While Lightning Media Partners has always been fully remote, the COVID-19 pandemic brought work-from-home into reality for many organizations and companies. Even as shutdowns and restrictions relax, remote work environments, hybrid work schedules, and work-from-home options have become a solidified standard in the workplace.
Since the pandemic, working on a remote team has been perceived as a perk, but itcomes with its set of challenges — one of which is building a company culture. After years of working remotely with a team of both employees and freelancers, we’d like to think we’ve learned a lot about building culture remotely. While our culture changes with every new hire we make, there are several ways we strive to build culture as a remote team.
In October 2021, the Lightning Media Partners team gathered in Bluemont, Virginia for our first ever in-person retreat.
Invest in establishing honest and clear communication
Communication is the basis for all relationships — and work relationships are no different. As such, it’s no surprise that 86% of executives, educators, and employees think poor communication is the No. 1 reason for failures in the workplace, according to a Salesforce study.
While we all communicate differently, it’s important to establish the precedent that being honest, open, and clear is a good thing, is never a “bother,” and won’t be laughed at or ignored.
Honest communication at Lightning Media Partners includes clarifying projects’ direction and scope, being upfront about time constraints, sharing opinions — even if you’re the only one who thinks that way, and remaining transparent about work satisfaction.
Nicole and Sean have put a lot of work into establishing and reinforcing healthy communication practices. They stay available to answer project questions, do not contact employees outside of their set business hours for work-related conversations, and continually check in on satisfaction — often offering to swap around projects to ensure the best fit for everyone on the team.
Our team leaders host weekly 1:1s, monthly check-ins, and quarterly reviews that focus on different questions so individuals and their managers can get — and stay — on the same page about daily challenges and successes, expectations, future plans, and more.
In addition, our team has opened virtual office hours two days a week. This has added several benefits, including:
- More face-to-face opportunities.
- “Water cooler talk” between those who attend the office hours.
- A decrease in project-based Slack messages that can marr questions in confusion.
- Uncovering opportunities to grow as a company from questions asked.
Offer benefits and perks that reflect employee needs
In a study from Rogers Gray, researchers found that 40% of employees asserted their loyalty to their company would increase if the benefits they received were more customized to their individual needs.
What does that mean?
It looks different for every company — because each organization’s employee pool is unique — but could include benefits like:
- A flexible work schedule.
- COVID-19 recovery PTO.
- Coupons or company-sponsored gym memberships.
- Mental health support and/or services.
- Home office stipend.
- Voluntary benefits like accident insurance, pet insurance, etc.
- Employee-run charity events.
At LMP, we send out annual Employee Benefits Surveys to understand how employees feel most valued and what type of compensation and benefits have the most value to their lifestyle. Personally, my favorite benefits include our home office stipend, our Gifted.co perks program, and, of course, our flexible work schedule.
Build in time to be human
A study performed by Slack found that while remote work is a net positive, employees’ sense of belonging can suffer in both a fully-remote and hybrid work environment — especially for those who haven’t worked remotely for an extended period of time.
By working team-building time into the calendar, remote teams can really get to know each other off-the-clock. Depending on the size of your team, “casual conversations” can look different. Whether you organize a quarterly happy hour, offer interest groups like book clubs, virtual movie nights, or online cooking classes, or put together a yearly retreat in which everyone has the opportunity to meet face-to-face, it’s important to foster employee relationships outside of work to create that sense of belonging among the team.
Team members take a break from shop talk to dish on other topics — like everyone’s favorite pizza chain — during a virtual company happy hour.
LMP organizes a yearly retreat and quarterly happy hours, organizes a collaborative work playlist, and runs several non-work, interest-based Slack threads to ensure each team member can interact with their peers on their own terms, through their personal interests.
Hire for both a culture fit and skills
While HR professionals tend to disagree on what is most important in a hiring decision — hiring for skills versus hiring for a culture fit — both are equally important for building the most ideal team.
If you hire only for skills (one of which should be the ability to work remotely well), you may run into an issue of butting personalities, failed expectations, or other mismatched work culture issues. Studies have also shown that positive culture and collaboration leads to a more productive team than one that doesn’t get along.
LMP team members ditch their work-from-home uniforms (read: pajamas) and enjoy a rare chance to work together face-to-face.
However, if you only hire for a culture fit and not skills, there may be a slower upstart in productivity while the new employee is onboarded and trained. Leaders also run the risk of potentially hiring someone who gets along great with colleagues but just doesn’t have the skillset to help the company progress and grow.
LMP hires for people and talent, not to fit a role. Candidates interviewing with us understand we are a fully remote company and are asked by several interviewers how LMP can help them achieve their personal and professional goals. As a young startup, the company has the decided advantage to grow with and through the team. Our staff writers have grown into social media managers, graphic designers, SEO specialists, and small business strategists based on their professional interests and aspirations.
Building a remote work culture can be difficult.
It doesn’t have to stay difficult, though. Investing in yourself and your team, understanding how your team’s wants and needs will evolve, and sharing common goals, values, and beliefs can keep a remote team culture positive, healthy, and productive for employees.
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