Keeping company culture alive when your people are all remote

Remote for Real

The idea of remote work is not new. A lot of companies have been practicing it to some extent, or at least moving toward it, for a long time. But suddenly, in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's become an immediate mandate for nearly everyone. And that's throwing talent leadership into a tailspin. How do you support your various teams amidst the sudden shift to a virtual workplace?

As Global Head of Talent & Belonging at Box, my top priority is keeping my team connected and purpose-driven. Even though Box has always supported remote work, we also have a longstanding company culture of in-office collaboration, so like nearly every other company today, we're finding ourselves making a quick pivot.

Here are some of the ways teams can work remotely without losing sight of connection, collaboration, and culture.

1. Infuse community and connection into remote teams

In times of change and uncertainty, you have to be extra intentional with how you keep your team motivated and in the loop. That’s true when you’re working together in a physical space, of course, and even more so now that we’re all virtual. Think about the natural channels that people were already using and how to leverage them in a way that helps foster connection and purpose. 

At Box, for instance, we're replicating a lot of our cultural norms using our usual tools like Slack and Zoom — just more intensely. We're experimenting with having lunch together at the same time and creating study halls where people can "hang out" over Zoom.

In our weekly remote stand-ups, we check in to make sure everyone has a sense of what they can work on to make the biggest impact right now. This is also a great time to share information heard in other stand-ups and take the time to "right-size" our workload for the week. Are we feeling good about what we can get done? What are some risks that can be flagged?

To keep camaraderie alive remotely, we have to be able to see faces. The old expectation was that turning on cameras during remote calls was optional. But now, video is important so everyone can see each other and feel connected. Visible body language is critical in a time when in-person interactions are off the table.

2. At the same time, companywide communication is essential

Probably one of the most practical challenges you're faced with right now is how to ensure fluid communication companywide, particularly in terms of how information is shared about COVID-19. People are anxious, and they look to you for guidance.

At Box, we're making sure there's a clear stream of communication across the company. We've set up two different COVID-19 Slack channels — one for official company information and another to let employees share memes, stories, and news. Having a place and a space to do that is important. We're also leaning into our employee resource group communities to check in with issues that are coming up around the pandemic. We've created a Slack channel for people who need extra support, for instance, parents trying to get their work done and simultaneously teach curriculum to their children while keeping them occupied, fed, and healthy.

We use our service-desk portal as a one-stop shop for all things COVID-related. We tell employees, if you don’t remember anything else, go to the service desk. The COVID Slack channel will always redirect you there. It's all part of having a thoughtful plan to engage and take care of the community in a pretty challenging time.

3. Culture needs extra attention when everything's virtual

For every company, maintaining culture during this time of transition is critical, and you may have to get a bit creative with how you do that. Think about your standing cultural values and how they translate to a remote situation.

One of our core cultural values at Box is “Bring your ____ self to work.” The value of that statement doesn’t change just because we’re not all physically together. We already had Slack channels in place that support our work culture, and they've only gotten funnier now that everyone’s working from home. 

For instance, our weekly all-hands Friday lunch has always been a big part of our rhythm in the office. Moving it online has given us an opportunity to come together in a different way. On our lunch Slack channel, people are now sharing what they're cooking and how awesome their chef skills are getting at home. That channel has probably seen the most traffic ever in this last week, and lot of our other community channels have gotten stronger, too. They give people a place and space to share the intricacies and quirks of working at home.

Beyond our weekly Friday lunch, we're designing global community events to inspire peer connection, learning, and fun. For example, our in-house chef has hosted a virtual cooking class, and our COO has hosted a virtual coffee chat. Moments like these reinforce the importance of maintaining global connections outside of our immediate teams — and on a day-to-day basis.

Tiffany Stevenson LinkedIn post

4. Redesign the new hire experience

Just because the workplace is on hold does not mean that work is. You may still have new hires coming on board, and your goal is to normalize the experience for them as much as possible.

Over the last few weeks, we've shifted to 100% online onboarding for new Boxers. We've always emphasized building community during the Box onboarding experience. We often say, you should meet your first friend at Box on your first day. But how do you do that remotely? Here are some of our new guidelines for remote onboarding:

  • Be mindful of start and end times, not assuming schedules can slide just because we're all working from home.
  • Set up breakout rooms and get people into smaller groups in Zoom to share experiences and create connections. 
  • Be thoughtful about the first 30 days, extending invites to remote standup meetings and facilitating introductions to bring new employees into the fold more quickly. 

In this new model, new hires still get all the same basic information. It may be a little bit truncated. But, importantly, we're still enabling them to make friends from the very first day.

The long game of remote work culture

The surge of remote work may be a reaction to a temporary pandemic, but it's also going to prove to be the new normal for a lot of companies. Understanding best practices about how to work remotely is going to forever change the way people work.

At Box, we're thinking hard about how we can can create community without borders and continue to get insight into best practices for remote team communication, collaboration, and culture. Regardless of how long we're sidelined by COVID-19, we hope these best practices will linger.