Strengthen Your Startup Culture: Keeping Connected in a Remote World

Startup culture can make or break a company’s success. An intriguing product vision may attract the most brilliant minds, but a culture that doesn’t mitigate stress, burnout, and long hours will quickly drive away even the most passionate employees.

Many founders don’t realize the impact of their own company’s shortcomings—especially in a remote workplace—unless and until turnover becomes an issue. By then, it may be too late.

The key to sustaining a strong startup culture is maintaining connection throughout the organization, which can be difficult without a common office space. Here are three tips for keeping your startup culture strong in a remote world:

1) Set reasonable expectations for all

New employees are often eager to prove their value at a new startup, putting in the extra hours to produce results that go above and beyond expectations and set your company up for its next funding stage. This is great—when it’s an exception to the rule.

A problem is created when you start to use one employee’s advanced productivity (which is likely to fluctuate over time) as the norm for the rest of the company. This can quickly lead to a burnout culture where people feel like they have to be “on” all the time. In a disconnected workplace, this can become exhausting and difficult to manage. It also takes away from people’s capacity to bond with their teams and thrive together.

Within a remote workforce, you cannot always see the effects of burnout firsthand. The instinct may be to reward hard work with greater responsibility. (Many remote startups even mistakenly justify a higher workload by assuming the lack of a commute leaves more time for additional work.) In reality, your employees may already struggle to meet the expectations set by their (or their peers’) initial spurt of activity and excitement for a new product.

Instead, lead by example and set a reasonable pace for the company that employees can maintain even during busy periods. Set clear goals and expectations for each role, and remember that remote productivity can (and will) have highs and lows. Check in with your people and encourage check-ins across departments to make sure everyone has the opportunity to unplug and recharge on a regular basis.

2) Overcommunicate

Here’s the thing about in-person work: you talk to people. A lot. And no matter what tools you’ve provided to employees to create a similar experience (Slack, Zoom, company phones, etc.), many workers won’t feel the same sense of connection unless their startup culture encourages overcommunication. 

Think about an informal office coffee chat. An off-the-cuff comment might spark the beginning of a brilliant idea that would never have been discussed over Slack. When you establish a culture where informal Zoom chats or virtual coffees are encouraged, you not only improve the culture but can also initiate organic innovation. Founders can do this by:

  • Demonstrating overcommunication firsthand – Your team will quickly catch on if you’re not modeling the behavior you want to see. As a founder, communicate the good, the bad, and the excellent whether via a quick Slack message or a weekly company debrief.
  • Break up silos – As the saying goes, “Information is power.” And when everyone is on the same page, they can do their best work. From establishing communal dashboards and wikis to standardizing best practices, make sure your team is sharing what they know so everyone has access to the information they need to do their jobs well.
  • Removing fear and anxiety – Often, people don’t communicate because they’re afraid to. They may worry that an idea is only half-baked and not worthy of sharing. Or, they may miss a deadline and fail to communicate the new date out of fear of reprimand. When your culture is based on reasonable flexibility, kindness, and understanding, your people can do their best work.

3) Recreate office activities

Suggestions in this category can seem excessive to some. After all, you founded your company on innovation; your people can always use their generous salaries to have fun on their own time (or once the hard work is done).

But the truth is that people care about the fun they have at work. They want to feel like they’re a part of something larger than themselves, and that holistic experience of an enjoyable work environment is a large part of that. If you’re not careful, your startup culture can quickly become all work and no play.

One way to keep the joy alive is to recreate some of the office activities that you’ve enjoyed with your teams in the past. Get creative with scheduled (and impromptu) social activities. Try online games, virtual escape rooms, or even office-friendly versions of childhood favorites (like show-and-tell).

Encourage people to take breaks throughout the day to stay connected, and be sure to schedule regular happy hours or other events where people can connect. Where COVID restrictions and personal comfort allow, you can even schedule regional meetups for dispersed employees or annual company retreats.

Remote startups face more challenges than ever before, but with a plan in place and a connected culture, you can work towards a strategic exit. Contact ScaleView Partners to help with all the rest.