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  • Writer's pictureJessica Davey

"We're going remote!"​ But what about our culture?

More and more clients I speak to have made the decision to go remote. Office spaces are not being renewed. Huge costs are being saved that can be pumped back into product development or hiring more great people. Everyone has proved they can be trusted to work at home alone (even if they are on Zoom meetings in their pants) and still deliver exceptional results.

But what does that mean for a company's culture?

Culture. One of the most important parts of any business, especially within the start-up/scale-up world.

It is something Founders and their founding teams work so hard to build and instil. It is probably the biggest deciding factor in a candidate’s mind when they are deciding who to work for. A company can have a great target market, but another can target the same. A company can build and sell a great product, but another can have the same.

But a company’s culture is truly unique.

I never fully understood the importance of Culture until I worked internally as Head of Talent for what became one of the fastest-growing tech start-ups. Joining the business at circa 20. people which then resulted in scaling them into 150+ across multiple UK offices, New York and Australia, I had one mandate: “Jess, grow our business, but don’t lose our fantastic culture along the way.”

Easy, right?! Anyone who has ever hired a team – or had new members join their team – will know how hard it is to find great talent who fit the bill technically, but also culturally. And the detrimental effect of not getting that right.

Every Founder that I have worked with – and even managers for their individual teams (because it’s healthy to have different sub-cultures across business departments/locations – culture isn’t ‘one size fits all’) – have put their heart and soul into defining and building a brilliant culture, that makes their employees look forward to coming into work every day (I know – shock – it can happen!).

And then boom. Life happens. Or to put it frankly, sh** happens and we are all graced by a little pandemic called Covid 19. All the years of hard work to build a culture that brings everyone together in an office feels like it is going down the drain because we are no longer working together and instead, from home, in isolation. And realistically, most of our businesses will now be remote-first for the foreseeable future.

It is undeniable that working from home and not as one physical unity has been game-changing.

We underestimated how nice it is to have someone ask how your weekend was when you make that Monday morning cuppa; you can’t pop over to someone’s desk to sort an issue in 30 seconds rather than 30 emails; and Friday night drinks (where the best conversations happen, ideas are created and lifelong friendships are made) just doesn’t quite feel the same over Zoom with your cat deciding to face-plant the laptop or your kids screaming “When’s dinner?!”.

So how can you have a company culture when everyone is working from their laptops, on their own and in different places all over the world?

I believe you can. Culture is not about having office pool table; “bring your dog to work day” (although this was probably the best day of the year in my book) or a free Prosecco tap (although, what a bloody amazing invention … however, not so amazing when you get taken on a a guy’s WeWork office and he claims the free Prosecco tap is ‘taking you out for drinks’ … safe to say, there was no second date).

It is defined by the individuals within those walls: the values they truly live by; the ideas they create; the work ethics they share; the mission they believe in.

Times have changed. Our businesses, products and even customers have too. And our culture can evolve with that. Never before has it been so important to put in robust measures so that our fantastic employees – old and new (an exceptional remote on-boarding programme is essential) – feel like that they are part of and proud of a culture. They must feel that they Belong.

Culture should be a fluid matter, to be evolved over time and be shaped by different people and circumstances.

And we should not be scared of that. As long as that culture is underpinned by core values, which I believe should always remain constant, a company culture can still exist…even remotely. 

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