Creating a great culture at your organization can be hard.
But you know what's even harder? Creating a great culture within a virtual workplace.
So how has Careerminds managed to do it?
In short, hard work, strong buy-in from our entire team, and lot’s of free-flowing feedback have helped us build a culture we are all proud of.
To share what we’ve learned, here’s a list of of eleven things that we do at Careerminds that truly make our culture special, complete with easy to implement ideas that you can start applying in your organization as soon as you finish reading this blog.
1. Radical Candor: Feedback Is Vital
Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candor and Google alum, has an amazing take on leadership, management and creating a culture where open and honest feedback is the norm and crucial for growth. We've worked to make this the norm, and our employees have really taken this to heart.
You can watch the video above to hear Scott explain radical candor in detail. In summary, though, her philosophy is this: care personally about people, but challenge them directly. Feedback is a good thing. And when it come from someone who cares about you, it is easier to receive and grow from it.
“Radical Candor really just means saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to," she writes on her site.
To implement this at your organization, ask your management team explore radical candor with the videos and books Scott has created. Then, once you have the buy-in, train your employees on the topic and - most importantly - encourage the use of feedback at your organization.
This can be hard, but try to set an example. Ask people for feedback, and give feedback. Once people know that it is allowed, you’ll really start to see a change in your culture. It may take some time to get used to because a lot of people shy away from direct feedback or struggle to take feedback for it what is (sometimes feeling insulted). These issues will pass with time as people get more comfortable.
2. Use a 'Work Hard Play Hard' Mentality and Make In-Person Meetings Count
At the end of every year, our company has an in-person meetup in Philadelphia where the main focus is spending time with each other and deepening our team bond.
Of course we review company performance and discuss our goals for the next year, but we also do dynamic team building activities and have fun! This past year our entire team went to an escape room (we escaped!) and a Flyers game with group dinners and one-on-one bonding sprinkled in. These activities helped us learn more about each other as people and, in the end, strengthened our connection without it feeling like a 'forced' activity.
While it's super important to focus on the growth of your organization, it's just as important to make sure that your employees feel an emotional connection to the company and to their coworkers as well. "Playing hard” together allows your employees to foster relationships outside of work-related calls and projects.
Don't just take our word for it, though: “People with work pals are less likely to accept an offer for a new job outside their company, and the likelihood of their staying-put increases with the number of workplace friends they have," reports The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
"Sixty-two percent of employees with one to five work friends said they would reject a job offer; that increases to 70 percent for those with six to 25 friends at work.”
You don’t have to have a company meetup or retreat to implement this, but think of ways that you can get your employees to come together and have a little bit of fun, especially if you can manage to make it about a non-work-related activity.
3. Slack It To Me
If you haven’t downloaded Slack yet, stop what you are doing right now and go download it (there’s a free version!).
Okay, now that you are back, we can blow your mind with the usefulness of Slack.
Slack is an instant messaging tool that allows coworkers to chat directly with each other, either one-on-one, or by starting a group chat with multiple people. This has really increased our productivity, decreased our email inbox count, and strengthened our relationships as a team.
Beyond the standard work and team channels, we have different group channels for different topics, such as 'watercooler' (this is basically a channel for endless jokes and memes), foodies, and even a book club channel.
Slack creates a space for people to share more about their personal life with their virtual coworkers and lets their personalities shine through. It helps bring teams together far more than email chains, which can get cluttered and unruly. Also, the sheer boost to productivity that comes with direct messaging can't be ignored.
4. Virtual Happy Hours
One of the biggest bummers about being on a virtual team is that you don’t get to go to group happy hours or lunches to celebrate milestones and accomplishments.
We decided to change that and started throwing virtual happy hours instead.
Whenever one of our teams hits a goal or milestone, we schedule a happy hour at the end of the workday on WebEx (Google Hangouts, Go-To Meeting, and others work, too). Everyone shows up on their webcam, drink in hand if they’d like, and we play games as a company (scroll down to learn more about our games!).
This is always cause for some good laughs! While the value of face-to-face meetups cant be ignored, this isn't a reason to not get together as a group virtually when possible. We always have 100% engagement and our team leaves the virtual happy hours warm and fuzzy, having learned a little more about their fellow Careerminders.
5. Contests, Games, Prizes, and More
Do you remember 3 years ago when the business world was crazy about 'gamification?'
Careerminds has integrated game mechanics into contests to make achieving goals more fun, and the competition between team members is always filled with good humor.
Recently, we had a contest to see which of our salespeople could send out the most blog content over a month’s time with the winner receiving bragging rights and a dozen cupcakes sent to their house from the marketing team. We shared progress on our weekly sales calls to get everyone involved and to ignite some friendly competition. We encourage the winner to share pictures in Slack of them enjoying their prize.
While some people may cringe at the idea, we have found that these are essential in a virtual environment. Not only is it a great way to learn more about your coworkers, it always seems that we have more productive meetings after the team has “warmed up” with some simple but funny activities.
Here are some of our favorite icebreakers:
- Play the Truths and a Lie game: Have each employee list five facts about themselves, one of them being a lie. Then have the rest of your employees try to guess which one is the fib. They can question the person and talk as a group.
- Play the Whose is this? game: Pick a theme, and then have everyone submit a photo. We’ve done pictures of our desks, of our lunches, and our front doors. Then have everyone try to guess what picture belongs to what person.
- Share a meme: Remember the gold vs blue dress? Or the yanny vs laurel controversy? Ask for your employee’s opinions and have a debate.
- Give each other funny superlatives: For our last happy hour we sent out a survey with hilarious superlatives:
- Mostly likely to survive the hunger games
- Best person to have with you on a deserted island
- Most likely to have a reality show
- Our list had 18 superlatives in total. On the happy hour we reviewed who won each superlative. It was hilarious.
Our next icebreaker will be the Newlywed Game. We are going to get together in pairs, and have a tournament where we see which work duo know the most about each other.
By using games like these, you get to have fun with your coworkers while also learning more about them. It's also something that isn't 100 percent work-focused, which can get people to let their guard down and build relationships.
“Kiki, do you love me?" No, we aren't suggesting that you dance beside a moving car (thanks, Drake). We created "kikis" to get to know each other better. These meetings are all the more important with a virtual team who literally do not have a watercooler to gather around and chit-chat.
We love our kikis! Since we don't interact in person very often, we realized there were basic things we didn’t know about each other that we’d probably have learned if we worked side-by-side.
We assign random partners and ask them to meet for 30 minutes during the next week or so. We also give them discussion prompts to stimulate conversation. Things like:
- What was your stereotype in high school?
- What is your favorite TV show?
- If you could have lunch with one famous person, who would it be?
The conversations may start on topic, but always evolve into a deeper conversation, without feeling forced. During our weekly sales meeting, we’ll ask the partners to share anything they found out about their coworker. This may seem like something small, but it allows people to make new connections and friendships that they may otherwise have never had the chance to.
8. Share Your High Fives...and Your Bummers
Every Monday, we start our company sales meeting by sharing our successes from the previous week no matter how big or small. This could be bringing on a new client, implementing a new process, or just getting a first meeting with a long-time prospect. This is our way of praising our team members and keeping everyone in the loop with the positive things happening in the company.
Right after we share our high fives, we share our bummers - the not-so-great parts of the previous week. Maybe we lost a big deal, or there was a client issue, or a marketing initiative that didn’t go as planned. Whatever it is, we want people to get it out on the table for two reasons:
- To make sure people know its okay to make mistakes and they are still encouraged to try something new even if it doesn't pan out in the end
- We can learn from our failures
Sharing with the group helps us to gain different perspectives on how we could do things differently the next time, allowing us to all glean insights on what didn't work and why. Being open about failure can be hard at first, but by making it okay - as long as people gave it their best shot - can seriously help your workforce.
9. Trust your Employees to Have a Life
Open communication and trust are essential parts of running a virtual company. Our head of sales, Katie Lawrence, gives everyone on her team the “Trust Speech” one their first day.
To make it short and sweet, the gist is: “I'm not micro-manager, I'm always here to help you. You automatically have my trust when you start. It is yours to lose - so keep me in the loop.”
Meaning, if you need to go to the doctor in the middle of the day, go! If you want to go to your kid’s Halloween party, go! If you want to go on a 2 week vacation and your tasks are complete and covered, go! Just let her know and set the expectation that you will be out, she's happy to help cover while you are enjoying your well-deserved PTO.
We don’t want our employees to feel like they are chained to their desks or ever get the impression that they can’t take time off and have to miss the things that make life worth living.
We know this can be the case in other offices, but the side-eye glances or behind-the-back bad mouthing when someone announces a vacation are absolutely not a part of Careerminds culture. Employees step up to assist when someone will be out, for whatever reason, and team members are encouraged to make time to be with their families, take a mental health day when they need it, and embrace our unlimited vacation policy.
With this freedom, comes the trust that employees will be present, engaged, and will exceed their work goals.
10. Personal Touches Keep the Love Alive
Like a long distance relationship, unexpected surprises in the mail can have the same effect in a virtual work environment. Sending books, birthday cards, company swag, or a gift card for a job well done shows you are thinking about your employees in a way that transcends a regular manager/direct report relationship.
After the biggest month in our company history, Careerminds CEO Raymond Lee sent each person a personal, handwritten note with a company logo sticker and gift card as a little extra thank you. It meant a lot to every person that they were individually recognized for their work towards our common goal. Small, personal awards can go a long way!
11. Decisions Aren't Made on the Leadership Island
If you can swing it, let everyone help management make changes that impact them.
Involving the team in decisions from implementing new sales tech to deciding on healthcare plans is common practice at Careerminds, we are all encouraged to collaborate and provide feedback. Research from McKinsey shows that 70% of change management initiatives fail, a stat many of us are probably very familiar with. This is usually due to lack of communication around the WHY of the change, a poorly designed implementation plan, and lack of clear end goals.
Telling people what to do doesn’t work. So, we debate decisions being made that affect employees directly on a day-to-day basis. We discovered Radical Candor’s Get Stuff Done Wheel was actually what we were doing when making big decisions where we needed team buy-in. We found that providing options, answering questions, deciding together and analyzing results ensured engagement and employees being onboard with the changes.
The Final Say
When it comes down to it, fostering a great virtual culture largely revolves around coming up with ways to engage your workforce. Just because you aren't in an office doesn't mean you can't have a happy hour, play games, or get to know one another. If you put in a bit of extra effort and make your culture a priority, your business will benefit on all levels.