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What is company culture – and how do you build it remotely?

Reading time:  3 Minutes

We look at the elements that make up ‘company culture’ and how you can create and maintain one with a distributed workforce.

We all talk about ‘company culture’, but what exactly does it mean? On the face of it, the concept may seem intangible and nebulous. Many of us probably associate ‘culture’ in a professional sense with life in a dedicated workplace – where there might be ping-pong tables, an on-site gym or a Friday afternoon drinks trolley – but none of these physical signifiers actually equates to what ‘culture’ is.

Business guru Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, says that, in its simplest form, “culture equals values plus behaviour”. He adds that the foundation of a strong corporate culture is a shared sense of purpose – a ‘Why?’ As we make the transition to hybrid working, where many people will no longer be attending a dedicated office on a daily basis, this is an important realisation to make.

What’s more, it’s a reassuring position because many businesses will be concerned that remote working will undermine company culture and people’s sense of ‘belonging’. On the contrary, argues Sinek. If an employee can explain why the company they work for exists – beyond purely making money – then they have an understanding of what they are working towards. They will have a sense of meaning, and with that comes fulfilment.

The thing about company culture is that it transcends physical spaces, so whether you are working from a desk at home, at your company HQ, logging in to a Zoom from a villa in Spain or meeting clients at your local Regus coworking space, your company culture will be part of you. The problem is that the pandemic has caused such upheaval that many organisations have had to redesign their operations and they might even have needed to reassess their ‘Why?’. In addition, many founders may never have actually sat down and discussed their values and purpose either, which is why now is a great time to do that.

How to build company culture remotely

1. Start from the beginning

Whether you are starting from scratch or having a reset, organising a series of meetings with the company founder, CEO and other key stakeholders to ascertain your company’s purpose will be key. This can be done around a boardroom table or via video-conferencing – it doesn’t matter. (In fact, using a virtual whiteboard platform such as Miro can be really effective.)

2. Brainstorm lists collaboratively

Together, decide on your company’s vision, beliefs and ‘core values’, which help guide business decisions and actions, as well as how you are seen in the world. For example, Coca-Cola includes passion and accountability among its values, while Levi’s chooses empathy, integrity and courage. It’s then down to leaders to reflect the brand values in their day-to-day behaviour as an example to the rest of the team.

3. Write a mission statement

This simple challenge is harder than it seems, but the idea is to write a short summary of your company’s purpose. For example, Regus’s parent company IWG says: “We believe that business success is underpinned by the effectiveness of its people. So we made it our mission to help millions of people have a great day at work – every day.”

Meanwhile, Motorola says it “exists to invent, build and deliver the best mobile devices on the planet, improving the lives of millions of people.” Virgin Galactic’s mission is “to be the spaceline for Earth”.

4. Publish a brand manifesto

Writing a publicly available brand manifesto that is published on your website will act as a reminder to act in accordance with your beliefs and purpose. This will be vital to undermining your company culture. It typically brings together your brand values, mission and vision statements. Here is a good example from online grocery delivery service Gorillas.

5. Hire diverse people

According to Harvard Business Review, many companies make the mistake of trying to hire in accordance with a fixed idea about the ‘right’ kind of people for their corporate culture. You shouldn’t necessarily hire people you think you’d enjoy a beer with. Instead, remember that people have many different work styles and personalities, and these can be complementary.

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