Culture January 9th, 2020

How To Keep Company Culture In A Remote Worker's World

If there was ever a catch-22 to working at Zappos, it’s this: remote working.

For Zapponians, being away from the office can be a blessing due to the constant distractions of coworkers and culture events. It can also be a curse due to a lack of coworker distractions and culture events.

In a 2013 interview with Business Insider, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said, “We don't really telecommute at Zappos. We want employees to be interacting with each other, building those personal relationships and relationships outside of work as well.”

Of course, this was said during the company’s predawn days of Holacracy where department heads and team managers enforced trickle-down rules. Today, individual teams can vote on what policies they want to implement, such as Donut Mondays, Crochet Tuesdays and Work-From-Home Fridays.

Over the years, remote workers have become more prevalent at Zappos. In fact, the community-driven CEO has always been a proponent of employees coworking outside the office for at least three to four hours a day. “What really kills productivity and culture,” argues Hsieh, “is working from home alone.”

Culture has been, and will always be, an essential tenet of Zappos. Without culture, there wouldn’t be company-sponsored team buildings, happy hours, onsite events or family picnics. Nor would teams be able to walk away from their desks and play nine holes of mini golf.

But what about the 27 full-time employees who work permanently away from Zappos? How do they stay culturally connected?



Merchandiser Kahla Perry, who lives in Seattle, says being in the Pacific Northwest gives her a chance to be closer to her vendors. This means she and her team must get creative with their daily check-ins. Whether that’s using video chat or messaging apps like Slack or Google Hangouts, they’re able to converse more frequently and forge new bonds.

“In a lot of cases, I have connected with each of my team members more personally now that I live in Seattle,” says Perry.

For Porter Littlepage, a software engineer based in San Diego, he says communication is key to his team’s successes. Because his job can require immediate website fixes, he makes every attempt to be readily available whenever his coworkers need help or have questions.

“Working remote comes with the disadvantages of not being able to turn around and talk to a coworker, as well as less visibility into daily routines,” says Littlepage. “So, I try to compensate for those issues by being responsive to their needs and by exceeding their expectations. This builds trust and rapport with my teammates despite not sitting in the same room.”

Whether you’re a remote worker or have a permanent desk, communication is still a very critical part of the job. However, this is only one method to make people feel connected. Here are a few more ways Zapponians unite with their long-distance staff:  


1. Celebrate personal milestones

Work anniversaries, birthdays and new babies are a cause for celebration. Just because remote workers are out of sight doesn’t mean they should be out of mind. Zapponians are encouraged to send silly, thoughtful or congratulatory cards for their colleagues. And if we want to make that person feel extra special, ordering them lunch, cupcakes or balloons for home delivery is not out of the question.

2. Schedule regular visits

When creating a budget for the department, teams across Zappos make sure to account for their coworkers to visit. This is often done for company meetings, team buildings and to complete seasonal holiday help hours. When it comes to our team, we try to bring everyone in for our quarterly All-Hands meeting and happy hour. An out-of-office activity and/or lunch before the meeting is an excellent opportunity for us to do a little extra bonding.

3. Gamify the ordinary

Gamification is the application of putting game playing elements into non-game environments. Points can be earned for simple things, such as being the first to send the team a good morning message or who ends the day with the most sent emails. For example, Zappos uses an internal currency aptly named Zollars, which can be exchanged for company swag. This type of gamification is used for remote and non-remote workers alike, with everyone having an equal chance to earn rewards and recognition.

4. Give recognition when it's due

Everyone likes to get an occasional pat on the back. Positive reinforcement goes a lot further than criticism, and remote workers shall not be excluded. Regular shout-outs to remote employees on a group email or Slack message can remind them they are appreciated. Even a simple “great job on that rewrite!” can encourage someone to continue performing well, even when they aren’t in the office.

5. Let their true selves to shine

Brené Brown describes authenticity as, “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” It’s essential to embrace everyone’s unique personalities, no matter how physically close they may sit next to you. Regardless if it’s sending an icebreaker email or setting up a virtual coffee session, discovering your coworker's interests and hobbies can go a long way in formulating relationships inside and outside of the office.

Remotely working can be challenging at times, but with constant communication, a sense of belonging, innovation and yes, a little fun and weirdness, far apart team can come closer together.


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