How Do You Nurture Corporate Culture When Staff Are All Remote?

In our Covid affected world I, like many managers, are facing the challenge of having to hire staff with not actually ever meeting them in person.
Even more challenging, how do we recruit a whole team, ensure they collaborate and work well together when none of them may ever be in the same room with each other … or even the same state?
It is a significant risk and I am not sure I have the answer but as I am facing this challenge myself I thought I would lay out where my thinking is at and encourage everyone to comment and contribute.
When a team of staff operate from the same location maintaining a certain culture and esprit de corps is not that difficult.
It can be easily encouraged, closely monitored and team activities are easy to organize to ensure that the culture stays healthy.
When new hires arrive and they are working within the same team, in the same office, it is natural that they pick up this culture and become somewhat indoctrinated. Humans love to mimic others so it is a natural part of fitting in to a team.
But what if they are a new hire and their only experience of the team is on Zoom calls or in Microsoft Teams channels?
To try to encourage the right culture amongst new hires, I have made a mental list of some of the sorts of techniques that we will rely on with new staff.
The Recruitment Process
I am a strong believer that your recruitment process is a great opportunity to begin to introduce new hires to the way your business works and feels.
The ‘tone’ of your recruitment process will start to form impressions with candidates … for example, if you have a corporate culture that encourages fun, is relaxed and interactive, make sure that during your recruitment this is apparent. A bit of irreverence in the process will help with this.
If you culture is more of a ‘hard core sales’ environment then during recruitment enforce this right up front. You will quickly weed out anyone who is not going feel comfortable in the business and those who do come in will do so expecting this sort of business from the start.
In our case, we are looking to reinforce our own culture by including several pre recruitment tasks – asking candidates to undertake a couple of missions prior to interview that will provide them with a flavor of what work with us will be like.
Based on my many years running large organizations, onboarding a new staffer effectively is the most critical step that you can nail to make sure that they become effective, productive members of the team.
I am a big fan of Atlassian and they have this perfected )as explained in this great blog post on
“Atlassian uses gamification to screen employees for cultural fit. The system is treated like dating: recruiters and candidates can measure their compatibility, giving candidates the chance to self-select whether they’d be a good fit in the organisation.”
The post lists some fantastic measures to drive fit but not all of them translate through to recruiting remotely. In our case for new staff, we set in place an online treasure hunt – basically a new hire is provided with a list of titbits that they will need to research & discover about our business and their colleagues to be.
This is going to require them to make a time to speak to a range of other existing staff and question them. In doing so, they are then forced to introduce themselves to the team, their colleagues explain their own take on our corporate culture and hopefully pass an understanding of this on to the new recruit.
Personal video clips from each team member
Everyone in our business provides a brief video clip introducing themselves and this is available to all on our portal. Newcomers produce their own day one.
We usually suggest that about every 90 days that this be updated – these clips are a great way for all of us to stay on top of everyone’s hobbies, family, pets and more.
A Virtual Buddy
Once a team member starts with us we always set in place a virtual buddy. This colleague (usually in the same work team but not necessarily) shares a open audio channel with them for the whole day, each day for their first few weeks so the newcomer can ask them anything at all while they settle in.
This is in addition to training sessions and the like. It is a secondary source of information, tips, questions about where to go for what .. a buddy!
A virtual water cooler chat
Once onboard, and to make sure that the whole remote team stays connected and communicating, we have set up a virtual water cooler.
At 11am each day we open a video channel for a shared few minutes .. no work chat allowed. Just sipping coffee and discussing life and its’ challenges.
A Team Challenge
Each month, we set in place a month long challenge throughout the team. It is optional but involvement is encouraged. Everyone submits 3 suggestions for the next months’ challenge – for example it may be walk 10,000 steps every day for 30 days, perform a certain random act of kindness etc.
Progress is tracked online and we have a leaderboard in place with awards at the end of the month.
Team challenges give everyone something light to talk about, and helps the team feel closer with a simple common goal.
Every Friday at the end of the day we host an online quiz session (and virtual drinks if so inclined).
Each week one team member is volunteered to produce this week’s quiz, this is set up on Kahoot (free). These sessions are highly contested!
Virtual Job boards
We have found that often teams have small projects that they would love done but may not have the time to do themselves. By listing these on a board, on occasions, unrelated individuals or teams can put their hand up to knock these over for the other group – it opens up all of us to the sorts of work being completed by the various parts of our business and also allows lots of cross pollenization.
This past year maintaining teamwork and the right culture has certainly been a challenge. We all need to adjust to our new normal. Would love to hear what you are doing as well to maintain a healthy work environment.