Why would the way we build and maintain our culture be any different to if we ran the agency out of an office? What a strange question, but one I was asked only recently.
Remote working absolutely does not mean the death of company culture, but rather an opportunity to reorient what drives us. Rather than reliance on surface level drivers, existing as activities or presenteeism, we should be ensuring culture is the core pillar from which stem all of our working decisions.
Working in an office or shared space does have the potential to establish relationships, especially for more junior team members, and this more social environment has its place in that respect. That said, just showing up is not enough to establish culture at a company’s core and it’s flawed to equate physical presence in an office with mental focus. Taking one step further, in the circumstance of employees silently suffering with a physical or mental illness but turning up anyway, buying into this belief in presenteeism not only damages productivity, but also employees’ relationships with their jobs and with each other.
So, how do we orient ourselves around culture?
Fundamentally, by ensuring that shared beliefs and values drive recruitment. Doing this, employees do not need to be in the same place to be connected, as they are instead linked by a much stronger bond: what they believe in. That behaviours reflect cultural values means these will also align and cultivate a virtual environment of synchronicity and trust. Pub quizzes, yoga and table tennis are really good fun, and are great at building friendships and a sense of camaraderie, but don’t mistake these for cultural drivers as it runs more deeply than that. It doesn’t just exist within the four walls of an office (or the four corners of a ping pong table!), but should be the nerve centre, binding everyone together, and informing our choices.
At Sparro House, our culture stems from our primary values. The first lies in investment in true remote working. By this I don’t mean working 9-5 from home, but genuine flexibility in how, when, and where you get it done. This feeds into our second core value – being purpose driven. Working style, location, and time do not matter to me as long as we fulfil the brief. Being driven by the objective means that if people want to take slightly different paths to get there, then go for it! Recruiting senior people who share these core values fosters a culture of trust that everyone will complete what’s needed on time and to a high standard. This manifests itself in care, learning, and commitment to one another.
This also means I feel good about increasing my time spent ensuring the welfare of my team members, rather than autocratically imposing rigid boundaries and counter-productive schedules. Encouraging genuine flexibility seems like a no-brainer to me as it allows us to benefit from the expertise of senior professionals whose personal and family lives wouldn’t necessarily allow them to work conventional hours.
This Covid crisis, for example, has hit working parents especially hard. Impacted disproportionately by challenges such as the need to care for children during the day following school closures, mean that they have been unable to dedicate as much focused time to work1. Even outside the context of a global pandemic, a few years ago my own wife found expectations to be in the office during standard working hours incredibly frustrating and stressful after having our children. The old-school timetable and expectation to be present just couldn’t be moulded to the life of a young family, despite her amazing talent and expertise. Throw in a global crisis and it’s unsurprising that we’re experiencing a loss of talented back–to-work parents, especially women, who would add much-needed value to our industry.
This is what Sparro House’s flexible model overcomes; I want to have experts on my teams, and if their core values align with ours, then I can! No matter their personal circumstances.
It’s a win-win situation.
So, we’ve established our shared culture by hiring the right people who share our values. But we mustn’t now disengage; it’s imperative that we constantly maintain and invest in it, and ensure that it’s always in the best condition to inform our decisions. I may not be able to pop over to your desk for a chat, but we are fortunate to be living in a time that technology allows us the luxury of instant face time at the touch of a button, should we require or desire it. Maintaining this contact strengthens our network, but this communication should no longer just be about work, and certainly not to check how many things you’ve ticked off your ‘To Do’ list today. Rather, it revolves around understanding that many of the enjoyments or pressures of our personal lives are also felt by the people we work with. People do not exist solely in their work role, this is just one element of their life, and I think we often forget both this, and the fact that outside of work we likely have many shared experiences. Therefore, contact time with employees should be frequent, but should also now be spent ensuring that all of the other cogs – such as family, children, and health – are meshing smoothly. Maintaining this culture of care feeds trust, which has a positive knock-on effect on work performance, leaving employees feeling fulfilled and motivated, and clients safe in the knowledge that value is being created for their business.
Of course, being able and trusted to work autonomously comes from a certain level of industry experience, and I’ve got to know you can deliver to feel comfortable stepping back. Successfully implementing this, though, fosters a culture that is pervasive and strong, because we have chosen to work in this way, and share the same values. To me, this runs deeper than a few stolen seconds at the water cooler, even if we are a hundred miles apart.
1 According to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education
We’re not your usual creative agency. No office, no expensive back of house team, just a remote-working team of experienced consultants supporting clients across brand, design, digital, integrated marketing and content. We’re a purpose-driven creativ...