Working remote, staying close: Nurturing culture out of the office

When Maslow created his hierarchy of needs, he put love and belonging right in the middle. For many, work helps fill these essential, psychological needs. And although technology has enabled some of us to easily work remotely, it can disconnect that sense of belonging and community.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to.

As long as you are deliberate and intentional about keeping culture alive, it can thrive, regardless of where workers work. Here are five ways CallRail keeps culture close and connected, even when we’re apart.

1. Know your team

Professional or personal, healthy relationships should all start the same way: you get to know somebody, asking all kinds of questions, paying attention to little details and idiosyncrasies. You do your best to make them feel appreciated, comfortable and happy.

Getting to know your team works pretty much the same way, and it’s the key to creating and cultivating a healthy culture.

So have real conversations with your people. Understand their potential as well as their limitations. Pay close attention to small changes in their mood and tone, from meetings to messaging. Then use what you’ve learned as a blueprint to create virtual spaces where people feel like they belong.

Every team member brings something to the table. Understanding each other’s strengths fosters collaboration and community. There are several online tools you can use to gain insight into what makes your team tick (many of them are free).
At CallRail, we use 5 Voices. It’s a more condensed version of the Myers-Briggs personality test that breaks personalities down into five types:

  1. Nurturer: Intuitive and pragmatic, they often shy away from conflict
  2. Creator: Inherently believe everything could be better
  3. Guardian: Focus on ensuring every solution is workable
  4. Connector: Passionate, charismatic people pleasers
  5. Pioneer: Natural leaders who can be inspirational—or overbearing

We share the results with each other, to help us understand how we can fit together better. Knowing our Pioneers from our Nurturers has helped us more easily transition from a close-knit office to a well-connected virtual one.

2. Embrace what makes them human

We all are experiencing similar feelings and concerns, especially during this challenging time. The most detrimental thing that you can do is to not acknowledge our new normal.

It’s okay when everything’s not perfect or buttoned up. In fact, when life intrudes on remote work, it helps you connect with employees in a real, human way. Compassion and empathy build trust and confidence. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Expect (and welcome) disruption: When the whole family’s at home, working parents have two jobs—and they worry they’re not doing either one that well. When a child disrupts a video conference, laugh it off and put mom or dad at ease.
  • Be patient and understanding: Even when you’re locked in with someone you love, relationships get tested and strained. And self-isolating can be even harder when you have to do it alone.
  • Reset expectations: Remember, you may never know what someone’s dealing with between calls. When it comes to missed deadlines during uncertain times, be flexible and give them grace.

3. Know there’s no such thing as over communicating

According to Harvard Business Review, “there’s ample research showing that virtual teams can be completely equal to co-located ones in terms of trust and collaboration. It just requires discipline.”

The secret is transparency and frequent, open, honest communication.

You have to communicate with your team in a variety of ways. Take time to build relationships, especially with managers. Schedule some time in your day to personally reach out to at least 3-5 team members a day.

  • It doesn’t take much. Check in. Send well wishes or a funny GIF. Share a few kind words. Just saying “hi” goes a long way. A few minutes of your time may leave a lasting lifetime impression.
  • Have more frequent meetings. Yes, I know. But in the virtual world, there are no hallway conversations or ad hoc meetings. You have to work harder to make sure you’ve got your finger on the pulse of your team’s well being. Consider:
    Weekly one-on-one with your team to discuss project status (and see who needs help)
  • Weekly coffee talks: 30 minutes with the team, absolutely no agenda
  • Think twice about tone. Text assumes tone. If you’re not thoughtful with emails or messaging, you may unintentionally be causing some anxiety on the receiving end of a message. It seems some, if not all of us, have become hardwired to read between the lines and anticipate the worst.
  • Talk. Don’t rely on written communication. Video calls are even better, not only adding a human face to a conversation, but a deeper level of engagement.

4. Forgo status quo

When there’s no business as usual, welcome business unusual. Don’t be afraid to make work weird, surprising and unexpected. Instigate or participate—it doesn’t matter. But remember, you can’t mandate fun. It has to happen organically.

The freedom to be you and take up space allows others to exercise that same freedom. Think about it! Be the spark that ignites your team to be creative and to show up fully.

Going full-time remote a few weeks ago has inspired many CallRailers to shake up daily routines. Management actually embraces and encourages it—it’s part of what makes CallRail, CallRail. Here are a few things we’ve done:

  • Go incognito: Join calls in costumes you conjure up with things you find in your closet. I’ve shown up to recent meetings as Minnie Mouse, a tourist in the tropics and a game show host. You can even theme meetings (Tiger King staff meeting, anyone?).
  • Change the scenery: Take video conferences on your deck. Switch to a different room for each Hangout, Facetime or Skype get together. Rearrange things in your office and see who notices.
  • Set up a virtual water cooler: We use Slack for messaging, which makes it easy to set up channels for different topics and conversations. We’ve got channels for cat lovers, foodies, binge watchers—you name it. The conversations we used to have in hallways and break rooms, we’re now having virtually.

5. Do small things in a big way

You don’t have to have a big budget for meaningful and impactful actions. All you need is a little bit of creativity and some research. Have a little something fun for everyone.

  • Go back to school: Our team is full of perpetual learners. They love spaces where they can try a new skill or get an inside glimpse of another culture. We use Zoom and Google Hangouts to host remote tea times, lunchtime trivia, and yoga sessions. The key to getting this right is the timing! Make sure that you schedule events when it’s convenient for people that want to join.
  • Make every day a holiday: There’s a different “national day” every day (and then some). A good way to keep your team engaged is to celebrate some of the fun holidays that are out there, along with more meaningful ones. Whether it’s National Pet Day or National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, keep things interesting to avoid the mundane. Ask the team to post pics of their PB&J creations, or to wear blue or change their Slack status to a blue heart to support Autism Day.
  • Help good news travel fast: With the constant bad news cycle, we need to share the good stuff now more than ever. Counteract negative talk with positivity. Use tools like 15Five (offering free access until June 15) to give virtual high fives. Or spread joy through good old-fashioned email.
  • Encourage mindfulness: Meditate. You’re probably thinking (Soulja Boy Voice) MEDITATE?!? Yes, meditate! It works. Take a moment to be still. Meditation reduces stress and anxiety, can generate kindness, and helps with mental health. All of the ingredients to create a space for culture to thrive.

One more bonus tip: Share your success. Let others know how you keep your culture close. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to do it yourself, innovative companies like Socionado can help (they create and publish content showcasing their clients’ diversity, mission, culture and employees).

In this climate, it’s more important than ever to encourage human connection. We are learning that social distancing is causing us to need each other more than ever. Take the time to be intentional about creating an inclusive culture that frees everyone to work, grow and thrive.

Learn more tips from our Culture Program Manager on how to keep company culture alive while working remote in our on-demand webinar.