by Matt Oxley
For decades, the concept of remote work – or as it was once known, “telecommunicating” – had lived on the fringes of thought leadership. In certain cases, working remotely made so much logistical sense that it was adopted – and some small contingents of executives swore by it. But genuinely, it was not a mainstream idea. Then, in 2020, the world changed…While some workspaces will always need to be in-person – say if you’re building a car or performing surgery – more companies than ever are embracing the work from home philosophy.
However, this blog isn’t about the emergence of remote-first companies – or the work from home benefits for employers and employees alike. Those topics have been discussed, delved into, and honestly, done to death over the last two-plus-years.
Instead, I want to discuss maintaining company culture while working from home. The practical benefits of remote work are undeniable at this point, but if you don’t make culture a priority, your organization can lose its sense of identity altogether.
Maintaining culture while working remotely requires dedication, and it requires an investment of time and resources. As the President and “Chief of Culture” at Opal, this is something that I both study and spearhead here.
In this blog, I’m highlighting 8 remote work culture ideas that you can adopt for yourself – and giving context on how Opal utilizes them!
7 Real Remote Work Culture Ideas You Can Adopt
While keeping your business’s core intact sets the foundation for your virtual culture, you can’t just migrate it without changes. From my experience, you need to add new practices to create the same vibe you had in the office. Here are some remote work culture ideas that Opal has implemented – from which almost any business can take inspiration!
1. Keep the Foundation Familiar
If your culture was healthy before you went remote, the best thing you can do is to translate it into virtual space. In a time of changes, familiar elements are great. It’s essential to carry over as many of the traditions, practices, and little things that make your organization unique.
What is carried over will be different for every organization. Here’s an example of an Opal tradition that we kept when making the switch to fully virtual work: We always held an in-office Friday morning check-in called SWAP (Shoutouts, Wins, Announcements, and Progress) to recap the week. During SWAP, our excellence trophy – the Opal Cup – would pass weekly from the reigning winner to the person they chose as having a big impact on Opal that week. Both of these Friday rituals became a beloved element of our culture. When Opal went fully remote in 2020, SWAP and the Opal Cup went online – and everyone loved participating just as much.
2. Support the Team’s Technological and Physical Needs
If you want to foster the same feeling of connectivity you had in-person, make sure technology is a bridge – not a hurdle. That’s why we equip everyone with new equipment and ensure that our internal support team is always on hand to help with internet and technology hiccups. You want employees to be just as comfortable and well-equipped in their home office as they would have been in your physical one. Another way we at Opal support our team’s needs is by contracting with Spaces, which provides our teams with flexible public office space in almost every major city!
3. Stay Social
Since fun, friendship, and interpersonal connection were a big part of the in-person Opal culture, we needed to bring them to our remote culture, too. For us, Slack is a huge part of this (although most instant messengers could likely do the job). We have countless Slack channels that foster conversation on ANY niche topic you can imagine (with channels as different as gardening to heavy music). We also like the Donut App in Slack which asks questions to kickstart silly, open-ended conversations – or even one-on-one personal conversations! To give you an idea of what the Donut App questions look like, my favorite recent one was, “What mythological creature would you want as a pet?”
Another way to stay social is to throw virtual events. Even with everyone sitting behind a computer screen, the team will still have fun and connections will be made. Some of our favorite events are our Halloween costume contests, cocktail making, trivia games, and virtual happy hours!
4. Make Transparency a Focus
At Opal we have a saying, “Clarity is kind” – and this is something I truly believe. Hiding an uncomfortable truth simply isn’t helpful. When you and your team don’t get physical face-to-face time, being transparent is more important than ever. On a monthly basis, we have open town hall meetings where leadership shares the company’s status, and team members are encouraged to ask pressing questions. This is essential to give everyone an update – as well as to give anyone a chance to ask important questions anonymously. While we don’t always have positive news to share, we always share honestly. In turn, the leadership at Opal asks for honesty from our employees as well. The main way we do that is through quarterly questionnaires that give the operations team a pulse on how everyone is feeling. As leaders, our employees’ honesty allows us to know what we need to work on.
5. Use a Buddy System for New Employees
Everyone knows that bonds and friendships form organically over the course of working together. Of course, there’s no rule that says you can’t give it a head start, either. Whenever we onboard a new team member, we also pair them with a buddy – known as their O-Pal! Although there is a much larger formal team onboarding process, meetings with the O-Pal are meant for a personal connection. Whether your O-Pal ends up giving you critical advice – or they are just another friendly person you can chat with – the buddy system is great! This has been a popular way to make onboarding into a remote environment more comfortable.
6. Adopt a Philosophy of Trust
Maintaining company culture while working remote can often require a philosophical change from executive leadership. More than a single idea to adopt, a change in how you think can be the most important – not to mention the most difficult. You need to adopt a philosophy of trust in every single one of your team members.
When Covid lockdowns forced us into sudden remote work, some employers looked for intuitive (borderline invasive) new ways to monitor employees. Don’t be like them. Remember that you trust your employees to do the work that grows and sustains your company, and you can trust them when you’re not able to physically look over their shoulder. Invest in ways to motivate them – not monitor them. In fact, we encourage people to take time. We encourage people to work in a way that works for them. We always say, you choose your Opal adventure.
7. Invest in In-Person Events
In a list of remote work culture ideas, this one might feel a little out of place, but I promise that it’s important. As rich of a culture as you can build remotely, there is no substitute for in-person interaction. As travel and congregating becomes safe again, I encourage hosting events in-person. At Opal, we host a yearly company-wide meetup – known affectionately as “Camp” or “Camp Opal” – as well as team-specific retreats throughout the year. One of the most amazing things I’ve observed here is that people can meet for the first time at Camp and already know each other really well – all thanks to us implementing the other remote work culture ideas!
With all of these ideas, there’s an element of trying things and seeing if they work, then getting insights and feedback. It’s always still a work in progress…we’re never done. We need to be transparent, honest, and flexible to adapt to whatever’s next.
All of these are direct adaptations for maintaining culture while working from home – however, these 8 ideas are just the beginning of what Opal’s culture truly is. To get a bigger sense of that, I encourage you to read the full story of our largest cultural evolution!
How to Know if It’s Working?
When you ask about how to keep culture alive while working from home, in a lot of ways, you’re really asking how to ensure everyone is as happy as they were before. We don’t have all the answers for you – and we’ve even made mistakes ourselves. Ultimately, all anyone can do is make choices with good intentions and be responsive to what their employees are saying!
Easier said than done…After all, when you’re virtual, you can’t feel the physical vibe in the room. However, there are more methods than ever to communicate honestly with your teams. Measuring employee satisfaction is one of my most important focuses at Opal. One of the main metrics I use to measure employee satisfaction is the eNPS (employee net promoter score) – while our eNPS goes up and down, it lives consistently in the excellent range. In my next blog, I’m digging into the eNPS, my strategy for getting truly honest feedback from my teams, and how we achieve top-tier employee satisfaction scores – so stay tuned for that!
One final thing I want to share here: as a result of the entire operations team working hard to build an exceptional work from home culture, we were named the 6th Best Workplace in Our Category!