A guide to facilitating the Remote Culture Canvas to increase collaboration and productivity

As most organizations are going remote, trust issues are surfacing. Productivity is suffering, people are overwhelmed, and most teams have lost their rhythm.

Few organizations were prepared to embrace remote work. Remote work requires more trust, freedom, and flexibility than usual. Organizations cannot expect people to work the same way but via Zoom; teams must define norms for how they’re going to meet and interact.

How can you keep your culture strong when everyone is working from home?

You have to remote-proof your culture. The Remote Culture Canvas, a simplified version of the Culture Design Canvas, will help you structure that conversation.

The Remote Culture Canvas is a tool to align teams on how to work remotely

How to Use the Remote Culture Canvas

Before the session, assemble the right participants. If your team is small (up to 15 people) everyone should be part of designing the remote culture. If not, choose a small number to lead the design and then involve the rest to get feedback, make adjustments, and get buy-in.

Considering the time pressure to quickly adapt to working remotely due to the Covid-19 quarantine, it’s better to get started than aim for perfection. Consider the Remote Culture Canvas as a living document that you can course-correct; be ready to iterate and update the document.

Also, remote work requires much more trust and flexibility than many organizations are used to. I recommend that companies encourage the different teams to design their way of working remotely. It’s impossible to aim for a one-size-fits-all approach.

Design your team’s remote culture

Create a draft version of the canvas, writing big ideas on large post-its. Think of this as your first prototype. Don’t overthink it. Each participant should do this on their own before they start working together.

The Remote Culture Canvas is a simplified version of The Culture Design Canvas; it has 7 building blocks instead of 10.

If you’ve already have mapped your team culture or have remote work policies, start by capturing those. Then, proceed to work on the canvas, one building block at a time, following these steps.

1. Team Purpose

The purpose is the impact your team wants to create on people and the broader community, not just on the company.

A purpose is the ‘why’ that moves team members into action. Although having a company purpose is vital to drive alignment, a team purpose resonates more. Research shows that subcultures have a bigger impact than company culture; belonging to a team culture can double employee engagement.

The team purpose translates the organization’s purpose for your people. It defines why the team exists and how it supports the organization to achieve its broader purpose.

Use the following three-step process to develop your team purpose:

#1 – What does your team do?

In one sentence, write down what your team does, what it delivers, or what it produces. If your team delivers or produces several things, write them all, and then select the one that represents the majority of the work. For example, ‘Our team designs user-friendly online shopping experiences’.

#2 – Who do you work for?

Identify the different customers or stakeholders that you work for. Choose the top one. For example, are you designing online shopping experiences for B2B customers or individual consumers? Do you focus on a particular segment?

#3 – Why are we doing what we do?

Your team purpose captures why you do what you do. Define the pains and gains of your end customer. What’s the final impact that you can create? Don’t get stuck in details; think beyond functional benefits.

For example, “We deliver user-friendly online shopping experiences so that our clients can spend more time with their families.”

Note: Your team purpose is not a tagline; it should be clear and help everyone understand what the team stands for and what is the ultimate “why” that drives their work.

More examples of team purpose:

“We take care of our advisors, so they can take care of their clients.”

Our team provides efficient support so that our managers can spend more time leading, rather than performing administrative work.

2. Select key priorities

What are the core strategies that will guide focus and energy? Establishing clear priorities is vital to facilitating decision-making.

‘Wow our Customers even over sales profit’ captures Zappos’ customer-centric approach.

Establish clear priorities using even-over statements, especially if your team is not used to working remotely.

Examples of priorities for remote work:

“Trusting each other even over the process.”

“Staying safe even over business results.”

Choose your team’s top three strategies and add them to the Culture Design Canvas.

3. Psychological Safety

High-performing teams need Psychological Safety. It’s the belief that a team or culture is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

Working remotely puts organizational trust to the test.

How does your organization encourage everyone to speak up? How does your team promote participation and candor over groupthink and silence?

Most teams are adapting to being remote and working from home. Team members need to be patient and supportive with each other during the learning curve; people will make mistakes.

At HubSpot, people are encouraged to make mistakes and to learn from them, but not to repeat the same mistake twice.

Also, most organizations suffer from trust issues. Remote work will only exacerbate those tensions. If people don’t trust each other when they sit together, they are certainly not going to trust others remotely.

4. Rituals

Team rituals are constant nudges that move people into action and create a sense of belonging.

Organizations use rituals to kick-off new projects, welcome new hires, celebrate wins, and promote specific mindsets and behaviors, among many other things.

“What are our peculiar ways of starting, managing, or celebrating projects?”

How can you use team rituals to keep the team together when working remotely?

Research by Google reveals that building strong personal connections is vital to support team performance.

Asking “What did you do this weekend?” is an easy way to establish a rapport and build connection. A check-in round is a perfect opportunity to bring people together but also to understand what everyone is going through – especially during these stressful times.

Many remote teams have regular rituals to foster bonding and strengthen relationships. The team at Simon Sinek Inc. practices The Huddle, a weekly video calls devoted to building connections. Rather than discussing business team members share what’s on their hearts and minds; this ritual creates a virtual watercooler.

5. Meetings

We produce our best work interacting and collaborating with others. Meetings are how teams get work done.

However, remote meetings are a different kind of animal. Most people are used to having someone joining a meeting remotely, but not to having the entire team attending from home.

How do we convene and collaborate?

Virtual meetings require more structure and facilitation. Netflix’s culture is one of freedom and responsibility. However, when it comes to meetings, Netflix has a very strict approach: meetings start and end on time.

Assigning a facilitator could help manage meetings more efficiently and make sure everyone has a turn to speak. Using video helps people stay more connected and makes sure they aren’t doing something else, just having the audio of the meetings as background noise.

When completing this block of the Remote Culture Canvas, consider the challenges of meeting remotely. It’s also an opportunity to get rid of unproductive meetings or shorten others.

You can read The Ultimate Guide to Successful Meetings to discover insights, tips, and tools to design better meetings and get rid of useless ones.

6. Norms and Rules

A remote culture requires more flexibility than usual. You can’t expect people to operate the same way when they are challenged by new routines, environments, and technologies.

Dumb rules frustrate people. Rules should enable rather than hinder productivity and collaboration.

How do we clarify expected behaviors without hindering autonomy?

Flexibility is key. Rules should provide trust rather than tell people how to work remotely. Focus on getting things done – on the end result – more than on how people get there.

Some companies expect people to always be online, continually checking their emails, and adhering to the same schedule. Working from home is a little bit more loose – design rules that balance freedom and accountability.

7. Tools

Which collaboration tools will we use?

Working remotely challenges the way team members work together. Mastering remote work requires the right tools, but also the time and practice for people to get used to new technologies and dynamics.

Many organizations are not prepared for working remotely. Some policies prohibit the use of some of the most useful collaboration tools, such as Slack. One of the first things your team has to decide is what’s possible and what’s not as well as how to flex the corporate approach.

Another issue I’m observing is that each individual is used to working with different video or chat tools. Teams must align on using the same tools to facilitate collaboration and make it easy for everyone.

Training is another key obstacle. Selecting the right tools is just the first step; providing your team with the right training to speed up the process is the next. Select those that are the most tech-savvy as mentors that can support their colleagues; IT departments won’t have enough capacity to help the whole company during this transition, so everyone has to step up.

E. Review, Reflect and Adjust

Once the team has completed the Remote Team Culture, it’s time to focus on the bigger picture again. Review the canvas: make sure it’s clear, consistent, and simple.

Use the following checklist:

  • What does your remote team culture stand for? Is it simple and clear?
  • Does your remote team culture help drive alignment?
  • How will you promote psychological safety and trust when people aren’t in the same room?
  • Is your team embracing flexible working policies so people can adapt to the challenges of working from home?
  • Has the team agreed on the right tools to collaborate and communicate?

Master The Remote Culture Canvas

Join our upcoming webinar to learn more about The Remote Culture Canvas and how to use it.

Sign up for our online workshop “Remote-Proof Your Team“. During this virtual session, we’ll help your team:

– Reframe their mental models to adapt to the new reality

– Recover rhythm and productivity

– Apply the Remote Culture Canvas to design how they will work remotely

– Develop new ways of working for when things get back to normal

Email us if you have any questions

Related Reading & Tools

How to Facilitate the Culture Design Canvas

How to Build a Successful Workplace Culture

Credit and attribution

The Remote Culture Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti (Copyright © 2019 by Gustavo Razzetti and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0.

Artwork by Moira Dillon.

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