Building Culture on Distributed Teams

Culture is like a lint trap, if you don’t clean it out regularly, it will accumulate and eventually start a fire. Now is a great time to clean out the culture trap – keeping what works for you, and getting rid of the old traditions, customs, rules, and patterns that no longer serve the team. All conferences, off sites, in-person trainings, and many All Hands meetings have been cancelled. Now is the time to figure out how your culture translates to your distributed work force.

Cultures are Codified in Big Events
Big events, big changes, and new challenges bring out the best and worst in people and organizations. It is important to recognize that you are setting new cultural norms at this time. Be deliberate about creating the culture that your team and organization needs.

Check in on Your Mission and Values
Your mission shouldn’t have changed. How you serve your mission may have. Make sure you are keeping your mission in mind and reconnecting people to it now more than ever before. Do you already have organizational values in place? Check in on them and redefine or clarify them for your distributed workforce. Use your values to inform your decision making, how you work with each other, and the future of work for your team.

Keep the Useful and Make it Digital
Have a deliberate discussion about the things you like about your culture. Bring those into the virtual culture. What were the structures in place that held your culture together? All Hands, team meetings, conferences, 1:1 lunches, water cooler conversations, elevator chats, drop in meetings, and happy hours come to mind. Some of these lend themselves to virtual versions, some of them don’t. Look for ways to use technology like Yammer, Skype, Zoom, Hangout, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and texts to keep people connected.

Update or Delete Obsolete Rules (Written and Unwritten)
You know the policies and procedures. You also know the unwritten rules of the organization, it’s part of how you got promoted. Have a deliberate conversation about the unwritten rules, and decide if those still serve you in the new working environment. Need a place to start, look at approvals and how those get done. This is a time to challenge the status quo and look at what’s working and what’s not.

Understand the Social Network
Know who talks with whom and who is connected to whom and who might be at risk of being isolated now that there is no foot traffic walking by their desk. Be sure that you and your team are checking in on each other and staying connected.

Ask How They Are… and Care About the Answer
“How are you?” is a legitimate question right now. Take a few seconds of EQ time to stop and get a real answer. Checking-in on your team’s health, and the health of those they care for and about, is critical right now. If someone is not healthy, that’s a big deal. It’s your job to know about it.

Communicate Early, Often, and More than You Think is Needed
Even when we all worked in the same space, factions and cliques formed. Now is a great time to bridge those silos – inside and outside the team. Encourage everyone to communicate more with more people, to share and triangulate information. The information gaps will grow even more now.

Check-In Virtually and How They Want You To
People have different preferences. It’s important to have each of your team members checking-in on each other – not just you. Some people love to ‘ping’ others in-the-moment, others prefer to have scheduled check-ins. Find out what works for people and work it. Use video, calls, text, chat, etc. Learn people’s preferences.

Keep the Gossip at the Office
Gossip is portable. Try not to carry it home. When you find someone is talking with you about someone else, bring them into the Zoom/Skype/Hangout/Call. Clarify things immediately. Help people understand each other’s behaviors, motives, goals, etc.

What are the Artifacts of Your Culture
All cultures have artifacts – tangible, physical representations of your culture. Think about the physical representations of your culture that exist in your office and how and if they translate to your distributed workforce. What is the official or unofficial dress code in your office and how has that changed for those working from home? Think about what kind of swag, branding, tech, office supplies, coffee rooms, lunch rooms, lobbies and other physical representations of your culture exist in your office and how you can more intentionally create artifacts for those working from home.

Now that working from home is the new norm, we have to be intentional about how our work cultures are impacted by that. Check in on your culture and let us know if there’s anything we can do to help!

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