What makes your company unique? Whether your company employs three people or three hundred people, in one office or five, every leader should constantly be working towards a singular company culture where employees feel aligned with the company mission. But as your company grows and you start managing remote employees, certain challenges will arise. The last thing you want is your satellite employees to feel unaligned with the company's mission, and to lose sight of company goals. Even worse, you don't want your employees to begin to feel like outcasts.
Creating a culture is unlike any other business endeavor; it involves creating an intangible set of subtle rules and ideas that are often difficult to manage. "Not everything that happens in a business is based on visible, objective, and formal rules," writes Mark Williams in Fit In! The Unnofficial Guide to Corporate Culture. "Some things are more subtle; they live between the lines of the company manual. These informal rules are a powerful hidden force—governing everything from where you sit in a meeting to how you address your superior."
These challenges are amplified when employees work in multiple locations, but there are tactical decisions that can make your company's employees feel more aligned with a company vision. After all, a strong company culture will keep turnover rates low, productivity high, and employees happy—whether they're in the company headquarters or half the world away.
Create a Unified Culture: Identify the Challenges
Opening offices in multiple locations may be the next logical step for your company is it grows. After all, having a market presence in diverse geographical locations may be the key to your company's success.
But perhaps the biggest loss in separating employees is the loss of personal interaction. Often, the tone of an organization is set by the little things—conversations by the water cooler, friendly exchanges in the elevator, and even a shared sense of 'office humor,' like little games played among co-workers. These aspects of office life contribute directly to the type of culture you set up—whether it's a rigid, formal setting, or a relaxed, Tony Hsieh-esque environment.
These personal interactions often will also set often the tone for employee collaboration in finding solutions to work-related problems. So if your employees are located in different offices, one of the biggest challenges will be finding ways for your employees to stay in touch and learn a bit about each other.
Mehrdad Baghai, the managing director of Alchemy Growth Partners, a boutique advisory and venture firm in Sydney, Australia, spent months researching the world's most innovative and successful companies for his book As One: Individual Action, Collective Power. Often, these companies had thousands of employees, located in offices around the world. But what made these companies so successful, Baghai found, was their ability to make their employees feel as if they were part of a clear company mission, or goal. 'One thing that we noticed is that if you want to get large number of people to do something, they tend to have a what we call a shared identity,' Baghai says. 'Somehow the group must begin to see itself as a group, and as long as there's reasonable consistency among the people in the organization, it seems to work well.'
How to Create a Unified Culture: Open Up Lines of Communication
Companies with a unified culture all have one common trait: they are effective communicators not just with customers, but also amongst themselves. These companies will value their employees opinions, and they'll work hard to recognize individual accomplishments (and not just as a plaque under the 'Employee of the Month' sign in the break room). While company-wide barbeques may work for some companies, employees in far-off offices won't get to participate, so internal, online communication becomes essential. Here are a few tips to instill bullet-proof company culture throughout all company offices.
How to Create a Unified Culture: Build it Into the Office—Literally
Having multiple office locations will inevitably spur jealously by employees who perceive their co-workers in other locations to enjoy certain amenities not afforded to them. 'Sure, we have a covered parking lot, but they have a gym,' one may say, or 'The food in their cafeteria is better than ours.'
A manager may think these types of differences to be immaterial, but they are not. Often, it's the little things that matter most to employees, and these differences tend to create an 'Us Versus Them' mentality. When thinking about your office build-out, it's essential to try and remain as fair as possible. This doesn't mean every office must be a cookie-cutter clone of all offices, but keep in mind that your employees will be offended if they find out their counterparts in a main office get special treatment.
'I think a head office tends to forget about the little guys; they feel like they're left in no-man's land and they feel like no one cares about them,' says Michelle Berg, president of the Calgary, Canada-based Eleveated HR. Berg, who works with organizations both in Canada and the United States, say that an employer must make a conscious effort to involve the smaller, satellite offices.
Berg also points out that a unified culture will 'rally the troops,' but with multiple locations, this task becomes more challenging. For example, Berg recently worked with a client that had a gong in his office; when an employee came back with a big sale, he'd ring the gong. But employees in other offices didn't get to experience that excitement, Berg says, so she needed to find a way to reach the satellite employees. The solution? The manager now sends out an 'e-mail gong" to complement the office gong. 'Hey, you have to rally the troops somehow,' Berg says.
Having a standardized set of policies is crucial to keeping that "Us Versus Them" mentality at bay. Offering perks to employees in one office, while not offering them to employees in a separate office, will create a negative feeling between locations. For example, if you have workers overseas that receive 30 vacation days, while workers in the United States receive 15, your employees may resent the international contingent, which may strain communication between the two groups. Even if governmental regulations vary on how much vacation an employee must be guaranteed, it could be a smart business decision to adopt the more liberal policy for your company—and it will certainly keep your workers happy.