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Cultural Fit in Remote Teams: Important Lessons for CEOs

Cultural Fit in Remote Teams: Important Lessons for CEOs

Let’s be honest, it’s pretty much impossible to know if an employee will fit into your company’s culture. And it doesn’t matter if it’s an in-person or remote hire.

But is there a way to get an idea before making the decision to hire? The answer may surprise you. In fact, not only will you be surprised, you may be inclined to use it to measure cultural fit in remote teams.

Let’s start with a broad question.

What is Culture?

Humans have been developing cultures for hundreds of thousands of years, and without culture, our world would be less diverse because it encompasses everything we’ve created — art, philosophy, language, behaviors, norms, processes, and more.

The word culture comes from the Latin word colere, meaning “to till, to inhabit, care for, worship.” Worship? Yes, because the word cult comes from the same root word.

Interesting fact: The modern understanding of culture can be attributed to the ancient Roman statesman, lawyer, and orator Cicero. He used an agricultural metaphor to describe how humans cultivate the soul — cultura animi. Some people would say culture is what makes us human, it’s what we create using our big brains and neocortexes.

With that basic understanding of human culture we can now look at what corporate (organizational) culture is and what you need to know to build or repair your remote company culture.


3 Steps to Hire for Cultural Fit in Remote Teams

The first step to solving the cultural fit problem is to sit down and think about the following:

  • What is your culture?
  • What’s it based on?

During the pandemic, many people learned that their corporate culture wasn’t about the free snacks, fancy open-space floor plan, nor the regular-old team building activities. In reality, culture begins to form starting from day 1, and encompasses everything a company cultivates — processes, practices, and interactions.

Ok, that may sound obtuse, so let’s look at what makes up culture. From our research, we found that the bedrock of culture is company values.

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If it’s your company, then you could say your company inherited your values. For example, transparency, empathy, and responsibility are examples of values. It is then how you implement those values that forms your culture. In other words, values don’t change, unlike culture, which evolves and requires many iterations. Culture is the daily expression of your core company values.

The second step is figuring out what your values are.

  • What are my company’s values?
  • Do my employees know about them?

You have values, no doubt about it, but do your colleagues know your company values? It turns out, one of the most famous and successful fully-remote companies in the world, GitLab (started by Ukrainians by the way), actually looks at candidates based on if their values fit with GitLabs’. It actually makes sense when you think about it — a person’s values, rather than if they “fit in” to your culture, should be your (or your hiring manager’s) priority.

And the third step is writing a handbook if you don’t have one yet. GitLab has some great tips on writing a company handbook. In general, GitLab recommends creating detailed documentation — not as a form of bureaucracy — but as a way to ensure everyone is on the same page, with one single source of truth. If you already have a handbook, don’t forget to revisit it, share it with new hires during onboarding, and don’t preserve it

Now let’s look at some good and bad examples of corporate culture.


Good and Bad Examples of Corporate Culture

Culture starts at the top — the very top — from the founder(s) of the company on the very first day. Culture begins with values, but for many reasons, there can be a mismatch between the two.

To unpack this subject, let’s look at some quick examples.

#1 — The “Two-faced” Culture

Take your average, run-of-the-mill outsourcing agency. They offer individual software engineers or teams of engineers for all kinds of projects. The company culture is plastered on the walls, along with Steve Jobs quotes. Like most agencies, they preach about honesty, transparency, and generally accepted values.

Sounds like they have a great corporate culture, right?

Well, let’s not be so quick to make conclusions. What’s really going on behind the scenes is — the agency is offering clients Junior engineers and “selling” them as Seniors. Obviously, completely dishonest, opaque, and immoral.

So how can that agency’s CEO expect employees to follow the (correct) values instead of what they see every day reflected in the (fake) culture? The people running the show are being hypocritical and are actually breaking the values that the company pretends to hold dear. This type of hypocritical culture will never work — neither in-office nor remotely. And to be clear, you can find analogous examples in any industry.

#2 — The “Family” Culture

One of the most hated types of culture is the “we are a family” gimmick. No one believes their colleagues are family. Full stop.

Family is family, and work is work. It’s not even necessary for people at work to like each other because work is about getting things done. So if you’re trying to build a family atmosphere in a remote workspace, it’s never going to be what you think it is. If you think calling your remote team a family will make them work harder or be less likely to take a better job offer — you’re wrong.

Everyone sees through this facade, trust us.

#3 — The “Keep it Real” Culture

Ready for it? You actually do what you say you do.

Do you value transparency? Be transparent. If there’s something holding back a team member and they feel scared or worried about speaking up — guess what — your company is going to slow down and productivity will fall.

Do you value clear communication? Communicate with your team on a regular basis. Not for the sake of ticking a box, but actually investing your time to learn about your employees.

Do you value empathy? Treat your employees well. Make the extra effort to find out about their interests, and what may be bothering them. Create an atmosphere where people feel safe and secure.

Keep it real, and practice what you preach.


Replacing Cultural Fit in Remote Teams with Values Fit

One, if not the, most important thing we discovered is GitLab’s approach to remote work. Especially how they have a proven work culture, yet hire based on values, and not cultural fit. FYI, if you’re currently working with remote teams or plan on doing so in the future, check out GitLab’s company handbook, which details how everything at GitLab is run.

GitLab’s six core values are 1) Collaboration, 2) Results, 3) Efficiency, 4) Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, 5) Iteration, and 6) Transparency.

Realistically speaking, not everyone who you hire wants to work for your company specifically. Some people just need a job, and some don’t really like to get into the “cliquey” mindset. The point is — the candidate’s values and your company values have to be aligned.

That’s the beauty of remote. As long as the person you’re hiring is a values fit, it doesn’t matter where they come from. This allows you to expand your search to different geographic locations, and find talented, passionate people that want to work with the best.

Takeaways and Action Points

Hiring for cultural fit in remote teams is a fruitless endeavor. The reason is that finding someone who “fits in” should be applied only to values. Here is a list of action points you can implement in your remote team hiring process.

  • Iterate culture like you would do with documentation or optimizing code
  • Write and maintain a handbook that details the most important processes and policies in your company
  • Embrace paid trial periods as a way to make sure values are aligned
  • Look to successful remote companies like GitLab for inspiration and advice (GitLab is like an open book)

We all know that hiring eats up a big portion of your time and money. Before the interview process ever starts, there’s a length recruiting and selection phase. And at the end of the day, you can’t guarantee anything.

Bridge can help you find talent, onboard that talent, and support your remote team for everything from fine-tuning communication to office supplies and office space.

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