Many South African businesses offer working remotely as a perk, but how do you keep up team spirit, brand culture and communication when people work from home? Our Operations Manager and Snr. IMS, Sarah Mills, shares how we promote collaboration with our remote employee team building activities.
Although it was nearly two years ago, I’ll never forget the day Spitfire Inbound made me an offer. I was ecstatic when I received the email from Annemie Burger, our HR Director. Not only was it a the perfect position (one where I knew I belonged), but also because of the attractive nature and culture of the agency itself. I just knew in my gut that it would be an excellent fit.
One of the key selling points for me was the ability to work remotely. When I had my first interview, I was told that various team members worked from home when needed.
Coming from the hospitality industry (which, by definition, works according to rosters no matter what your role), I was in awe. This must be the dream people speak about!
As a horse rider, my ability to ride my horse during the day is limited. I’m also an avid runner, and enjoy starting my day with exercise, as it clears my head. Being able to work with a flexible schedule means I can fit both my horse and running schedule in - without compromising on my work quality and output at all.
Working remotely is in Spitfire Inbound’s DNA
From day one, founders Alison Leishman and Darren Leishman promoted the concept of allowing team members to work from home when they have a “head down” task to do. This allowed us to work without the traditional open-office distractions.
As the Spitfire Inbound team grew to what it is today, we soon noticed that working remotely didn’t seem as easy as it initially appeared. With so many team members out of the office, what impression would it give clients and fellow employees alike? There are some days when the office looks like a ghost town 😱
The answer lies in #SpitfireCulture and what follows - team spirit
As a member of the agency’s leadership team, I have a squadron to manage - and with that comes the challenges of managing a remote team.
Managing a remote team
The remote working culture that we’ve adopted doesn’t mean that the team works “from home” permanently. We only do it if and when needed.
One of the most critical parts of our remote culture is that, if you’re working remotely, it shouldn’t impact anyone else in the business. You need to be readily available for your colleagues to contact you if they need help.
We’ve enforced certain boundaries to ensure that we can all enjoy our flexi hours, while still keeping the business running smoothly. If you want to work remotely, you need to clear it with your manager first, to ensure that someone from your squadron will be in the office. Once you’ve cleared it with your line manager, you then need to notify the rest of the team in the Whatsapp group.
Trust is the single most important element to a remote culture. Without trust, your equation simply won’t work.
How to build trust amongst your staff
- Lead by example
If you want your staff to display reliable and trustworthy behaviour, you need to do the same. If you disappear off the grid the minute you step out of the office, they’ll take this as their cue to do the same. If you miss deadlines and prioritise your private life over work, your team will see that as the norm. Remember, culture filters from the top down.
- Communicate clearly and openly
Keep your staff in the know. There’s nothing that breaks a team down faster than miscommunication and uncertainty.
Discuss problems as they arise, and clear the air before little things fester.
- Get to know each other on a personal level
As your team grows this becomes increasingly challenging, however it’s vital to team spirit and the health of your company culture, to ensure that you all know each other on a fairly personal level. When you know the general status of someone’s personal life, it’s easier to show empathy, support each other and avoid taking things to heart if someone is going through a rough patch.
- Create an inclusive environment
Cliques kill company culture and productivity. You don’t need everyone to be best friends, but you need to build an inclusive environment if you want to avoid catty squabbles and backbiting.
- Avoid playing the blame game
Honest mistakes happen. If you start pointing fingers and passing blame, you’ll undermine trust and lower staff morale. Encourage staff to reframe failure as a learning opportunity and help them find a way to move forward constructively, to avoid the same situation in the future.
Skills are great, but hiring for a cultural fit is better
Hire for the cultural fit. I’m by no means saying the skills don’t need to be there (they most definitely do), but when it comes to culture, it’s critical that your entire team fits the mould. If you place the right person, in the right role, the skills will follow. It’s a given - people flourish when they’re happy.
A bug in the culture code can be detrimental to your employee and team relations.
When I attended INBOUND 17 last year, one of my biggest takeaways was the importance of the culture code. Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot, stresses the importance of their culture code. It’s a document that appeals not only to the right talent, but also to current and prospective clients.
As an inbound marketing agency and HubSpot Gold Partner, we pride ourselves on partnering with our clients and finding the solution that best suits them.
When clients experience our passion and authenticity through our culture, our retention and acquisition rates are higher. This is because they know they have found a partnership they can rely on. They know they won’t have to deal with new faces every few months, because a happy, cohesive team is likely to stay that way.
It brings consistency to the table. Consistent skills, consistent relationships and, most importantly consistent high standards.
Backing up your company culture with the right productivity tools
It is vital to have the right project management system in place.
Part of our culture is logging timesheets, and ensuring that we’re both efficient and profitable for the business. We use various tools like WorkflowMax, HubSpot and Basecamp to help us stay on top of our deadlines, and we collaborate via the cloud (using Google Drive and the G-Suite). This allows the team to collaborate seamlessly at any time, from anywhere.
With this being a unified goal, it’s entrenched in all team members that this part of the culture isn’t a negotiable. This is what’s helping us make business decisions.
How does our remote working culture affect clients?
It doesn’t. Put quite simply, our clients are the focus of our business - from acquisition through to growth and retention. Having a flexible working culture means you have the ability to arrange your day, but by no means should this compromise on client work and output.
We’re results driven, and nothing stands in the way of that.
How do we build team spirit with a remote working culture? It’s all about collaboration, trust and transparency.
Firstly, F*KK*N FOCUS! (We mean it)
We have a daily huddle at 08h15, where we share wins from the previous day, our key focus for the day, as well as any challenges or learnings from the day before. The beauty of this meeting, is that although it can be done around a table, it can be done on the Whatsapp group too.
No matter where you’re working from, you can send a message to the group before your meeting (or even the night before), or dial in if you are stuck in traffic.
It’s become an integral part of our team culture. This way whether you’re in the office or not, you know what your teammates are doing, you’re updated on client progress (giving you a holistic view of the business) and it builds a sense of camaraderie.
Every morning, without fail, we get to have a few good laughs and start the day on a positive note.
Some other ways to build team spirit in the office
Some other interesting techniques adopted at businesses around the world, include fitness accountability, out-of-the-office meetings, and shared learning. These are a few of the things we’re working on building into our remote culture.
Kayako suggests a fitness accountability per team. Being a fitness fanatic myself, I love this idea! It’s monitored through a dedicated channel like Slack, and each team member shares their stats from the day or week. The benefits are twofold: firstly it keeps the team communication going, and secondly it counters the negative effects of stress, keeping everyone productive, healthy and happy.
Having meetings outside of the office is another way we encourage team spirit. A different space can promote a totally fresh and creative mindset. Our strategic team meets offsite once a month to discuss trending topics, and brainstorm new ideas for the business.
Stay curious through shared learning
Kayako also suggests creating a fun activity that people don’t want to miss. They suggest activities like sharing interesting articles, new tools, or even playing an online game together during breaks.
This advice ties in beautifully to Darren’s favourite saying: “stay curious”.
Alison (who’s also extremely passionate about ongoing learning) created a team initiative which we’ve dubbed Spitfire Flight Academy. This is where people can share learnings, try their hand at writing copy, design something, or introduce a new concept to the business. It’s a ‘braindump’ website that isn’t available to the public, which encourages collaboration and the sharing of ideas.
Our monthly FirePen
Every month, we have a Friday afternoon get together with our sister company, Penquin, where we share news (celebrating promotions, birthdays and anniversaries), bond over a glass (or two) of wine and unwind as a team.
At Spitfire Inbound we work hard, we work together, we learn and we grow as individuals and a business - and working remotely does not limit or inhibit our ability to do this. In fact, I would be as bold as to say it enhances it.
Looking for more insights into productivity? Download our guide Navigating Productivity: Some thought starters for more tips and tool suggestions.