This morning I had the pleasure of hosting a Hibob panel discussion on  building culture across remote, virtual and global teams with expert advice from our Panelists (Ajaybir (AJ) Behniwal, Director of Customer Success at TripActions, Kate Irwin, Commercial Director at Skift and Michal Zarankin, Marketing Director at Quantum Metric) and a very interactive, insightful audience of HR and People professionals

Virtual, global and remote teams are no longer unique – they are an essential part of almost every growing business. But with every new development to our working world, comes a brand new set of challenges, such as staying connected to colleagues who aren’t based in the same office.

Having work connections outside of your everyday environment was quickly compared to being in a long distance relationship, you have to put in a lot of extra effort to make it work. 

All three of our panelists championed their current company practice of ensuring every new starter is flown to the HQ office to spend a week or two with the existing team. Not only does this help with practical training and company knowledge, but it was considered essential for building a global culture. 

It was also openly acknowledged that remote working isn’t for everyone! The general consensus here was that if you need someone to be a sole remote worker, or play a key role in a smaller more isolated team, finding the right mindset comes before finding the right skillset.

And leading on from that,  if managers ever feel concerned about  what remote workers are actually doing (because they can’t see them) they’ve very likely hired the wrong people. 

Solutions here were to ensure that both sides of the remote relationship are very clear from the start as to what’s expected and that you can never over communicate with other offices. The more information you can share about what you’re working on, what’s happening in your local office, even where you ate dinner last night, the smaller those global gaps become.

There was no doubt in this morning’s discussion that the best way to stay connected to people and build a robust organizational culture is through personal, face to face meetings. However, we all know we have a planet to think about and costs to keep in line, so physical meetings between all staff may not always be possible and technology should be embraced for the sake of company culture.

Investing in a high quality, user friendly video conferencing tool was the overarching take-away here. And not rushing meetings, allowing time for personal exchanges, alongside the all important business chat, is essential for relationship building.

All three of our panelists sang the praises of one of Hibob’s integration partners, Slack, for keeping in touch in real time and keeping a fun, friendly tone to your long distance chats. Regular use of Gifs also came highly recommended!

Both Kate and AJ discussed how the app Donut contributes to interoffice relationship building by pairing up colleagues to go for a coffee – or a donut – and get to know more about each other and their roles.

Common culture issues when working across the globe

Then we got to the fun part of the conversation, sharing a few examples of where global/virtual communication hadn’t gone quite so well.  I’m sure we can all identify with the list of pain points here:

  • Conference/video calls that frequently cut out and people can’t be heard 
  • Forgetting remote workers when it comes to team lunches/birthday treats
  • Forgetting remote workers in general
  • In-office jokes that other teams/locations just don’t understand 
  • Language barriers 
  • Sarcasm that doesn’t translate 
  • Timezone issues that have people dialling in at 2am or on national holidays 

There were some pretty quick fixes suggested  for what can seem like impossible issues – and it mainly comes down to having an etiquette guide for global calls, ensuring you send the remote workers pizza when everyone else gets pizza and being open minded enough to learn from cultural references/humor that you might not get at first.

And as a final thought, the key takeaways that our panel would suggest to global and remote teams everywhere were:

  • Michal: Invest in good technology that allows for seamless global communication 
  • AJ: Find out who your company culture champions are and use them across all of your offices
  • Kate: Accept that remote working isn’t for everyone and put in the time needed to recruit the right people – being very clear about what the expectations are on both sides

And my personal advice for all companies with remote and global workers? Buy an absolute kickass HR and People Management system that keeps all your people united, informed and engaged. Buy bob!

Thanks so much to our panel and our audience for a really fun, educational session that was a delight to host.

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From Katie O'Leary

Katie Heads up the UK Marketing at Hibob and has been working in B2B Marketing for both start up and corporate brands over the last 12 years. Katie is a firm believer in using creativity and communication to get brands noticed and champions great marketing as an essential part of the business strategy.