For These Companies, Culture Isn’t Dependent on an Office

January 20, 2021

Building a company culture is no easy feat, even in the best of times. 

Most people would agree that 2020 was not the best of times. 

Even so, the last year has proven that strengthening culture doesn’t have to be something achieved solely through in-office interactions. In some cases, the need for increased empathy, transparency and creative workflows actually caused organizations to grow closer — but getting that closeness requires a shift in how leaders react to the changed environment.

According to Christina Wells, the vice president of people at social media planner Planoly, one of the best things leadership can do is check in with their teams often, and adapt their strategies accordingly to keep everyone working in tandem.

“Throughout the year, I tried to create new spaces for culture-building, but some felt so forced or off-brand for our existing culture they fell flat,” Wells said. “I have learned that my best bet is to keep my ears to the ground and listen for what the people want and crave, then build around their goals and needs.”

For a closer look into how leaders have navigated — and nailed — the abrupt switch to remote work, Built In Austin connected with Wells, SailPoint’s Developer Relations Manager Jordan Violet and DISCO’s Chief Human Resource Officer Aaron Trull. Together, they shared their best advice on keeping a company close-knit, even during a pandemic. 

 

Christina Wells
VP of People

What they do: Planoly is an app that allows users to better organize and plan their social media posts. For influencers and brands alike, planning social posts can be more easily done when the poster has a clear idea of what each post will look like, which is why Planoly boasts its visual layout is especially effective for Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. 

 

Whats the most notable change youve seen in your company culture since transitioning to remote work?

Increased empathy. One of our core values is “have empathy,” which has truly come to life over the past year due to the challenges of transitioning to remote work. Some of us live in spaces that may not give us the same quiet space as our workplace. Others experienced having children home from school or the added responsibility of taking care of family members while juggling their workload. 

Our leaders have been flexible and less concerned with which exact business hours of the day we spend online and are more focused on a team member’s overall output. We encourage people to block off their calendar for personal needs just as we would for work meetings because both are priorities in our lives. 
 

We encourage people to block off their calendar for personal needs just as we would for work meetings.”


When it comes to culture-building rituals, whats one old ritual that youve kept or adapted and whats one new ritual youve started since going remote? 

Since going to a remote work setting, we have kept our weekly happy hours and simply adapted them to the virtual environment. 

Once a week we gather to play games, do trivia, partake in various team-building activities and more. Our goal remains the same: to build personal relationships across the organization so we can collaborate most effectively when doing work projects. 

 

Whats the most important piece of advice youd share with other companies that are looking for new ways to build and maintain culture right now?

The most important piece of advice I can offer companies looking to build and maintain culture is to keep it organic. 

Throughout the year, I tried to create new spaces for culture-building, but some felt so forced or off-brand for our existing culture they fell flat. I have learned that my best bet is to keep my ears to the ground and listen for what the people want and crave, then build around their goals and needs. 

For example, as we hired new people this year, the new hires would get very little face time with members of the leadership team outside of their immediate team, due to being 100 percent remote. The leaders wanted more exposure to everyone so they could build personal relationships. With that in mind, we created different programs to make that happen. Knowing what our employees want guides the people team to simply create paths and frameworks for meeting their needs. 

 

Jordan Violet
Developer Relations Manager

What they do: SailPoint is an identity security software company that helps enterprise businesses ensure the right members of their team have access to the appropriate levels of sensitive information they need to excel in their role. 

 

Whats the most notable change youve seen in your company culture since transitioning to remote work? 

I can provide an interesting perspective: I started at SailPoint around the end of July 2020. The company had transitioned to fully remote roughly five months before my start date. I had been working remotely for a little over two years at this point at my previous role, so I’d seen both the good and bad of remote work. 

If I didn’t know any better, I’d have guessed SailPoint had been remote from the very start. Prior to COVID-19, SailPoint’s headquarters was in Austin, but they also had remote employees around the world and had practice with fostering a remote culture. The only notable change since going fully remote was that it solidified SailPoint’s ongoing commitment to fostering our culture for our remote employees even when we head back into the office. 

If I didn’t know any better, I’d have guessed SailPoint had been remote from the very start.” 


SailPoint has a full-time culture program manager, Becky Harmonson, who has done nothing short of a stellar job at making our culture here something to be proud of. Becky helps foster the work-from-home environment by making everyone feel connected no matter where they work. Additionally, every crew member lives and breathes SailPoint’s core values, the Four I’s. Our culture here isn’t a façade — it is a way of life.

 

When it comes to culture-building rituals, whats one old ritual that youve kept or adapted, and whats one new ritual youve started since going remote? How do these rituals help support your culture?

Anybody who knows me well will tell you just how much I value relationships. Anytime I am in a new place, I spend as much time trying to connect with those around me. You might think that such a ritual would be harder given the current landscape, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Because everyone is more readily accessible through tools like Slack and Zoom, it’s easier than ever to reach out to someone, say ‘hello,’ and invite them to connect. This ritual has been instrumental in the success of my role and happiness because I’ve made so many new friends at my new place of work. 

One new ritual I started occurred when I was getting to know one of the product managers in my organization. We decided instead of a Zoom-fatigued meeting, we would meet to play a whimsical, laughter-inducing video game called “Fall Guys.” While playing, we got to know more about both each other and our work. Same meeting time, same information conveyed, more fun had.

I believe we must do all we can to make “the new normal” culture work for us until “the old normal” culture can return. I’m an optimist, what can I say?

 

Whats the most important piece of advice youd share with other companies that are looking for new ways to build and maintain culture right now?

Do your best not to assume that you know what the best culture for your people may be. Every person on this planet is unique, and with every person that comes and goes, the culture that is right for your organization will change. 

Do as much as you can to keep your employees, the very people that make up your organization, in the loop when defining what makes up your culture. With that, be sure to revisit the topic often!

 

Aaron Trull
Chief Human Resources Officer

What they do: DISCO wants to bring the practice of law into the modern world. By building legal technology solutions, the company aims to provide companies and law firms tools to improve investigations, case management, compliance issues and more through tech like AI and cloud computing. 

 

Whats the most notable change youve seen in your company culture since transitioning to remote work?

DISCO has an all-in culture where employees are invited to contribute ideas focused on how to help our clients win. When COVID-19 forced us all to work remotely, our employees doubled down on our values of “grit” and “grace.” At DISCO, adaptability has long been an important quality in our employees, but we’ve also been called to exercise extra empathy for each other as our personal and professional lives have morphed over the last nine months. 

Our employees innovated to create virtual touchpoints. We’ve developed new initiatives such as a COVID-19 task force that regularly updates the company, additional employee surveys to check in and address concerns, and parent support groups, where executives listen and show support. 

To bridge impromptu in-office conversations, we’ve added opt-in technology that matches team members around the company for random coffee chats. We held curbside pickups for employees to grab a breakfast taco and receive requested office equipment loaded into their vehicles by members of our executive team. Our philanthropic arm, DISCO Cares, pivoted to offer remote opportunities, ending 2020 with 67 percent employee participation and raising $104,000 for our community.

 

When it comes to culture-building rituals, whats one old ritual that youve kept or adapted, and whats one new ritual youve started since going remote? How do these rituals help support your culture?

Shifting to remote work, it was critical to not just maintain but also grow our level of transparency and engagement to ensure that our employees remain informed and feel seen and valued in these turbulent times. Our all-hands meetings still include executive AMAs (ask me anything), but we have also added product and services roadmap sessions that all are invited to attend. In addition to fostering and growing connections across departments, we want our employees to see the meaningful impact their work is having across the business and thank them for it regularly.
 

It was critical to not just maintain but also grow our level of transparency and engagement.”


My favorite additions are our new learning opportunities, which aid our employees in honing their craft here. Acknowledging we always have more to learn has long been part of the DISCO culture, so investing in our employees’ continued development is the natural next step. We launched DISCO Bingo in late spring, elevating our employees’ knowledge of the legal industry and the part we play in it, regardless of the department they sit in. 

This fall, we rolled out DISCO University, a state-of-the-art interactive learning platform with badges and certifications designed to help employees grow their careers.

 

Whats the most important piece of advice youd share with other companies that are looking for new ways to build and maintain culture right now, and why?

Connectivity and engagement is key. Being more isolated creates a need for community, and companies can be creative with how they bring people together virtually. Make sure the executive team is regularly soliciting feedback from employees to understand where they are, how they’re feeling and what they need, then align activities accordingly. Culture-building can’t be dictated — it’s a collaborative process and all levels across an organization need to feel a sense of belonging and understand how important their contributions are.

 

 

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