Building a Team Culture in a Remote Workplace

Building team culture remote workplace logo
February 9, 2022

What Is Team Culture?

My background is in science, specifically biology. So when I think about culture, one definition that instantly comes to mind is “the cultivation of cells in an artificial medium containing nutrients”.

A scientist is depicted holding a petri dish that appears to contain a microbial culture grown in agar.

In the context of society, culture refers to the customary beliefs, social norms, and traits of a racial, religious, or social group. It encompasses many things, including religion, food, clothing, language, family structure, music, and art.

The link between the biological and the societal definitions of culture is that in both applications, culture refers to the conditions that support growth.

Likewise, a team culture refers to the underlying shared attitudes, beliefs, and values that guide the behaviors of team members while representing the organization. And if you’re doing it well, building a team culture creates the conditions that support growth — for your company, for your employees, and for your clients.

Why Building a Team Culture Is Important for Success in Business

Company culture influences all aspects of the organization and has a direct impact on all stakeholders. For your clients, the team culture will impact their service experience. For your leaders, it will affect the way they recruit, coach, and interact with their team. 

The people most impacted by the company culture are the team members themselves:

  • What hours will they work?
  • Are they expected to be responsive outside of working hours?
  • Is taking a mental health day encouraged?
  • Do employees use all of their vacation days?
  • How will conflicts be handled?
  • Are new ideas and suggestions welcome from any team member, or just team leaders?
  • Is professional development and continuing education a core focus?
  • What attitudes and outlooks characterize typical team member interactions?
  • And more…

How to Build a Team Culture for a Fully Remote Team

The next obvious question is how to build a team culture. Forbes will tell you how to build your team culture in 7 steps. Of course, the reality is not that simple, especially now that many workforces are shifting to fully remote or hybrid work models. How does a company approach building a team culture in a remote work environment?

It’s a timely question. What I can tell you is how we approached creating our culture at Xponent21, a digital marketing agency with a fully remote team.

How We Are Creating Our Culture at Xponent21

With a mission to make the world a better place to work, we have intentionally focused on creating a truly delightful work experience that can serve as a model for the future of work. Here are a handful of initiatives we’ve undertaken along the way:

Adopt a 4 Day Work Week

In 2020, we made the shift to a four-day, 32-hour work week for all full-time employees. This change has yielded positive returns ranging from enhanced productivity to improved talent acquisition.

Introduce a Chief Work Officer

In 2021, we introduced the Chief Work Officer (CWO) role to our team. The CWO is charged with identifying opportunities for improving work systems and developing solutions that improve processes and workplace happiness.

Conduct Stakeholder Surveys

Last year, we interviewed all of our employees and a sampling of our clients to gain insight into their experiences with Xponent21. We mapped out their journeys to discover which touchpoints are delightful and what makes that so, and to uncover roadblocks and frustration points that arise in the course of the work. 

Make the Work Easier

Automation and technology present myriad opportunities for facilitating the actual business of getting the work done. We’ve assessed our workflows and systems for opportunities to streamline and to automate repetitive tasks so our team has less busy work and more time to devote to the work that inspires them (and that requires a human brain).

For example, in 2017, we introduced a cloud-based work management system to improve team productivity. In 2020, we leveled up by introducing agile methodology to allow us to process more work more efficiently across our distributed teams with the same high quality and attention to detail. We redesigned our workflows in Asana based on a SCRUM framework. We also restructured our organizational architecture in Asana to make it easier for team members to find and share information, and to organize and manage work.

Set Expectations

For a service-oriented company, the Client Experience sits at the heart of what we do. We’re motivated to help our clients succeed and relentlessly pursue delivering superior service and outsized results. That said, we don’t ever want individuals on our team to overwork themselves so our clients can have a good experience. 

To achieve a comfortable and sustainable balance, it’s in the best interest of all parties to set healthy expectations with clients. For example, ahead of the 2021 holiday season, we sent out an email to our clients to notify them of our team’s time off (2 weeks) and urged them to reach out to our support helpdesk with any emergencies that may arise during this period. This ensured that the bulk of the team got to enjoy their break without nagging worries or work-related responsibilities, while the support line was monitored by Will and me. And there were no emergencies, thankfully. 

Set the Example

One of the greatest reinforcements when building a team culture is the actions of the team itself, and especially its leaders. Leaders set the tone for their team, so it’s critical that they embody the culture. Their words and actions should be in alignment with the culture they hope to build. 

Despite being a singularly focused, “live-to-work” type since childhood, I am intentionally reprogramming my habits in an effort to set an example as a leader on my team. That means turning off notifications after I wrap up for the day, not checking or responding to emails on the weekend, being realistic about the workload I take on, and making an effort to show up to work (figuratively speaking, as I work from home) with a smile, curiosity, and grace. 

Assess Culture Fit

Once your organization has an ideal culture in mind or established, you’ll want to use that ideal state concept as a lens through which to assess new relationship opportunities. This applies to prospective hires as well as to prospective clients.

Just as a microbiologist creates a nutritious, supportive medium to help cells grow and multiply, a leader can create a healthy work environment that helps employees and clients to thrive both at work and in life. 

Illustration by Storyset.

Courtney Turrin

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