Virtualize Culture for Remote Work with the Right Tools

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We understand the COVID-19 situation hits close to home. Family and friends are at risk. We have to manage our jobs while kids are home from school, and many of us are also tasked with entirely relearning how to work.

We just had to make the switch ourselves, so we pulled some data out of the platform to guide our transition in a number of ways. I thought we’d share what we found to try and help with the change we’re all going through.

I wanted to start by focusing on how to protect company culture, the heartbeat of every business. We’ve seen firsthand how the right software can enable culture remotely. We are not being paid to write this by anyone. Hopefully, something here is helpful.

First, let’s walk through cultural challenges remote work can present in order to help map out the ideal solutions.

Remote Work Dissolves Routines

Here are some of the standard routines most teams sacrifice when working remotely:

  • Networking
  • Happy hours
  • Consensus gathering
  • Coffee chats
  • Team meals
  • Employee onboarding
  • Whiteboarding sessions
  • Conversations in passing
  • General workday structure

The key to successful remote working culture is to intentionally replace each of the cultural elements you’ve lost with a virtual equivalent.

Step 1: Identify All Routines You’re Losing

What routines are at stake in a remote work world? Are there standing meetings that are seemingly not possible remotely? Write these things down to diagnose the remote work challenge. Discount nothing.

Here are the at-risk routines we identified at Tropic:

  • Saying hi
  • Office banter
  • Team lunch
  • Drinks
  • Celebrations
  • Onboarding buddies

The key to successful remote working culture is to intentionally replace each of the cultural elements you’ve lost with a virtual equivalent.

Step 2: Envision New Routines

Remote work is different. In the physical world, business moves forward through organic conversations around the office. People share experiences, discuss ways to overcome obstacles, and conceive of creative solutions. Don’t take these impromptu moments for granted; they are critical to your company’s success.

Can you create new structures to give people the same outlet to have informal conversations?

TROPIC’S NEW ROUTINES

Here are the ways we’re augmenting our routines at Tropic.

  • Greeting the team – Set a calendar reminder for every day to remember to say hi digitally
  • Office chatter – FaceTime / Video Calls – I’ve been using this for quick 1:1s, perhaps because it feels more personal. Your people need to feel the comfort of connecting “live” with colleagues the same way they would in-person.
  • Team meals – It may feel weird, but our teams still eat together virtually. We ALWAYS turn on the cameras, which matters.
  • Drinks after work – same as above; bring drinks
  • Celebrating life events – Sending gifts to houses / apartments. Don’t forget birthdays, engagements, work anniversaries.
  • New employee shadowing – Thoughtful, self-guided onboarding plans. In a remote world we all need to go above and beyond in making sure new employees feel the excitement of joining a new company
  • Lots of feedback – Keep a pulse on your people to understand whether your new processes are working or not. If not, be prepared to make changes based on feedback.

Some of these may work for you, some may not. Write down your version.

Step 3: Assess Your Stack’s Capacity to Enable the New Routines

Take a critical look at the tools you’re using and determine how well they accommodate your new reality.

  • Next to the new routines you just recorded, write down the tools your team is using to drive culture.
  • Try to draw a line from each routine to a tool that enables it.

If you’re unable to do this in seconds, then you may need to look at new tools. Here’s a look at the assessment we did at Tropic, which led us to upgrade from Google to Zoom for meetings.

We quickly realized that G-Suite wasn’t going to enable the routines we needed.

Step 4: Find the Right Tools for the New Routines

We’ll share some tips for crowdsourcing the right tools, along with the best-practice tools we see companies using right now.

CROWDSOURCE THE RIGHT TOOLS

  1. Specific: search on LinkedIn for Ops people at mostly-to-totally remote-working companies (InVision for example) and ask what tools they’re using.
  2. Broad: search conversations on Reddit and Quora. For the former, start at the r/sysadmin thread. You’ll find lots of lively discussion around tools for remote work written by the people responsible for administering them in that thread.

Tropic’s Best Practice Tools

Based on the decisions we are seeing on the platform, here are industry best-practice vendors to use in order to sustain and build on your culture remotely.

COFFEE CHATS, TEAM LUNCHES, HAPPY HOURS: ZOOM

You should actually drink (coffee or adult beverage) and eat during these. These activities have been critical for us to maintain a sense of community.

Who is using it:

  • Uber
  • Box
  • Delta
  • Groupon
  • Hubspot

Why people are buying it:

  • push-button G-Suite integration
  • easiest to use
  • best audio/video quality
  • webinar capabilities
  • low-risk monthly payment option

What it looks like:

Source

WHITEBOARDING SESSIONS: MIRO

We do all our strategic planning on a whiteboard, and we prefer not to deal with screen share technology to do it. Here’s the rundown on Miro.

Who is using it:

  • Netflix
  • Ikea
  • Spotify
  • Twitter
  • Upwork

Why people are using it:

  • most intuitive interface
  • collaborative surface, rather than screen share
  • group cursor tracking
  • free to use

What it looks like:

Tropic whiteboarding session

CONVERSATIONS IN PASSING, NETWORKING: SLACK

Slack is still the best for these things.

Who’s using it:

  • Lyft
  • Airbnb
  • Intuit
  • Target
  • Oracle

Why people are using it:

  • Greatest number of integrations with other critical tools
  • Critical mass of well-protected networks by focus area
  • Easy file sharing
  • Shortest adoption curve

What it looks like:

In times like these, important to compare puzzles.

STRUCTURED WORKDAYS: TODOIST

Without a platform helping to clearly measure progress over the course of a day, it’s easy to get lost when working remote. The name of this software doesn’t do it justice. Lots of flexibility and options to delegate, helping structure the time between meetings.

Who is using it:

  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • WeWork
  • Disney
  • HSBC

Why people use it:

  • Gamifies productivity tracking
  • Integrates with everything you need
  • Enables you to delegate to-dos
  • Easy prioritization
  • Easy recurring due dates

What it looks like:

Source

CONSENSUS GATHERING: POLL EVERYWHERE

Collect feedback from teams and make adjustments easily. Makes dry Powerpoint presentations interactive and engaging, which is important if it’s a call, not a face-to-face meeting.

Who is using it:

  • Nestle
  • HPE
  • NHS

Why people are buying it:

  • Free to start
  • Integrates directly into presentation apps
  • SMS functionality

What it looks like:

EMPLOYEE ONBOARDING: TRELLO

It really helps morale to “clear the board.” We had a new employee start Monday of this week (3/16/2020). With all the COVID-19 craziness, it is essential to deliver a structured onboarding regimen. Trello is a great way to do that.

Who is using it:

  • Kickstarter
  • Ladders
  • SwagUp

Why people use it:

  • It’s free
  • most user friendly kanban interface
  • integrates with everything you need

What it looks like:

If you’ve used a better tool than the ones above, let us know. Here’s an example of what our coffee chats looks like at Tropic since making the switch from Hangouts to Zoom.

If you’re tired of the tools above, here are some cool up-and-comers we’re interested in

  • Tandem– gives you a water cooler experience virtually because you can see who’s working alongside you
  • Swit– combines multiple tools and functions, making it easy to transition
  • Notion – manages tasks and centralizes knowledge; good for providing structure when things are chaotic
  • Across – Y-Combinator company who reached out to me cold on LinkedIn. They simplify support ticket management in Slack. A lot of companies I know are buried in support tickets due to the crisis. Seems interesting and timely.
  • Headspace– now more than ever employees need support to calm nerves and create stability.

I’d be happy to personally elaborate on any of the above to anyone who’s interested. We’ll release similar perspectives for other aspects of the business as fast as we can create them. I wanted to start with culture because it is the most important. Stay safe, everyone!

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