The announcement of the first UK lockdown in March 2020 forced many companies to accept home working, when previously it had been overlooked or dismissed. Managerial concerns included preserving team cohesion, productivity, losing touch with their employees, and maintaining a strong culture in the absence of a central base at which to gather. When we talk about company culture, this encompasses the environment in which employees operate; the clearly understood expectations; the shared values, vision and goals; and the practices that enable everyone to pull together.
SMLWRLD made the decision to move to a remote model in the months leading up to the first UK lockdown, as part of its sustainability strategy. During lockdown several new colleagues joined from all over the UK – and beyond. Geography is no longer a barrier to recruitment. Hussna was one of those new colleagues, and even with the company and her role being entirely online, she still felt as much part of the team and culture as everyone else: "Having welcoming, helpful colleagues made my onboarding experience even better, if I ever had a question or had to confirm some information, I would simply contact my colleagues via teams, and they would instantly respond. There has never been a moment where I felt like I couldn’t ask for help."
So how does SMLWRLD maintain a good company culture?
Clear vision and values
Within the SMLWRLD vision and values, a lot of emphasis is put on empathy and customer service. The empathy extends to both our clients and to each other. We are all humans with personal lives, and the SMLWRLD culture puts its people and their needs first. We support each other as colleagues and our leadership team takes pride in caring for the wellbeing of each individual. Customer service goes hand in hand with this ethos. We never leave a client hanging and we care more about delivering their requirements than anything else.
At our recent team day our MD Dan provided a comprehensive company update. He welcomed questions and comments from everyone at the table (both in person and on-screen), discussed how the recent pandemic impacted the company, and how we were moving forwards as a business. Being open and honest with colleagues, and inviting a conversation, is crucial and perfectly manageable in a remote environment.
A positive result of transparency, trust is a two-way street. When colleagues feel trusted by their management team and their peers, everyone benefits. The way SMLWRLD practises trust day to day includes:
- Embracing the flexible work day.
- No micromanagement, only support and encouragement.
- Appreciate the value people bring and how they apply it.
- Continuing to be open and honest, delivering regular updates on key business matters so everyone feels in the loop.
Make the best of meetings
SMLWRLD colleagues maintain a regular schedule of daily stand-ups, PM meetings and Developer updates, some over Microsoft Teams calls and some written in the daily chat thread. Either way, this encourages both accountability and continued visibility of what the current priorities are. Colleagues can also see where they might support their peers who have a heavy workload, or with their specific expertise. These meetings are beneficial for tangible reasons, but also for that much-needed human interaction. Each meeting has clear objectives, and we stick to the agenda. But we always make time for the small talk, the check-in over the virtual tea and coffee. “One of the biggest strengths of SMLWRLD as an organisation is our human culture, our emphasis on the importance of people supporting people. Everyone has put in the effort to sustain that across a digital workplace.” – Nicole, Project Manager.
You will always find CEO Simon, MD Dan and Board Member Yvan attending meetings, and participating in conversations along with everyone else. As the leadership team, they understand the importance of being visible and tuned in to their workforce. It could be all too easy for the executives to tuck themselves away behind a locked virtual office door, but if you want your colleagues to feel seen and recognised, having them dial in and actively participate will go a long way.
A huge draw for anyone joining an organisation, and staying at it, is if they feel that their personal development is valued and encouraged. SMLWLRD has facilitated the training and further education of all its colleagues, whether it is work skills such as Photoshop and html training, degree programs, project management certificates or just providing the opportunity to branch out of their natural job description.
A workforce that is well bonded leads to better collaboration and improved morale. One aspect of remote working that many have grappled with is the loss of human interaction outside of their household on a daily basis. So following the success of our first 2021 team day meet-up, the SMLWRLD social secretary Misty is taking full advantage of the upcoming opportunities. She sent out a survey to all her colleagues to get a feel for their likes, dislikes, passions and preferences, to help steer future team-day activities.
Maintaining a company culture is an ongoing piece of work, and one that everyone has a role in. But when organisations lead by example it makes it a much more feasible task. It’s encouraging to see so many agree on the recent LinkedIn poll that it is indeed possible to implement and maintain a good company culture in a remote workplace. We wonder if remote working could actually change a company culture for the better…?