Organizational culture is built deliberately and differently in top performing remote companies. In this episode, we interviewed Brett Putter, author, culture expert and CEO of CultureGene. Brett shares with us details into his research for his most recent book, Own Your Culture: How to Define, Embed and Manage your Company Culture. Brett researched 50 CEOs of startup and high-growth companies with top performing cultures.
These CEO’s are skilled in clearly defining their culture, mission, vision, and values, and actively recruit new employees for a fit with the values of the company. They are also able to explain how their leadership team has a framework for making decisions based on organizational culture. The leadership teams embed this framework into their processes.
Organizational Culture Types
Different work environments drive different types of culture development; in-office, remote, and hybrid. Each of these types have unique characteristics and challenges to each one.
In-Office Culture Largely Depends on Synchronous Communication
These cultures depend more on synchronous communication (i.e. in-person meetings, phone calls). Synchronous communication requires presence and availability which is easier to achieve when the entire staff is in the office.
The dynamic of being in the same place allows the culture to develop by default. With in-office cultures, leaders could afford to be lazy in building the culture because of the osmosis that happens between people. In-office culture occurs naturally in break rooms, walking down hallways and during random points of contact. This feeling of connection and being in the loop is often a huge challenge in remote cultures.
In-office cultures also depend less on having written processes. According to Brett’s research in-office culture had between 20%-40% of their processes defined and written down. It’s easier to touch base with someone and ask questions about processes in the office.
Successful remote cultures depend more on asynchronous communication, (i.e. company handbooks, forums, collaborative documentation, project management tools, video messages, etc). Remote companies design and build their company around asynchronous communication.
How to Maximize Asynchronous Communication – Overcome Zoom Fatigue
- Understand what You Are Currently Doing.
- Currently, companies are facing high levels of Zoom fatigue. It’s not normal to be sitting in front of a camera all day. Leaders must understand how Zoom meetings are serving their employees’ well-being.
- Ask The Following Questions and Uncover New Approaches
- How do we move from face-to-face calls to sending an email or Slack message with the right amount of context?
- Can this be done in a way that doesn’t require a meeting?
- How do we track a project that can result in us not having the meetings?
- Use Tools to Support Asynchronous Work
- Create a new way and stick to it
- Once you create a plan for a new way of working, the most important element is to stick to it. When a leader falls back into depending on unnecessary synchronous communication, it continues to impact the culture.
Remote companies depend more on written processes than their in-office counterparts. The most successful remote companies have a working document or company handbook for processes and use them regularly.
Virtual Meetings Ideas
When it comes to leading virtual meetings, the most successful companies have a working document for how to prepare for and run meetings that includes pre-work. This pre-work includes a structured agenda, deciding who should be in the meeting, and asking those in the meeting to complete tasks before the meeting as well. Many companies explain that meeting participants have to respond to this working document and do the pre-work or they should not show up to the meeting. The pre-work becomes an extremely important element to maximizing time spent on a Zoom call.
Organizational Cultural Values
The CEO’s that Brett researched were able to go into detail around how they structured initiatives around their cultural values. Most of the CEO’s also had implemented specific times when they re-evaluated their values. When one of those companies would lose a VP-level leader or higher, the companies were able to explain specifically how this person was or was not performing compared to the values of the company.
The Leadership Team Needs to Demonstrate Cultural Values
The CEO of one remote company, Gidion, was asked by an employee, “what really goes on inside the weekly senior leadership meetings?” Transparency is one of the company’s values, and the CEO realized the leadership team had to be more transparent. The CEO asked the employee to sit in on the weekly Leadership team meetings, write notes, and share those notes with the rest of the company. This practice now continues with a new employee switching out every six months.
Organizational Culture and Leadership
Leadership teams are faced with the challenge of deciding how and when to meet in person with the rollout of the COVID vaccine. Should leadership teams go back to work in the office full-time now? Brett disagrees. But why?
He mentioned that leadership teams should not be in the office full time because of the unintended side effect it creates. When the leadership team is in the office full time, these leaders will end up spending more time with the employees who are choosing to go back to the office full-time. This means they will end up spending more time with the in-office staff compared to their remote counterparts.
During this time, more decisions are made in the office and more actions get taken in the office without the knowledge of the remote workers. This causes the remote workers to feel left out, or as Brett puts it, like second-class citizens. Once remote employees feel like second-class citizens, their engagement will lessen, and they will likely leave the company. Remote employees will seek inclusivity in another company if they aren’t feeling it at their current company.
About Brett Putter
Bretton (Brett) Putter is an expert in company culture development who is consulted by companies and leaders worldwide to help design, develop and build high-performing cultures.
He is the CEO of CultureGene, a culture leadership software and services platform. Prior to founding CultureGene Brett spent 16 years as the Managing Partner of a leading executive search firm based in London working with startups and high-growth companies in the UK, Europe and USA.
In 2018 he published his first book, Culture Decks Decoded and his second book Own Your Culture: How to Define, Embed and Manage your Company Culture in September 2020.
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