Do you think if you work from home for a fully distributed company that you’ll be friendless, lonely and isolated?
I hear this a lot when talking to people about the “working from home” lifestyle. As a remote company founder, I’m focused on building community, culture and rapport at First Page so that people don’t feel isolated, so awhile back a Reddit thread caught my attention. In the thread, an individual posted about how he/she was thinking of taking a fully remote job and reached out to his/her network for advice on working from home. This is what the network said:
Let’s repeat that. This person is being told by his larger community that if he works remote, he will:
have no friends
miss out on office chit-chat
work crazy hours, including weekends
take less vacation days
Yikes. Is this how the general public views remote work?
The only thing this reminds me of is the philosophy of: “Don’t tell anyone how great X place is because we don’t want more people moving here.”
The experience outlined above in bullets is the complete opposite of my personal experience, so I read through some of the feedback on Reddit to see if other remote workers felt the same. A number of people in the thread posted experiences that match mine: they’ve actually felt more connected with their coworkers, have less office drama, love the ability to spend more social time with friends/family instead of forced office relationships, etc… but to achieve all of this, many noted that it’s important to look the CULTURE of a remote company:
So, how do you build a kick-ass remote company culture? This question is at least 25 percent of my headspace as the founder of First Page. Here is how I’ve tackled it:
Once my little inbound marketing company started to really grow from two contractors to four to six to now 20+, I started to think about what the mission of First Page is and the values that I wanted to keep at my company as we expanded. I asked myself these two questions: 1) What kind of coworkers do I want to work with? 2) What have I not enjoyed about companies that I worked for, and how can my company not be that. This is what I came up with:
First Page’s mission is to be a completely remote inbound marketing agency that delivers expert-level strategies and data-driven results to help mid-range tech companies grow at a fraction of the cost it requires to hire a complete in-house marketing team or old-school agency.
To be a place where people can get a job to live their best remote lifestyle and a visionary leader for remote work companies.
💆🏻♀️Be Balanced: We balance work + life. Work the hours that work for you, vacation/travel often, and don’t expect to hear from Jeanna on evenings or weekends. But be accessible during U.S. business hours.
🗣Communicate Openly: We over-communicate to bridge location gaps. Communicate your needs, suggestions, WINS, project status, etc.
📈Deliver Results: We are focused on ROI. Own your analytics. Show results.
💡Have Strategic Vision: We are experts in our industry. Experience freedom to not feel micromanaged, get your work done, let your expertise shine, give your expert opinion and improve our processes and work.
🎯Hit Deadlines: Deliver work when promised. Communicate in Asana when blocked.
🤝Respect Colleagues: Respect everyone’s time: show up for meetings and finish your work by the Asana deadline, don’t “go dark,” and if going to miss a deadline or meeting, communicate to the appropriate person.
Once I nailed our mission, vision and values — I wanted to think about all of the “perks” I could add as a small company that hires 1099 contractors and is yet to offer full-time positions with benefits, etc. If I couldn’t offer full-time benefits, I could still offer some benefits to my team for being part of First Page. My hope here is that it would also help with retention — I take a long time to choose and hire my team, so I want them to feel happy and stick around.
This is what I laid out and what now sits on our Careers page, so that everyone interested in joining the First Page team knows what kind of perks they’ll get:
Yes, it’s overwhelming as an agency founder to juggle all your clients and employees and also stay on top of sales and marketing for your own business. Days are definitely full, and there’s always an ongoing to-do list. But, no matter how “busy” or overwhelmed you might be, it’s important to make 1:1 time for the people who work for your company. In my opinion, they are your most important investment. Back to the piece about retention.
I have monthly 1:1 calls with the majority of people who work for First Page. And while these are scheduled to talk about strategy and work, life is so much more than work. The reason that I work remotely is so that I have more time to spend doing things that I love with the people I love, outside of the office. So, what are those things? Talk about those interests with your employees! The individuality of each person who works for First Page is what makes me the MOST excited as a founder. Everyone is very unique and wonderful and strange and quirky in their own right. We have someone who is a very talented musician, someone who owns a greeting card company, someone who obsesses about the perfect pizza, someone who used to be a nighttime radio DJ, someone who considers sheep their spirit animal, and someone who is a spin instructor!
I love spending the first 15-minutes of every call talking about these quirky life interests and life, and I feel proud that my company promotes a lifestyle where my team can focus their time on these wonderful pieces of life instead of sit in a corporate cubicle office for 40+ hours a week.
What is life if not a reason to celebrate? Lately, something I’ve added to our cultural mix is keeping a record of everyone’s start date anniversaries and birthdays, and sending gifts and cards the mail to celebrate those milestones. This is a way to show that I feel personally connected and invested in the people who work for my company. And on another note of celebration — people want to feel appreciated and seen and celebrated for their hard work and accomplishments. It’s important in the middle of critiques and change requests to step back and SHOUT OUTLOUD the good work people have done or are doing, in front of the team and possibly even your client. Make it known that you appreciate the work your entire team does on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
As part of our culture at First Page, diversity, equity and inclusion is at the top of my list of things I’m passionate about and want to make very clear to anyone interested in joining our team. I want everyone to have an equal chance at our job openings; and I want our team to have a mix of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations.
Recently I made the following commitments for our focus on diversity and inclusion, and shared these on our careers page:
FIRST PAGE IS WOMAN-OWNED
First Page is a woman-owned business, we will always have more women on our leadership team than men, and more than 50 percent of our entire team is female. Are you a strong female with bold opinions? We'd love to welcome you to the team.
FIRST PAGE IS DIVERSE
Our goal is to have our team represent a minimum of 30 percent LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, and Asexual) and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour). We also believe STRONGLY at First Page that Black Lives Matter — to put our money where our mouths are, we donate one large lump sum a year to BLM and an additional smaller ongoing monthly contribution.
FIRST PAGE IS BUSINESS ALLY
Our founder is committed to continuously doing the work to be an ally to undersupported and underrepresented diversity groups throughout the globe. She is a member of the Small Agency Collective for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion where she focuses on discussions and trainings for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in marketing agencies, including First Page. She also has one opening a quarter to mentor black marketers who are interested in advancing their marketing career or starting their own agency. If you're interested, contact her at hello at first page strategy dot com.
Fun First Page fact: we don’t use video calls for work calls and collaboration with clients. I have a personal vendetta against video calls because I feel like they’re buggy 90 percent of the time, and everyone just stares at themselves. Fort this, I find them to be distracting and counterproductive to productivity (say that 10x fast). BUT, I set this vendetta aside to host cultural video calls with the team. We do video calls when we want to hang out as friends and have lighter discussions like our monthly team call and our quarterly book club. It certainly helps to laugh together and the “mood” of the call is always more informal and light than our work calls.
Speaking of our quarterly book club — this is another cultural piece I layered on when I was thinking through the “perks” I wanted to offer my team a couple of years ago. In addition to a small monetary perk each quarter, I believe it helps our team feel more connected to each other when we share personal stories, beliefs and thoughts that pertain to the book we choose.
Here’s how it works: once a quarter, we vote collectively on a “business” or improvement nonfiction book, I mail a copy of the book to everyone as an added bonus perk, and then we meet on video to discuss the book together. We also have a #bookclub Slack channel to further the discussion between meetings. So far we’ve read, “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport and “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brene Brown. And at the time this article was written, we’re collectively reading “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. These book clubs are completely optional to our team, but each of our discussions end up being super enlightening and wonderful, and it’s one of my very favorite pieces to our culture.
When hosting meetings with your entire team, think about how you can lighten the mood by asking a collective group question such as, “What are you reading and watching right now?” or inviting people to change their Zoom backgrounds to a collective theme such as, “Where is your next travel trip?” We even take this one step further with promoting our culture on Instagram by sharing what our teammates are reading/watching or dreaming to go.
This is a topic for an entire blog post on its own, but Slack is or can be the cultural hub of your remote company. This year, I focused on really building out our Slack with channels that were focused more on culture. We use some of the following community-building channels:
#bookclub: Discussions for our quarterly book club
#dogs: Teammates post their dogs photos
#firstpageteam: general team building discussions, article sharing and jokes (like the “water cooler” of our team)
#knowledge: A place to share channel-specific articles and updates
#memes: You know what this is about.
#partyparrot: This is our celebration channel: new babies, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
#travel: Beautiful travel pics ensue!
We also use Slack apps to inject more culture into our remote team. One of my personal favorites is the Donut Dates app. It automatically pairs two team members together every 6 weeks to meet virtually for a “donut date” or what is an informal discussion between team members, via video, to get to know each other out of work.
Part of the remote team thing is that we barely get a chance to see each other or meet in person, but whenever I can, I schedule meetups with my team if/when I’m in their location. And I LOVE hearing that other teammates have done this too when they’re near each other. I am also working on a dream “company retreat” to my home island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. An in-person retreat is a cultural piece that can be a little more difficult to tackle for smaller remote companies. But once you start to grow and set aside money to invest in your company, a once-a-year retreat to spend time with the people you work with all year can work to solidify company culture IMMENSELY.
This company culture idea is a little obscure, but one of the things I added to our cultural mix at First Page is the idea of a “cultural mascot.” I use the party parrot as our culture mascot because I love that dang GIF, and I think it stands for exactly how I want people to feel when working for my company:
The party parrot personifies how we want people to feel working for First Page: STOKED.
It personifies how we feel when team members make bold, smart moves: LIKE WE NEED TO PARTY
It also represents being able to travel and work from anywhere — such as places with PARROTS (like Belize, Jeanna’s home).
Because of this, you will find our #party_parrot Slack channel (previously mentioned), where we celebrate wins, birthdays, anniversaries, and more; dozens of party parrots to respond with in Slack custom emojis; and each team member receives a :party parrot: T-shirt when starting with First Page.
Finally, as you think through all these really wonderful, thoughtful ways to build community, culture and rapport at your remote company, it’s important to tie them all together collectively into an onboarding guide. This way, every time a new team member starts, it’s really clear all of the different ways they can plug into your culture and team, and feel connected to their colleagues even if we’re all in different locations and offices. This can go a long way for team members that might struggle more with working alone or are really interested in collaborating closely with a team even though they might be remote.
So that’s it. Phew, I feel like I should offer a cultural perk for those who made it to the end of this 2,500-word tome about remote culture. What can I say, it’s where my passion lies. If you have additional culture perks that you’ve experienced or seen at other remote companies, please share them with me. I’d love to hear how we can make First Page have the BEST remote culture out there.