How to Build A Remote Work Startup Dream Team
How Startups Should Think about Remote Work
Do you put people or products first in your company? That's a bit of a trick question. A chicken or the egg kind of thing. Because people create the product or service you want to take to market, making it hard to separate the two. And if you want to run a company that people are happy working at, you'll need a company culture for them to rally around and tools for them stay connected with each other.
Unfortunately, many founders think building and cultivating a company culture is a waste of already precious time. But, you want to create a foundation upon which great work gets done and an environment where team members are encouraged and empowered. And this is especially relevant in a world where remote and hybrid work models are the new norm. So, how do you build the right culture for your business and identify talent that will thrive in it? Well, you have to know what you’re building before you start construction.
Let's start by squaring away an important misconception: Building company culture isn't about hiring people with the same personality, interests, and hobbies. You need different personalities for different types of roles. True culture is about establishing shared values, beliefs, and buy-in to the company's mission. It's about being unified in where you want the business to go.
Someone who doesn't believe in your startup's mission won't fit the culture and thus won't be motivated to work and fulfill the company's purpose. So, it is worth studying, confirming, gaining consensus, and creating a mental model with your team about the company's shared goals. That can be as simple as posting your core values on your website and scheduling time to discuss how they translate into behaviors at work.
Now, with the proliferation of remote and hybrid work models, HR teams are focused on defining culture more than ever because they can't observe it on a day-to-day basis like they used to. Giving remote teams a sense of common cause is a powerful way to create connectivity among team members separated by great distances, which results in better work and less attrition.
The key takeaway here is intentionality. Company culture isn't something you build on an ad-hoc basis. If you don't concretely define these values and belief sets, you won't get the talent you need, especially for remote workers who can't physically experience it. Asking yourself questions like, 'what kinds of rituals do we want that will enhance connection?' or 'how do we want our people to communicate?' is great to get the ball rolling on creating that cultural definition.
Of course, what would any form of advice be without a caveat? Here's ours when it comes to this topic: If your definition of company culture is too rigid and tightly controlled, you risk building a company void of diversity. A helpful way to navigate this problem when hiring talent is to ask yourself during the interview process, 'will this person be a culture additive?'
Through this frame of reference, your company culture has the room to evolve in a way that embraces different perspectives and lived experiences while not compromising common goals and values. So, remember, you can have a defined company culture and seek diversity. You can hire people with different pronouns, skin color, or personal beliefs than you, but as long as everyone buys into the company's shared purpose, your team will learn more and be better off for it.
Giving remote teams a sense of common cause is a powerful way to create connectivity among team members separated by great distances, which results in better work and less attrition.
Tools for Staying Connected
So, you've defined your company's culture. This means it's time to implement and activate it. A good place to start is by looking in the rearview mirror and documenting the company's history. When you catalog why the company started and how it came to be, people will engage with that story and feel like they're part of something larger than themselves. Share the story with team members when they're onboarding, so they're a part of the narrative from the moment they start working for you. Put it on your website, and provide a timeline of how your company has grown over time, so your team members know where they fit into the bigger picture.
Having a digital central meeting point — like a company intranet — where you can post information is a great tool to keep your teams connected. Giving your employees a one-stop-shop where they can do everything from accessing HR systems to reading up on company news makes sense for convenience alone. But it's also another touchpoint for you to reinforce your company values and goals.
Other specific tools that come to mind are Slack and HelloTeam. With Slack — or any messaging platform — you can set it up to send out your company values on a predetermined, recurring basis, so they're always fresh on people's minds. We've even seen teams design their own emojis for Slack to make the experience of communicating with team members feel more personal and intentional. Never underestimate the power of rituals and norms, no matter how quirky or small they are.
HelloTeam is an employee engagement tool with recognition features that makes a public space for team member affirmation and acknowledgment. If you've ever wanted to thank a team member for their project contributions or create a rewards program for outstanding work, this is a great resource. It can also plug into your HR database and create a visually appealing interface for anything from org charts to performance management. This could be particularly valuable to remote team members who aren't sure where their role fits in the larger picture of the company.
And if you're interested in a low-tech, straightforward solution, create a core values document that gets shared with employees during the onboarding process. And if you want to make that document really actionable, include specific behaviors expected of team members so they can see how those values manifest in real life. But whichever tools or ideas you pursue, set them up as early as possible. It's much harder to implement this once your teams are built and off to the races.
Never underestimate the power of rituals and norms, no matter how quirky or small they are.
Hiring the Team
Now, it is true that HR and leadership teams need to figure out how to adapt to the advent of hybrid and remote work models. But that doesn't mean we're throwing all our best practices out the window. For example, if you're already scaling your business, build a planning mechanism for working closely with finance so you're clear on your hiring priorities and how each role will contribute to the company's growth. You can burn through cash fast if you've mistakenly created duplicate roles or brought people on too quickly, so put in the time to define your talent needs.
Furthermore, create a system where you identify all the duties and responsibilities and a clear mission for each employee to gain efficiency in the hiring process. You'll attract candidates once you get your job description up on job boards, but they're more likely to accept an offer if you can clearly explain what they'll do and how they'll contribute.
For many founders, it helps to think of the hiring process in sales terms. For instance, you don't simply tell your sales team, "go out and start earning revenue." You build a revenue plan that's segregated by different products or roles, and that dictates the number of calls your team has to make to meet goals, and so on and so on. Building a talent pipeline isn't all that different from creating and managing a sales one.
Now, one of the gravest mistakes you can make is hiring a candidate just because they're likable and has the right general background. Those are great places to start, but the key to hiring well is defining what the person in that role does because then you can identify what specific skills and qualifications candidates need to complete tasks. Once you’ve established those parameters you can start to think about hiring for organizational fit.
And if you’re hiring remote teams, you’ll have to do a little extra defining around their job expectations. Specifically, you won’t be able to effectively observe how many hours they work a day like you would if they were in an office. You’ll need to implement results-based metrics to assess their performance. That way, your employees don’t feel micro-managed from afar and will be more willing to interact with the remote culture you want to build.
Of course, once you've made a hire, you want their onboarding process to be as smooth as possible, otherwise, they're less likely to buy into your company culture from the start. Work to ensure you provide adequate IT support and equipment and that all their accounts are set up before their first day. The goal is to make their first day about impact instead of admin; about meeting with other team members and showing them where to find the information and resources they'll need to succeed.
Will they remember everything they're told or shown from their first day? Likely not. And that's yet another reason to have a company intranet where information is stored in a central location. Here's how to file an expense report or contact IT if you're experiencing computer issues — new hires will find that invaluable. Also, don't forget to share important information during the onboarding process or recreate the experience for every new employee. There's a simple and low-tech fix for that: Make a checklist. It's a great way to achieve consistency and not let items fall through the cracks.
Some founders like to assign homework during the onboarding process. They'll create content from videos to articles and podcasts that can be shared with new employees and allows them to hear the business owner(s) talk about the company. Hearing from the people that started the company always has an impact and helps new hires get up to speed faster on the company's values, history, and objectives. Producing content like this is also beneficial if you're building remote teams.
Giving new hires the time to get to know their new team members is also valuable. How you go about doing that will likely depend on the size of your business. If your company is small, say no more than 20 people, you might encourage your new employee to reach out to other team members individually to set up quick meet and greet video calls. But if you have over 100, you might need to create a framework for them to follow for reaching out to team members.
Also, schedule weekly check-ins during their first month to see whether they're experiencing any conflicts or barriers. The truth is, challenges often arise that founders don't think about or run into on a regular basis, so giving new hires the space to ask questions about what they're dealing with will pay off for everyone involved.
Lastly, as your business grows, you should conduct a new team member survey at their 30-day and 60-day marks, depending on how much data you want to collect. First, it allows them to provide valuable feedback after they've distilled down what the company and their jobs are like, what they've heard, and how they feel about things. Eventually, you want an HR team that makes decisions based on data, so the sooner you start collecting this kind of information, the more effective your entire HR operation will be.
Hearing from the people that started the company always has an impact and helps new hires get up to speed faster on the company's values, history, and objectives
Defining team members' tasks and responsibilities can get pretty in the weeds, so let’s take a step back to address something a little more high-level. When hiring and building a team, think about the archetypal roles you'll need to make that team balanced and successful.
- The Visionary: This is the person who gets projects rolling. They execute and make things happen behind the scenes, so hiring them early is ideal.
- The Socializer: This person brings the team together. They remember people's birthdays, schedule team outings, and create a sense of belonging across the organization. And be warned, this is not everyone's forte. So, identifying someone who possesses these abilities naturally and thrives when entrusted with this kind of role is invaluable for team cohesion.
- The Optimist: These individuals have incredible resilience and help teams work through rough times like project frustration or rejection. You can't let setbacks like those slow you down, so have an Optimist on the team who pushes everyone else with their contagious energy and hopefulness. You can't afford to have your team lose its motivation and momentum, so having someone on the team who can be that tenacious champion boosts your company's chances of success.
- Devil’s Advocate: These individuals foster healthy conflict and discourse while not making anything personal. It's their job to poke holes in ideas and avoid groupthink. An advantage to assigning this role is it removes some of the potential interpersonal friction that comes with criticism if your team knows that it's this person's job to look for mistakes because they also want to build the best product possible.
- Customer Advocate: They're always thinking about client feedback and constantly asking questions like, 'what can we do to improve and make this better?' And while a Visionary might ask questions like, 'What's the best Saas program we can create?' a Customer Advocate is thinking about the features and functions it will take to create a seamless and enjoyable experience for users. Having someone stand up for the client's point of view in meetings is a great way to never lose sight of your most important audience.
Whether you want to explicitly assign these personas or archetypes to your team is up to you, though we've seen it done to great success. It can help people visualize what they bring to the table if you map it out and makes everyone aware of where their team members' strengths and blind spots are, thus helping with intrateam communication and making sure a role doesn't fall through the cracks.
A potentially significant challenge to overcome with your employees is managing the various personalities and communication styles they bring to the table. One of the best qualities you can hire for —and reinforce in your company's values — is self-awareness. Having team members that know themselves, what they're good at, and how others interpret their behavior makes a company's workflow much smoother. Because ultimately, all of this affects how teams communicate. And if you have two dominant personalities working together, they need the self-awareness to know and communicate how to share responsibilities. Or if an abstract thinker and a linear thinker are tackling a project together, they need to know how to express themselves, so they understand each other's point of view.
One way to get ahead of communication missteps is to encourage your teams to talk about how they process information and approach projects. This is especially relevant for remote teams who can't pick up on as many social cues as they would if they were working together in person. And by giving your team members the space to talk about this, you're encouraging them to trust each other and build relationships that aren't purely transactional.
Another great tool at your disposal for this subject is personality tests. From StrengthsFinder to DISC, there are plenty of assessments available that empower teams to create a shared language and see where there are overlaps and gaps in their communication styles and personalities. Illustrating these similarities and differences informs team members on how to talk to each other, collaborate, and set expectations respectfully and productively.
There are a few personality traits and communication styles that don't often show up on these tests that you should incorporate into your processes. The first one is whether your team member is past or future-oriented. This is especially relevant for startups because that's an environment in which you're constantly thinking, what's next? Try to build teams that are balanced in this regard because you don't want a group that's only ruminating on past mistakes, but you also don't want a team that doesn't leverage past learnings. The other attribute to watch is uncertainty tolerance. Startup teams often have little to no structure, lots of ambiguity, and high volatility, so understanding how your team handles that pressure is crucial. If you know which of your team members needs more clear instruction and project definition and those that don't will help keep your employees happier and make them feel understood.
Put it All Together
Remember that anything worth doing is worth doing well. You can be as intentional with your efforts to define your startup’s culture and follow all of these tips to the letter, and it’ll still take time for your company’s values and belief set to become second nature. And that’s okay. Over time, as you continue to tend to and nurture the culture you’re cultivating, much like a garden, the roots will take hold. And your teams will be better off for it.
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This post is sourced from Episode 3 of our Waitroom Session, "Building Remote Teams" with special guests Michelle Hayes and Nikki Blacksmith.