How to Promote Company Culture Across Distributed Teams

Studies show that companies that have a strong positive culture tend to have more engaged and productive workers with less employee absenteeism and turnover. However, building a strong company culture with a distributed workforce can be challenging. Given that distributed teams communicate and interact inside digital communication tools and apps rather than a physical office space, surface-level perks like a fully stocked break room, ping-pong tables and traditional happy hours aren’t sufficient. Instead, businesses need to rapidly conceive and roll out creative, new ways to build a strong and inclusive company culture that fosters innovation, productivity, growth and employee engagement across their entire distributed workforce.

5 Strategies to Build Your Company Culture Playbook

A company’s culture is a system of shared values, beliefs, expectations and goals that governs how employees behave within an organization. Building and maintaining a strong company culture with in-office staff is hard enough. Having a cohesive company culture across a distributed workforce adds a new set of challenges. But with a lot of intention and a bit of creativity, you can build a strong company culture that positively impacts all employees. Here are five strategies to help you develop your company culture playbook.

Define, communicate and live your company’s values

The first step in creating a strong company culture is to identify your company’s core values. These foundational values will guide your company’s mission and culture. It’s important to continually communicate these values to your employees in all forms of companywide communication, in team meetings and during all-hands sessions to keep them top of mind. To help reinforce these values and create a positive culture, give special recognition and awards to team members who exhibit these core values in their work. Ultimately, however, company values are effective only when managers and team leaders live and exhibit them daily. Setting core values and then having leaders fail to abide by them is worse than not establishing company values at all. Leading by example is critical.

Incorporate company culture and values into the hiring and onboarding process

Use your company’s values to guide your hiring decisions. Clearly articulate your company’s core values and existing culture to job candidates and assess whether they possess those values and qualities. BigCommerce, an e-commerce platform provider, categorizes job requirements into two “buckets,” with “bucket 1” encompassing requisite skills and experience required to perform the job function and “bucket 2” encompassing intangible attributes that align to the company’s culture.

“Bucket 2 really matters in a fast-growing company because you want trustworthy people making those snap decisions. You already know they’re smart, but would they choose the high road in a pinch? Would they put the team and company ahead of themselves? Would they check their ego at the door and change course for the right reasons? Bucket 2 people do almost every single time.”

Hiring candidates who culturally align with your organization is just as crucial as hiring candidates who match the required skill set and work experience. Once you find a candidate that you think is an excellent cultural fit with the right skill set, onboard the new hire with the company’s values, culture and mission in mind. Remember, every employee represents your brand, so it’s essential that new employees align with your company’s culture and values as quickly as possible.

Utilize tools that match your company’s culture and foster communication

When a distributed team collaborates inside apps rather than inside an office, it’s important that those apps and tools match your company’s culture. If you’re trying to create an enjoyable and casual work environment, use chat apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams. These tools make communicating more natural and also include features designed to make professional communication more personal, including gifs, emojis and other forms of expression.

You’ll also want to make it as easy as possible for your remote team members to communicate face to face through video conferencing. These meetings help nurture and grow relationships over time. Lifesize’s lifelike video quality helps make it feel like you’re in the same room with the person on the conference call and lets you connect on a deeper level by being able to clearly see and hear your remote team members. Distributed teams will fail to be effective if they don’t meet face to face on a regular basis.

“Hands down, communication is one of the secrets to making flex and remote work possible. Naturally, we use video conferencing as the default for meetings that can’t be held in person, and we’ve found that preserving this facetime and putting remote workers ‘in the room’ goes a long way towards keeping them engaged with their colleagues. Team members who join a meeting via video and rich content sharing, rather than simply a voice connection, are also more active participants and contributors to the dialogue.”
— Gayle Wiley, Chief People Officer at Lifesize

Encourage “water cooler” chats

Many traditional in-office employees are used to “water cooler” chats in the workplace that involve impromptu and informal conversations about their hobbies, interests and personal lives. These conversations are invaluable in fostering more collaborative relationships among colleagues. Just like in a physical office, you should encourage similar bonding opportunities through virtual communication tools. You can create separate channels in chat tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams for team members to connect and have casual, non-work-related conversations. A Slack #watercooler channel is one of the most popular ways companies create a space for casual conversations among peers.

You can also use the first few minutes of your 1:1 and team conference calls to catch up with remote coworkers and have casual, non-work-related conversations. This quick, informal interaction can have a positive impact on team building over time. Additionally, consider hosting regular team bonding video calls and virtual happy hours where team members can chat and interact casually, talk about their lives, play games or share a laugh.

Embrace quirks

With a distributed workforce, different teams will develop their own unique styles. While establishing an overarching cohesive culture and norms based on company values is the goal, each team should also be allowed to develop its own personality through shared experiences and day-to-day interactions. These subcultures are important to employee engagement and help coworkers trust and connect with their teammates. Don’t worry about the small differences. In the long run, these differences will make your company more vibrant and help build a stronger culture across your distributed teams.

Why Company Culture (Especially for Remote Teams) Is So Important

In his best-selling book about workplace dynamics, Start with Why, author Simon Sinek perfectly encapsulates the importance of company culture: “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Well-defined, positive company culture is invaluable to enterprise companies. In fact, an organizational behavior study by Gallup showed that businesses with a resilient company culture tend to have more engaged and productive workers with less employee absenteeism and turnover. It also helps organizations achieve significantly higher companywide effectiveness, better financial performance and a higher customer satisfaction rate.

Here are the top five benefits of having a strong and positive company culture.

Attracts top talent

According to Deloitte Insights, “Organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organizational fit and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will likely beat their competition in attracting top talent.” In fact, 46% of job seekers cite company culture as very important when choosing to apply to a company. Job seekers have access to social media and peer-review sites like Glassdoor, where they can read reviews of companies written by employees. A history of poor culture can turn off top talent from seeking employment with your company, which is why leading businesses typically implement ongoing employee feedback sessions and exit interviews to uncover areas for improvement.

Increases employee retention

A study from the Work Institute showed that 27 out of every 100 US employees left their jobs voluntarily in 2018. This is an 8.3% increase since 2017 and an 88% increase since 2010. The Work Institute predicts this trend could result in a 35% turnover rate by 2023. A driving force behind the high turnover rate is directly related to company culture. Studies show that employees who don’t like their organization’s culture are 24% more likely to quit. Losing employees is costly for a company. On average, estimates suggest it costs as much as $10,000 to replace an employee who earns $50,000 per year. That’s one reason having a positive and well-defined company culture is so important. An employee who is excited about their work and feels inspired by the company culture, the mission and their coworkers is less likely to jump ship to work for your competitor.

Improves brand reputation

Your culture is your brand. In other words, great company culture reverberates across all aspects of your organization. It not only signals how you do business, it determines how employees, customers and prospects will perceive you and your priorities. In addition to attracting top talent and decreasing employee turnover, a positive brand image and reputation increases the level of trust with existing customers and makes potential customers want to do business with you. This is vital to the success and growth of a company. In fact, more than 50% of organizations say corporate culture influences profitability, firm value and growth rates.

Improves overall productivity

A great company culture increases productivity within an organization in a myriad of ways. First, when employees are happy with their jobs and the company’s culture, they consistently show up to work and take fewer sick days. Research shows that unhappy employees take an average of 15 more sick days per year compared to happy employees. Additionally, when employees enjoy their jobs, they are more confident in their work, strive to give 100% and encourage their teammates to do the same. This positive peer pressure among coworkers helps produce greater output for the entire team. Aaron Schmookler, cofounder of TheYesWorks, points out that the alternative also holds true: “We’ve all heard of workplaces where a new person comes into a low-performance culture and people tell them, ‘slow down.’ ‘You’re making us look bad.’ High-performance cultures have people who instead say, ‘Pick it up. You can do it.’"

Improves the bottom line

Finally, a strong company culture gives your organization a sustainable competitive advantage — increased profitability. Studies consistently show that as an organization’s culture improves, so does the company’s bottom line. Not surprisingly, over time, customer retention increases as long-time business partners become comfortable with your culture and build close working relationships with enthusiastic employees. These loyal customers will become your brand evangelists and refer others to your company, helping to drive down customer acquisition costs and churn at the same time.