Startups are vibrant and exciting places where a single individual can have a dramatic impact on the company—including its culture. Moreover, a strong culture is as vital to startup success as its products or services. A strong culture attracts and retains top talent, nurtures customers, and keeps employees motivated and productive.
Luckily, most employees who join startups do so for more than just a paycheck. They believe in the company’s vision, are passionate about making it a reality and eager to be part of the journey.
But how do you build a strong startup culture when you have remote teams? Remote teams can easily feel disconnected and not weaved into the fabric of a company’s culture.
As virtual teams become more and more commonplace, how can you get remote employees—who can be located halfway around the world—to learn and embrace your startup’s culture?
To start, you must prioritize activities and practices that promote inclusion of remote teams. Even if most of your employees are a plane ride away, you can keep them engaged and on track by adhering to these top three rules:
- Communicate clearly, consistently, and often
Communications becomes the most essential element for building company culture. Communications should be clear, consistent and frequent. On a regular basis, you need to let employees know what’s expected from them—and what they can expect from the leadership team. Communications should also be used to reinforce a company’s values and objectives. Articulate your vision and explain your goals for success, and connect them to the type of culture you want for your startup.
If you have a virtual team, communications is the number one priority for maintaining and evolving a startup culture.
- Recognize behaviors that support your culture
In addition to leveraging strong internal communications, you must implement systems to point out behaviors that reinforce your company culture. For example, if your startup values going above-and-beyond to delight the customer, be sure to recognize employees who have gone the extra mile. Don’t just give them a gold star or a gift card. Acknowledge their behaviors publicly within the company—whether in a staff conference call or via an email.
By giving credit and consistently highlighting positive behaviors that support a company’s culture, startups can make their culture less abstract and more ingrained—even when employees are geographically dispersed.
- Establish ‘virtual’ team traditions
Frequent team interactions are key to organically grow and preserve a company’s culture, as well as bringing the group together in a non-work environment. How can you do this if you’re not in the same place?
With half its team in India, one cloud security startup set up weekly team lunches every Thursday. Even though they had a 12-hour time difference, both groups held their lunches on the same day. By following the same pattern, you can actually create a virtual company tradition. And with videoconferencing tools and free services such as Skype or Join.me, you have plenty of opportunities to use your imagination to create unique virtual company traditions.
Transformative technology and ample funding don’t guarantee a strong company culture. Nor do free snacks, ping pong tables and other perks (although, admittedly, the massages and coffee bars at Square sound pretty amazing).
But by paying attention to and nurturing culture at an early stage and staying true to core company values, even ‘virtual’ startups can help drive employee engagement and commitment—the biggest requirements for early-stage company success.