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Remote Employees: How do you establish and maintain a corporate culture?

Recent actions by the Yahoo CEO have brought the issue or workplace flexibility into the news.  How do you establish a corporate culture in today's world?

Answers

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Consulting CFO and Business Operations A..
Company: Growth Accelerator
(Consulting CFO and Business Operations Advisor, Growth Accelerator) |

Ernie,

I can't say I've been successful...but have to deal with this constantly as all of my startups are "virtual" officed, and most are internationally spread.

First thing is travel. I hate the time it takes (and the $ is pretty annoying), but face time is critical.

Second...skype video (or similar) pretty constantly. At least seeing/hearing and having to synch schedules (a challenge when there is a 12 hour time difference) is a bit of help.

Third, employee loans. Move an employee or two from one region to another for a month or two. The action items are not just to get work done, but do develop deeper relationships. Give a budget for lunches and dinners.

Fourth, joint projects. It can be incredibly inefficient to try to work jointly remotely, and remote employees will default to "individual contributor" actions (even when they are clearly supposed to be managing). So, you may often need to force this.

Finally, experiment. In one place I worked, Instant Messages were our social glue, but that hasn't worked everywhere. Yammer I've heard good things about, but in my situations it hasn't been effective. So, do lots of low cost experiments and find the tools that work for your team.

Being someone who often works remotely, and having a deep appreciation for "flex time" and the like, I understand the negative reaction to Yahoo's decision. Geographically it would be impossible for me to be doing all the things I am, let alone have any sort of work-life balance.

I am however deeply sympathetic to it as well. The unwritten processes, non-verbal communication, the socialization that comes from locking a bunch of people in a room for eight hours a day is profound. It creates the life-blood of the going concern, the culture that keeps the engine going through employee transitions, technical change and the like. Yahoo needs to regroup (imho), and they have the luxury of using the most effective tool to do so...bringing everyone together. So good for them (and her) for making a difficult call.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Good insight, Keith. Here is a free white paper here on Proformative titled,

"Build It, and They Will Come: How fostering a unique corporate culture helps attract and retain top talent:"

https://www.proformative.com/whitepapers/build-it-they-will-come-how-fostering-unique-corporate-culture-helps-attract-retain-top?pf_source=sj-managing-remote-employees

Enjoy!

Best...Sarah

Keith Johnson
Title: Principal
Company: Keith E. Johnson CPA PA
(Principal, Keith E. Johnson CPA PA) |

I don't think its that important. Obviously, you want an ethical environment, but if it leads to less politics and idle backstabbing and cattery, go for it

Maria Marsala
Title: Financial Advisor Coach, Speaker, Author
Company: Elevating Your Business
(Financial Advisor Coach, Speaker, Author, Elevating Your Business) |

Corporate culture, IMO, is a motivator when done right.

My team is virtual. I have an open door policy regarding communications with them. I don't micro-manage, but I do request reporting so that I know what's up.

My marketing person has visited me twice, the last time she stayed at my place for a week and took a mini-vacation. However, most communications are by phone, Skype or email.

Treating my team right and communicating with them a few times a week is essential in the culture I'm fostering.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

It appears that the Yahoo situation may have been somewhat overblown. If the reports that have surfaced are correct, the Yahoo employees abused the privlege of telecommunicating. That speaks to a culture issue in and of itself that the Yahoo CEO rightfully addressed. We need to be careful we don't color all telecommuting as bad as a result.

Carrie Roesner
Title: Controller and VP
Company: Centro
(Controller and VP, Centro) |

We've been voted the best place to work in Chicago for 2 consecutive years because of our continuous dedication to our culture. Most of us do not work from home but we are very flexible.

Our CEO, Shawn Riegsecker, comments here on Yahoo's policies: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130305/OPINION/130309930/working-from-home-or-not-is-matter-of-trust.

Pat Voll
Title: Vice President
Company: RoseRyan
(Vice President, RoseRyan) |

As a consulting firm, it is rare to have people in the office - generally our workforce is deployed at client locations. Maintaining our corporate culture is vitally important to our business.

Our first step was to develop a formal values program and establish a strong culture. To be sure, this was no easy undertaking. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of patience and a lot of reinforcement. This is particularly challenging with a remote workforce – how do you know what challenges individuals are facing on a daily basis, and how they are responding to those challenges? What support do employees need for success?

We formed a core group of employees to be the champions of our culture – and they actively work on this on an on-going basis. We set annual KPI’s to gauge how we are doing, and we monitor our progress monthly. When we find areas where we are not meeting our goals, our values team jumps in to investigate underlying reasons and determine what support we can offer. Over time, we have embedded our program into our recruiting process, our on-boarding process, and into the very fabric of who we are as an organization.

Topic Expert
Dana Price
Title: Vice President, M&A
Company: McGraw Hill Education
(Vice President, M&A, McGraw Hill Education) |

Communication is key, make sure they hear the same things everyone else hears.

And sometimes it's the small things- I have been known to video in/Glance/desktop share our remote employees for a birthday cake celebration or the like. They may not be there, but they can see and be seen, albeit it electronically.

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