. 

Additionally, production and events teams have organized spirit days, virtual concerts and contests to connect peers around the world so they can bond beyond their working relationships. We even continued our tradition of offering “free lunch Friday” by providing all employees around the world with GrubHub gift certificates for use at their favorite local restaurants, accompanied by a virtual hangout with both our founder and CEO.

 

“Most employees and leaders are learning about the new workplace dynamic in real time.”

 

What can team leaders do to foster a strong company culture from afar?

Most employees and leaders are learning about the new workplace dynamic in real time. As offices began to close, a cross-functional group hosted training sessions for our managers on how to transition to an almost completely virtual way of doing business. Team leaders should encourage collaboration among their teams, solicit actionable feedback and promote cameras turned on during virtual meetings. Dialogue is crucial to ensuring that employees continue to love where they work and contribute to the team. Leaders should also work to understand the challenges that this new remote work environment may pose to employees and offer flexible arrangements when needed.

 

HR Director at liveperson
Photo via LivePerson

Sonali Das, HR Director at LivePerson

How has your company culture evolved over the last several months of remote work?

While LivePerson culture has always had remote-friendly events and live streams because we have locations around the world, it’s been important for us to ramp up the frequency of these events and add new ways for employees to connect more casually.

We created an internal website to share resources and build a stronger sense of community. To add some fun variety, we also added virtual happy hours, exercise classes, nutrition sessions and small group discussions — all led by employees passionate about topics from motorcycles to home decor to reality TV. We’ve also enlisted some great friends of the company, like Peter Yarrow (of the band Peter, Paul, and Mary) and Deepak Chopra, to lead some musical and meditative sessions that are really needed in these stressful times.

 

“We are all experiencing new work situations, stresses and uncertainties due to the pandemic.”

 

What can team leaders do to foster a strong company culture from afar?

Our CEO, Rob LoCascio, is a big proponent of “leading with empathy,” which is especially important when we are all experiencing new work situations, stresses and uncertainties due to the pandemic. Some of the ways we are leading with empathy include instituting programs to reimburse employees who set up remote workstations, flex hours and additional PTO days to manage personal needs and wellness and commemorate Juneteenth. It’s also important to check in regularly on how people are feeling, so we’re conducting employee surveys to see how we’re doing.

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