Culture is undoubtedly an important part of every business; a great culture helps you attract and retain the best - and the right - talent to help your company succeed. But many business leaders fear that taking their team remote and global will lead to a breakdown in culture.
The good news is that you can uphold your company culture effectively as you build a distributed team, but it does take continuous time and effort. It’s also worth noting that keeping your culture the same probably isn’t the best approach either. What works for a hyper-local team of 20 people won’t for a global organization of 100 or 1000 people. Instead, your culture should evolve as your company and team do.
So here’s how you can define and mold your culture as your business goes global.
1. Establish or Adapt Your Company Values for a Global Team
Your company culture can be seen as an expression of your company values. So while your culture is likely to evolve and change as your team grows, having a clear set of values provides a strong foundation and direction that your culture can revolve around.
If you haven’t already established company values, it’s important to do so before you start scaling your team and hiring internationally. That way, you can hire people who truly understand and embody those values, which will, in turn, strengthen your desired culture. Here are some tips to help you identify those values:
- Be authentic: Your values should reflect your business’s current identity or an identity you can realistically strive for. That said, aspirational values shouldn’t be completely in conflict with current behaviors, or it’ll confuse employees. So if you tout “flexibility” as a value, but employees are required to work rigid hours in an office five days a week, that value won’t inspire them.
- Be unique: “Integrity” is one of the most popular company values, so much so that it doesn’t really have substantial value or meaning anymore. So instead of choosing a vague, overused value, make yours highly personalized and creative - a reflection of your mission. Take outdoor clothing brand Patagonia’s core value of “cause no unnecessary harm.” Its uniqueness makes it stand out from the crowd, and it provides a clear identity that resonates with employees and customers alike. As a brand that works within the sustainability space, this value is also authentic.
- Think globally: As you begin identifying your values, ensure they’re reflective of a diverse, international team. This means embracing different ways of thinking, being aware of cultural differences, and ensuring everyone feels respected and valued. In fact, you might even want to create a specific value that captures this important part of your business. An example could be: “We celebrate cultural diversity in everything we do.”
Even if you do already have values, it’s always best to reevaluate them periodically as your business grows - particularly if you begin hiring internationally. What you were isn’t what you are - or what you’ll be in six months’ time.
Once you’ve established or refreshed your values, weave them into everyday business operations to build your culture. And that starts at the very top.
2. Take a Top-Down Approach to Culture
Every team looks to their leaders to see what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior. That’s why it’s crucial you instill culture from the top down. Your most senior people must live your values as much as - if not more than - the most junior members of the team. Once they set a shining example of what your culture should be, everyone else can then follow.
For example, if your values and desired culture place importance on work-life balance and rest, your leaders must reflect this in their own actions. Do they take sufficient time off work to recharge? Do they set strong boundaries and respect others’ boundaries in return? If your values prioritize inclusivity, do your leaders take diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) seriously? Do they take appropriate action when they’re informed of non-inclusive behaviors? If your leaders and managers embody your defined values, your culture will trickle down and fall into place, even as your team grows and becomes more distributed.
In addition to actions, leaders must also set value and culture-aligned objectives for the company. This will ensure that everyone else can create their individual goals to feed into the overarching company objectives. That way, everyone understands how their work contributes to the larger organizational visions and is invested in them, reinforcing culture.
3. Refresh Your Code of Conduct & Expectations
As your company grows and your culture evolves, the behaviors you expect from employees will likely change too. To ensure everyone’s on the same page, we recommend that you update your code of conduct to reflect any of these changes.
Your code of conduct should clearly outline your mission, vision, and values, as well as your expectations of all members of staff (leadership included). For a globally distributed team, it’s especially important to highlight the importance of DEI and how colleagues are expected to treat each other. For example, what type of language should they use or avoid? How can they make everyone feel included and respected?
Ultimately, your code of conduct is a written version of your desired company culture, so be as detailed as possible to ensure your teams know how they fit within your culture.
4. Set Clear Communication & Collaboration Guidelines
In a remote, global environment, communication is key, and it’s a vital part of building a healthy company culture. How your team communicates while in the same office is completely different from how they communicate remotely. So be sure to set some clear communication guidelines to help your colleagues get the most out of their interactions.
Here are some tips to help you establish clear communication guidelines:
- Define the tools your team should use to communicate, and explain how and when they should be used.
- Embrace asynchronous work and document everything so that teams can effectively collaborate across time zones.
- Make synchronous communication purposeful, such as weekly one-to-one meetings between managers and direct reports.
- Reimagine water cooler moments and team building for a virtual environment. Get creative, and ensure there are plenty of opportunities for colleagues to connect and get to know each other even while physically apart.
If you’d like to know more, check out our dedicated remote communication guide here.
5. Give Your Teams the Freedom to Define Their Own Cultures
While you should have an overarching company culture, it’s important to recognize that each team works in different ways. Your engineers likely work in a very different way from your salespeople and are motivated by different things too, so giving teams or departments the freedom to define their own cultures and rituals can be highly beneficial. The important thing is that each team culture still aligns with your core values.
For example, your teams might approach collaboration or socialization in distinct ways. Some might prefer daily Zoom meetings, while others benefit more from asynchronous communication methods. Some might thrive on Friday social gatherings, while others enjoy casual coffee chats. Leave the ins and outs of culture to your individual teams, but ensure your values are always woven throughout their processes and behaviors.