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Teaching New Hires About Company Culture

Sean: Is it possible to establish a strong culture in a remote work environment? Especially to new hires, the people who have just come in the team and they came not in the office, they came in a zoom meeting. That’s all they’re going to be having until we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Brett: This is where a lot of companies are struggling like now. So the first part of the question is, is it possible to set, to create a strong culture in a remote environment? It’s not only possible. It’s critical. If you don’t do this, the glue between your people will degrade. And you will lose them both from a morale perspective, from a productivity perspective, from an engagement perspective, and maybe from a team perspective.

Because people are looking for stability and they are looking for purpose, and they’re looking for that connection. And they’re looking for that from the company because they can’t get it from their friends. They can’t get it from the family. They can’t get it from the gym. They can’t get it from going for a run because often that’s not available in this pandemic moment.

So talking about companies that are transitioning, this is quite a hard thing to do. And I want to actually use this podcast Sean, to give your leaders and the companies that they run the permission to grieve, we can grieve as you can grieve, and you can mourn for the death of pre-COVID work. It’s dead. It’s not coming back.

There is a, there, there will be a new way of working. There is a new way of working and there will be a new way of working. But essentially the way I like to describe this is we were all on earth, running around in our jeans and shirts and our t-shirts and our jackets.

And, you know, we would walk easily, run easily. We could do what we wanted to do. Unfortunately, earth got obliterated by an asteroid, and we’re now on the moon. And on the moon, you can’t run. You gotta jump. The gravity is different. We’ve got to wear a suit. That’s the way I described this to my customers.

You cannot think back. To what happened on earth and think, but this isn’t the same. I prefer that way, because that way it’s changed now, you will not have worked the way it was. You can grieve for it and get over it as a company and move forward because this is – and so companies that are thinking we can recruit the way we recruited or we can onboard the way we onboarded are naive and it’s dangerous.

Because without documentation, without defining your culture, how does a new person sitting in their lounge learn about your culture? How do they learn about your company’s processes? How do they learn about how you do things? Without documenting effectively, without demonstrating the structure, without building the social connection – they will not meet their team.

So you’ve got to really rethink recruitment. You’ve got to rethink all your processes. You’ve got to define more processes. So in remote, Andres Klinger used to be the head of remote for AngelList, and he’s now a VC. And he said that you need five times the processes in a remote environment than you do in a co-located environment.

So if you were a team of 10 in an office environment, and you’ve now gone remote, you need to think about operating as if you were a team of 50. That’s the amount of structure, process, organization, and discipline that you need to run your organization better. So I really think there is this transition to a hybrid or remote work environment is going to take a lot more force than most leaders realize.

Sean: I learned a lot from that, but I want us to take it a little bit more down to earth, more tactical. Let’s say I have a new hire coming in. How do you suggest that we are able to teach or to share our culture with this new hire?

How can this new hire be immersed with our team’s culture?  Are there steps, softwares, et cetera that we can use and utilize?

Brett: The first thing that has to happen is you have to define your culture because you can’t teach it. If it’s not defined. Osmosis isn’t going to happen anymore. So without osmosis, we are lost. But if you define your culture, then you’ve got to document it.

And so one of the things that remote companies do very, very well, the successful ones is documentation. And it’s documentation to a whole new level to what we used to and what we typically would expect, even in a co-located environment. Let’s assume you documented your culture.

The best onboarding programs do not aim for productivity. Productivity is an outcome of aiming for removing anxiety, developing trust and building relationships with that new person. Relationships build trust, trust build success, trust builds the ability to work effectively. You need to help the new joiner understand the invisible currents.

The way we do things around here of the culture. And typically remote companies use a buddy system for that. You need to allow the new joiner to demonstrate their strengths quickly, not start work, demonstrate their strengths. So you need to understand what their strengths are so that they can demonstrate it to you and to them.

And then you need to create an environment of psychological safety, where the new joiner can be themselves and feel they can bring themselves to your work environment. Then you will get productivity. You have to remember that the onboarding experience serves as the first experience of your culture post interview.

So if your onboarding experience is rubbish, then your culture comes across as rubbish. The best onboarding programs start minus 30, minus 15 days, minus 10 days, minus five days, minus four, minus three, minus two, minus one, zero one, two, three. And the companies have a communication cadence around this. So this is who communicates at minus 15. This is who communicates, and what at minus 10.

The whole point around doing this and documenting this is to overcome the loss of osmosis. If a new joiner joins the sales team and the sales team has seven people. If you don’t document this and you don’t demonstrate it effectively during the onboarding, that new joiner now has to call each one of your sales team and say, “how do you work?”

That’s at least one day of wasted time in terms of man hours. That should have been documented where they could have just read through it at day minus 30, where you gave them access to the internet or access to the documentation. The companies that do this the best are companies like GitLab. So GitLab is, you know they are the grand daddies of remote, really.

They went from less than a hundred and a hundred people in 2016 to 1300 people in 2020. Fully remote and their online company manual is something like if you’ve printed it out 8,000 pages.

Sean: Wow.

Brett: You can go ahead and read it now and you can go and have a look at it. It explains everything. They see the company manual as a competitive advantage.

And they hire people who can, are able to document who are able to write well, because that’s how they work. There are different companies in the remote environment, but they all do  documentation well, because how else do you onboard somebody? How else do you get them up to speed?

What I’m telling you is as a new joiner, your colleagues will say to you, hi, if you want to know about how to work with engineering, look at this link. If you want to work on how to work with marketing, look at this link. If you want to understand our values, look at this link” and actually you will go and look at that page and then you will get drawn to other pages.

It’s very beautiful, it’s actually poetry in documentation structure. It’s beautiful the way you can get lost in the document. And so there is, the problem with office environments is the human being was actually the bottleneck. The bottleneck was my ability to get time to learn from you.

Now at GitLab, there’s no bottleneck. I can read and learn as much as I like. Obviously I’m not, you know, there are probably, I don’t know, maybe four, 300 pages on the team, so you can go and learn. The whole team has documented it. So you can go and learn about who they are, where they work, what they like, where they live. You know, they, their jobs, what they do.

And you can see the links that are important to them. You can go and you can go and understand how the dev ops works. You can go and see how –  you can learn everything about the company. It’s an absolute, you know, it’s a serious competitive advantage. It is there.

It’s open. You can learn anything about that company? I do. I read it all the time. I just go and read the, get that manual for fun.

Sean: Wow, that’s awe-  I’m sure people would learn from that. And I’m sure you are learning from that. That has helped your career. That’s interesting. That’s very, very good to know.

So documentation, I would have to look at how we can do that well, in SEO-hacker, we have process documents onboarding, but not, we are definitely not anywhere near a thousand pages even.

Brett: There are nine best practices that remote work companies do over and above what we would typically do. And the reason I know this is because I started developing software for remote companies. I started researching GitLab, GitHub, Automatic, Buffer, HotJar, Top Tells API and a bunch of others.

And so these nine best practices, one of them is documentation. Another one is communication, building process, developing structure, being really really disciplined and good about social connection. Building trust, enhancing trust, being results and outcomes driven from a leadership point of view. Working hard on recruitment and onboarding, being very aware of mental health, burnout, and wellness, and then generally being deliberate about culture.

So these are the nine things that remote companies have to do because they don’t have an office to do it for them.

Sean: That’s interesting because you mentioned leadership. How do you lead remotely? How is it that when you’re a leader, how can you just motivate and inspire your team remotely?

Brett: It’s not your job to motivate and inspire. It is, partly, but not really.

It’s your job to create, to coach, to create the environment, for your people to succeed and to understand how your people are. So they’re leaders in. Office-based environments where motivators were typically alpha. We’re loud. Like the spotlight, rah, rah, rah. That doesn’t work remotely.

This is one of the mind shifts that is still going to have to take place in this new work world we live in because remote work requires organization. It requires structure as a leader. You need to know where your people are. You need to know what they are doing. You need to know how they are doing remotely.

Remote companies spend a lot more time doing one to ones that have nothing to do with work. It’s just, how are you? How are you doing? Because that used to happen in an office and it doesn’t happen anymore. So, leaders are more like coaches. They are more like facilitators, then they are motivators. And come on, we got to do this.  It’s a different leadership style that 99% of companies have not even thought about yet, is how do we actually lead effectively? If you’re a micromanager, as I said earlier, you will live and end up burning your people out because they will work longer and harder to demonstrate to you that they are working and they won’t get any downtime and they will eventually burn out.

But leadership is another whole area, that change of how we lead is going to have to happen.


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