Culture doesn't just happen. It must be developed, nurtured and maintained in an intentional way - especially when majority of your workforce is remote, behind a screen, in their home or home office, or possibly sitting in an airport while traveling to a meet a client.
Remote work has become increasingly popular in the United States with the rise of technology and new ways of staying connected and sharing information that are as efficient (and sometimes more so) than traditional offices and boardrooms. Companies are able to share information seamlessly, transmit data with the click of a button, share screens, chat over instant message, and connect with one another from nearly anywhere in the world.
Fast Company reported in February 2018 on Upwork’s Future Workforce Report, “Many of the 1,000 hiring managers surveyed said that they expect up to 38% of their full-time staff will be working remotely in the next decade.” Fast Company went on to say: “Currently, 63% of employers have remote workers, yet a majority lack remote work policies.” A written policy may not be necessary, but it is important to establish norms and be intentional about your remote workers’ experiences within your culture and connections to one another.
Not all remote work is the same – there are positives and challenges to the lifestyle. Remote work arrangements, when they first hit the work scene, were instantly alluring because of their novelty, the lure of greater work-life balance and a flexible work environment that seemed so desirable principally because of the words, "work from home." For many of us, this conjured up images of working in pajama pants with a big cup of coffee, participating in a conference call from the location of your choice – a home office, the airport, or your car – and there was a certain sense of freedom, ease, even glamour, associated with having a “flexible” or “remote” work arrangement.
We now know that employing a remote workforce takes effort and commitment to a positive work environment and culture at all levels of the organization. Mosaic is proud of what we have learned about creating a thriving remote workforce – but there are always challenges to making sure that your workforce feels connected, engaged, and included. Maintaining a remote workforce with a kickass culture is a challenge, for sure. One of the primary challenges employees who work remotely cite is the feeling of isolation and being less of a “part of the team”.
At Mosaic, we strive to be the exception and maintain a strongly connected and centered team, regardless of where we all do our respective jobs. For us, this boils down to two things: our culture, and good communication. Here is a look at some of our practices that contribute to our connectivity:
We touch base with each other regularly to talk about what we’re up to, what we’re stuck on, and what we need help with. Many of our remote team members tell us that it’s not simply the information shared, but the experience of being “in the room” virtually, and connected with the rest of our team, that makes them feel more a part of their team, and the company, when so many work in locations across the country and are in our Nashville office only a few times a year.
This is how we make our huddles happen, and many other points of connection throughout the day. We’ve found that our team prefers Zoom video chat over instant messaging. The personal aspect of seeing one another – no matter where you are – creates that human connection. We encourage everyone to “show their faces” for internal meetings; this reduces the intimidation factor and makes everyone more comfortable using this medium.
We encourage our team to have conversations that would have happened over the watercooler if we all shared an office building. It’s important to us to have these conversations as if we are physically in an office with our team - to connect when there is good news or difficult news. By doing this, we are able to better maintain that intimate, entrepreneurial, small-team family feeling, no matter how big we grow. I think it’s vital to know your team and know what they are dealing with and establish a relationship where you can coach and mentor, and this is one of the many things that I think sets Mosaic apart. Cheri, a Washington-based consultant, says, “Even though I work remotely, it is important for me to stay connected to co-workers to ensure I feel like I'm part of a team. One way I stay connected is scheduling short meetings to say hi and catch up on life. We share best practices and sometime have a glass of wine. While I am not in a physical office building, you can still have the same outcome by making simply efforts to stay connected.”
Work is life and life is work. Sometimes you are walking through a parking lot or sitting in a car when you join a call or you haven't showered yet. There is grace within the team and within our walls. We trust that we all look professional as we go onsite or connect with clients, but our culture stresses being comfortable just being who we are with each other on a daily basis, and I hope everyone on the team feels this.
Having a conversation with a colleague over Zoom where you can see their facial expressions and body language helps us communicate clearly and understand each other better. Tricia, a remote Senior PAS team member in Tennessee eloquently described the value of Zoom when she said, “At Mosaic we choose to ‘assume positive intent’ of one another - with instant messaging you can sometimes misread inflection or intent. Zoom helps you maintain the assumption of positive intent because you are able to pair a colleague’s nonverbal cues with their words.”
Much like the “chat rooms” in the old days of the web, #Slack has become our place to gather (and from our climbing message stats, it seems like it’s taken off!). As most of you already know, we implemented Slack as a place to collaborate on projects with groups, to send group messages, or to launch video meetings. It’s the place we all meet up, and while the primary focus is work, we make room for fun, too. Encouraging a workplace where people bring themselves into the environment and share personal details, special moments, talents, and accomplishments, or just a good joke or two, reinforces the personal connection and makes our team feel like family.
When our team does gather “in real life” – for quarterly or annual planning meetings or other company events – we’re able to pick up seamlessly because we “see” each other so often over Zoom and share information on #Slack.
Companies today must think outside the box. We learned as we outgrew the feasibility of flying everyone in several times a year for meetings and the annual holiday party, that we needed to take a creative approach to these events. We added virtual events, in addition to quarterly meetings and monthly All Hands Calls: our Secret Santa party, monthly BetterBookClub meetings, and more. It is this kind of celebration that connects individuals throughout the organization for a positive reason that has nothing to do with work that is extremely valuable. It provides the opportunity to connect and get to know one another. We are building grace equity in the relationship.
This year, I heard about a virtual happy hour that our Client Engagement team held. They all grabbed their beverage of choice in their home offices and joined a video conference call. Their “happy hour" turned into two-and-a-half hours of stories and belly laughs. I had a little FOMO when I heard about this bonding time for their team, but more than that, I was happy to see this team being proactive about connecting with one another as people who share experiences beyond office hours and routine work. They were embracing the culture and making it even better by prioritizing time to connect with their fellow teammates.
We’ve all had the experience of joining a new company and thinking, “How am I going to learn all that I need to learn, and get up to speed?” You don’t want to ask what might be perceived as a stupid question, but you also want to connect and feel at home. Many of you have benefitted from our Wingman program at Mosaic or served as a Wingman yourself.
Some of you may not know that this program came into being organically, in sharing my own experience with a rock star consultant who had joined us and was struggling to adjust. Brian, a Texas-based consultant, was transitioning from a corporate environment to working with Mosaic from home. He had just left a position which involved a daily commute and a big office with fluorescent lights and people constantly milling about. Since I had been consulting for over 10 years already, I had disconnected from how difficult this transition could be. It takes time to adjust to life as a remote employee. Unlike a typical office environment, you can't just pop your head into someone's office to ask a question or ask a coworker something simple like where to find the benefits documentation you were given during orientation. These conversations would organically occur after morning huddle or in the break room during lunch. To the remote worker, asking simple questions that are necessary during the onboarding period feels like you are interrupting your boss or peer. Brian brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to Mosaic, and his experience shined a light on a gap we needed to fill in our onboarding process. Our team stepped in and made time to support him. He eloquently described his transition to consulting life: “The way that the team scaffolded me allowed me to move forward and not worry about my inadequacies. They carried me until I could walk – and now I’m running!”
His experience exemplifies what we desire for each of our team members to find success as remote employees at Mosaic. We wanted all new team members to feel this way, so we created the Wingman Program which pairs each new member of our team with a peer who is dedicated to helping the new team mate acclimate. The wingman is a resource for all the questions that seem silly, helping the individual adjust, and being there for them as they settle in to help them feel connected.
Remote work as a consultant also requires a certain amount of self-management that is less common in some traditional workplaces. We expect consultants to self-manage many aspects of their day. They learn to juggle multiple clients, varying priorities and deadlines, and their workload on top of the personalities involved as well. The process of acclimating to this style of work takes time, and it can be different for everyone. The Wingman is a great resource for new consultants as they can learn first-hand how a peer juggles their day-to-day.
There's something special about public acknowledgement of something that is important to you. It makes it real. That is why we record and remember our team’s personal milestones: birthdays, children’s birthdays, work and personal anniversaries. Our team understands that they are important. Run a marathon? Had a baby? Your child graduated from high school? We want to know it and celebrate it with you.
This is also why, during our monthly All Hands Call, we share the top company news and end with the open invite for team members to give one another a shout out and share their "Attitude of Gratitude." This gives us an opportunity to thank one another, celebrate one another, and gas each other up. It is the most important part of that call. Publicly acknowledging what we are doing well in an open forum can never be overdone. It serves an additional purpose in allowing people who don't frequently work with one another hear about what is going well in different areas of the organization.
You either have a culture by default or by design. And, to me, “by design” means more than just a few early team members setting standards for remote work nearly ten years ago. In order to sustain connection across a fast-growing organization, it takes a team that is fully engaged and bought into the rewards that come from the effort it takes to connect with one another. I am proud that Mosaic continues to stand out as a place of work that is committed to being a remote team of exceptionally connected individuals. I encourage you to continue to be creative and introduce new ways of intentional connection company-wide.
I firmly believe that remote workforces are not only here to stay, but a growing norm among leading companies. To attract the best talent and offer challenging and rewarding work, we must flex as to the location our team works from and give them ownership over the way they perform their jobs to meet company goals. But providing a “home base” for our team is critical: a culture they feel connected to, a work family, and an environment that makes it feel as if your co-workers are just an office away – no matter where they’re working from -- and that is what makes our Mosaic team special.
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