For years, the idea of working from home was the pinnacle of job fulfilment.
But the pandemic meant that for many, the move to WFH felt more like a kneejerk reaction to lockdowns and restrictions than the positive step towards flexibility that teams had long envisioned.
Once businesses overcame the operational hurdles of hybrid and/or remote working, the benefits were clear. Massive cost savings, increased productivity, and plenty of flexibility for the workforce painted an idealised image of a new remote–first reality.
If only it was that simple.
Teams of people who previously sat only desks apart had to quickly adapt to entirely virtual communication. Work days that were once broken up by water-cooler chats and catch-ups over lunch quickly turned into working longer hours, skipped lunches, and struggling to switch off at the end of the day. Add a lack of face-to-face interaction to the equation, and you have the recipe for a burnt out, disconnected team.
If working through the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we need to take care of our people.
So what's the 'secret sauce'?
We love being a remote-first organisation, but Google Meet* and flexible hours aren’t enough to fill the potential cultural void of this type of working environment.
As well as being recognised as 'Remote Team of the Year' at the UK Company Culture Awards this year, we’re regularly told by team members, hiring candidates and partners that we have a 'secret sauce' that makes TCT a great environment to be in, even though we're fully remote.
Here are some of the tried and trusted ways we’ve embedded company culture as a remote-first organisation. We hope they help you embrace remote-first too!
*Insert your platform of choice
1. Embrace asynchronicity
While tools like Slack and Google Docs aren’t the whole picture when it comes to unifying teams, they form an important part.
Aside from the tactical benefit to adopting asynchronous communication (individuals, teams, and whole departments are able to communicate in quick-time on different projects across the business for more fluid collaboration, enhanced productivity, and greater team agility), we’ve found that there’s a cultural benefit to these platforms too.
As well as operational, departmental and project-based channels, we also hold space for a variety of channels that are wholly devoted to ‘non-work stuff’, where our people (who may be miles, even countries, apart) can chat about their day, what they did over the weekend, and share anything from workout stats, to memes, to family news.
It’s a simple concept, but having somewhere to actively facilitate and enable chat about not-work has helped us keep those informal water-cooler and lunch-chat spaces, embedding team culture and unity amongst our people - which plenty of scientists will tell you has a positive benefit on professional productivity.
Remember though, asynchronous comms like this are only as useful as the people using them, so there needs to be buy-in team-wide, with senior team members consciously creating a safe space to be sociable, to bring out the cultural value of these platforms.
2. Maximise togetherness
From daily stand-ups, to lunchtime Show & Tells, to in-person meet-ups (both professionally and just to hang out and have fun), it’s important to embed ongoing mechanisms for togetherness. There’s no silver bullet though, so like any relationship, if you don’t provide the opportunities for togetherness, it simply won’t happen.
Some of these activities come with costs, but the value of a strong company culture often outweighs this. For us, we see the time and financial implications as an investment in the long term cultural health of our team - and a smart FD will know that the costs spent on ‘team bonding’ are more than compensated for by the savings on obsolete office space.
3. Flex, flex and flex again
Our use of the term ‘life-work’ balance instead of ‘work-life’ balance is a small distinction, but an incredibly important one. It’s one thing to say you’re committed to offering flexibility to your team, but actually making flexibility a cultural priority in your organisation is another thing entirely.
Doctor’s appointments, school pick-ups and drop-offs, and popping out in the middle of the day to collect a prescription can all be done in and around work and client commitments. With team support, all of life's responsibilities can be balanced.
It’s also important not to watch the clock; we recommend measuring your team members’ performance based on their input into the whole team output, not just the hours they’re online.
4. Be led by your values
As with all things team culture related, we understand that this is easier said than done. However, we’ve defined a simple XYZ process of thinking that ensures that what we’re doing, whether that’s updating processes, planning our next team day, or bringing on a new client, stands up against our values…
The formula: “In terms of X, our value means Y, and Z is the process we use to embed that value”.
The outcome: “In terms of company culture, our value of “we’re always learning” means that we encourage and support our team to be curious and pursue personal and professional development goals. Intentionally hiring team members who we’re able to learn from, as well as teach, is one of the processes we use to embed this value.”
Being led by our values also means making some tough decisions, like being willing to walk away from work or activities that don’t line up with our values, or saying no to a candidate that is a superstar on paper, but doesn’t feel like an ethical fit for our team. Being values-led is one of the reasons we’re on the journey to become a BCorp, and have become a member of Ecologi to help minimise our carbon impact on the planet.
5. Modify your operations to fit your team
You’ll benefit from a far happier and fulfilled remote team if the processes and operations they engage with day to day are shaped by their needs and experiences. This also goes for long-established ways of working. Employee needs and habits change, and operations should reflect that.
Setting up monthly or quarterly check-ins with your people to discuss what could be changed or done better, regularly sending out anonymous feedback forms, or having an open suggestion box are all ways that you can make your team feel seen and heard. The feedback gathered will not only help shape operations and processes to better fit your team, but may present creative and innovative solutions to long-standing problems.
Being a leader who is willing to say ‘we got this wrong’ or ‘you’ve told us this isn’t working anymore’, and then doing something about it, is incredibly powerful. Many leaders say their door is open, but being seen to follow-through inspires real trust between employer and employee.
6. Get to know your people
If you had to ask us which of these 6 points is the most important, we’d say it was this one. Never underestimate the impact that showing an interest and giving your undivided attention has on someone, especially in a professional setting.
The key here, really, is to be human, and to create an environment in which your team can be authentic. Remembering a team member’s significant other’s name, or that their child is starting nursery, or that their dog just had to see the vet, or any of the other thousand small things that make up the fabric of people’s ‘real’ lives shows an effort to see a person, not an automaton.
People need to feel able to bring their whole selves to work, and knowing a little of what’s going on in the lives of your team members will help them do just that.
Nurturing a healthy, balanced remote-first future
By investing in employee wellbeing, promoting open communication and enabling personal and professional growth, the remote-first future can be bright for your team, too.
It’s not just possible to stay connected, embed company culture, and support happy, healthy teams within a remote working model - it’s wholly worthwhile and drives better business outcomes. We’ve seen it for ourselves.
What can we get right for you?
If the way we work sounds like a bit of what your next data or tech project needs, let’s talk.