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Work Culture

How do remote companies build work cultures?

Grace Macej

In the second instalment of our three-part article series, Lukasz and Kris open up the topics of culture building, the benefits and challenges that come with remote-first working cultures, and the ways in which our colleagues influence and inspire us.

First things first: If you haven’t already, read our first blog post that introduces this podcast episode and opens up the meaning of company culture itself.

Company culture is never finished – it’s constantly evolving

This was a concept that Kris zeroed in when discussing how company values are implemented. He remarked that this is true due to the fact that new people constantly join and other people leave an organisation. This always modifies the culture slightly, as each team member brings in some elements of their own to the company.

“Of course, we want some principles to be preserved, because this defines us, differentiates us on the market from other companies. But that's what I'm thinking, that lately this whole pandemic effect has made it more and more difficult to build or maintain a consistent culture, only because of remote work. At the very least, it may seem that working, defining and creating, maintaining an organisational culture is a real challenge when the entire team is dispersed and globally distributed,” said Kris.

How does remote work affect an IT company’s culture?

As Lukasz has been working remotely for about 10 years, he has plenty of insights into what comes with remote-first working cultures.

He explained, “For me, working remotely and the mechanisms developed around it have been a great way to determine whether someone is suitable for the team or not. It's a higher level of difficulty than the reality in the office, but I consider it such an important test, as you build that trust through tools like Zoom or Slack.

I also learned that it doesn't even matter how many hours we work. After all, it’s a matter of efficiency, and people manage this efficiency themselves.”

Lukasz commented that he thinks that many of today’s companies are collectively experiencing a big “a-ha moment” in relation to the shift to remote-first work in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions. He explains that due to elevated requirements related to communication that come with remote work, it has come to light that managers are not doing what they should be doing — they aren’t managing people.

At the end of the day, it’s the team members themselves who are responsible for their own actions. If we promote this initiative properly through the implementation and use of a value system (either company-wide or within a smaller group, like a Scrum or QA team), the resulting relationships and challenges happen whether people are interacting online or in person.

Imagine you have an organisation where each department has its own culture, and two or more departments are sometimes in conflict with each other. A good example can be engineering and sales teams. It’s likely that any existing conflict between these two teams has always happened, whether the company was remote or not. The problem is elsewhere: Remote work could have exposed it a bit more, but at the same time, it’s not the root cause of why it happens.

Culture building 101

Kris asked Lukasz, “Are you in favour of the classic model in which company founders or management dictates company culture and it propagates somewhere down the corporate hierarchy? Or, on the contrary, should we put much more emphasis on letting this culture emerge on its own and moderate it?”

Here’s what Lukasz had to say. “The way I see it, this depends on the current point of an organisation’s life cycle. If an organisation is just getting started out, then naturally its initial group of leaders (the company’s founders, for example) are naturally responsible for its culture. This being said, I believe that company culture gradually changes, and secondly, I believe that the process of managing the culture falls on a growing group of people. And this is deliberate, because once the organisation exceeds the dozen or so people that got it started, then it becomes the responsibility of everyone to determine and maintain the company culture.

Any new person who brings value and new ideas in a cool and constructive way can stretch and modify the culture, and it should be naturally fluid. It’s the same as with good code: The best code wins! We discuss it in a smaller or larger group, experience it together, and see what happens.”

We as humans are somewhat like free electrons: Each of us is rushing in his or her own direction. And as one of us passes the other, our particle vectors influence each other and start to move that vector a little more to the left or to the right, lengthen it a little, or even turn it completely the other way around. Using this example, we can think of ourselves as the sum of all the other people I've met and interacted with.

In response to this last point, Kris commented that he believes that we often live in a kind of bubble; in other words, in an environment that influences us. Under the influence of various means of communication to which we are exposed, we get more and more enclosed in these bubbles.

Who is responsible for implementing company culture?

Kris: How does a company’s HR department relate to this? Is company culture HR’s domain, or is it an independent and company-wide task?

Lukasz: No individual can scale a company’s culture by themselves, no matter how brilliant they are. Instead, the evolution of culture falls on those individuals who drive it the most, and these are most often team leaders of various kinds. Ultimately, company culture is moderated by HR professionals. It’s important to note that HRs don't impose company culture, they just introduce it to each new person joining the organisation (whether it's during the recruitment or onboarding process). HR is also responsible for moderating conflict situations that go beyond certain norms. The key is to create an environment and processes that allow people to exchange opinions and — even if conflict arises — to have a certain standard for communicating and clarifying situations so that there’s no ambiguity.

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This is the second segment of a three-part series recapping a recent episode of Porozmawiajmy o IT that LLI was featured on (also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, and Spotify). In our final post, we’ll wrap up with discussing the unique work cultures that exist within IT companies.

Future of work
Remote work
Work culture

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