Virtual Culture Across the Globe
One of the questions I receive most often by interviewing candidates, clients, and business partners is how we craft a culture given our semi-virtual and totally global footprint. The truth is, developing a culture across time, space, internet connections, and conference tables, could be its own full-time job. Snipp has employees in India, Switzerland, Ireland, US, and Canada with some working out of hub offices and others working out of their own homes. The time zones, accents, and local culture are part of Snipp’s flare and we take advantage of these differentiators wherever possible.
To give you a peek into how we create a culture from our keyboards, I’ll walk you through some of the primary ways we communicate, our shared experiences, and how we take advantage of face-to-face visits and the office locations. But the first step to understanding our culture, is learning about how we appreciate our employees and set the ground rules of what we expect from Snippsters.
In his famed book on leadership, Creating Magic, Lee Cockerell, former EVP of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort, states, “Take care of your people and they will take care of your business, not just because they have to but because they want to.” Cockerell’s servant leadership approach proved successful as he oversaw arguably one of the world’s best resorts for over 10 years. Taking this people approach to Snipp started almost a year ago, when we launched an employee appreciation program called Snipp Stars.
Snipp Stars recognizes and rewards individuals who showcase the four criteria that comprise the STAR acronym: Strategic, Teamwork, Attitude, and Resolve. I worked with a team of employees nominated for our Star Committee to develop this criterion and the process for receiving Star nominations monthly. Employees can only nominate individuals who are not their manager and not their direct report; cross-company nominations are highly encouraged.
Since launching the program we’ve rewarded 57 Snipp Stars which represent employees from every department and region. The STAR acronym represents the culture we work to build at Snipp with great focus on actions that support our corporate strategy, working across teams, showing up with positivity, and finally having the grit and confidence to persevere.
When you are 8,000 miles away from a coworker, you use all the communication tools available in your tool belt. In her book, Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, Darlene Price emphasizes the importance of non-verbal communication, “In some studies, nonverbal communication has been shown to carry between 65% and 93% more impact than the actual words spoken, especially when the message involves emotional meaning and attitudes.” The concept that non-verbal communication carries more weight than words is not a new concept, but implementing the idea is often easier said than done. A web conference and certainly a face-to-face conversation can sometimes be impossible to pull off. So how do we keep the communication effective and continuous?
Aside from the typical email correspondence, we rely heavily on Glip which is a chat tool that works across desktops and phones. Beyond just the stray one-on-one correspondence, we’ve developed group chats for each team, project, and across the company. Work appropriate pictures, smiley faces, and GIFs are encouraged and often provide that extra non-verbal understanding that straight messaging can’t add. The conversation isn’t strictly work all the time either. One of my favorite chats is regularly used to discuss what everyone is having for lunch or their weekend plans. In a company where a trip to the water cooler could take weeks, we develop the same conversations in our chats.
While we love the flexibility chatting provides, there is a time and a place for web conferences. I personally spend several hours a day on web conferences, some planned, but most unscheduled, to connect with employees, ask questions, work through issues, or update multiple people at once. These sessions provide that much needed human touch to a normally digital day and help to remind everyone that there is another person on the other side of the messages.
Lunch ‘n Learns
One of the largest web conferences we host is our monthly Lunch ‘n Learn which was ironically named as, due to all the time zones, it occurs at 8:00pm India/ 3:30pm Cork / 10:30am ET/ 7:30 am PT. Turns out this is no one’s lunch time! Nevertheless, the entire company meets monthly to review company goals, hear the winners of the employee appreciation program, Snipp Stars, and see a show case from one of our department’s recent projects. Everyone has an opportunity to ask questions, bring forward ideas, and learn about what their peers are achieving.
A core component of Snipp culture is the shared experiences we cultivate across groups and teams. In 2016, two studies performed at Yale, showed that people found experiences more pleasurable and meaningful, no matter the activity, if they did the activity with another person. I’ve witnessed the power of shared experiences often at Snipp and see how a foundation of positive past moments leads to more successful projects and issue resolution. Some of our shared experiences occur sporadically like an inside joke that a colleague’s dog always barks at the worst time during a conference call. Other experiences are more organized and provide us with a backdrop of memories and even pictures to look back on.
A recent addition for Snipp is our book club which was organized by, Nick Butt, Director of SnippCheck and Process, in our Engineering department. The club is passive and allows members to see what others are reading, chat about books in the allocated Glip chat, and browse employee recommendations. The library of recommendations is work related with categories such as Communication, Leadership, Creativity, and Organization. We even have a Podcast page to see what employees are tuning into. I’m thrilled to see this club pop-up in our environment and excited to share knowledge with my coworkers.
Another example of organized experiences are our holiday celebrations. My favorite holiday celebration is our Annual Halloween Costume Contest. We use our own product to allow employees to submit Halloween pictures of themselves and their families via email or text message. We have a panel of judges who review and score the pictures and award gift cards for Best Adult Costume, Best Kid’s Costume, and Best Pet Costume. The pictures are then used for a collage featured on our intranet.
We run similar programs for St. Patrick’s Day and have even had a round of sharing Throwback Thursday pictures on our company-wide chat.
Holiday Parties and Gift Exchange
Lastly, we do take the time to celebrate the winter holidays across the company. Office hubs have a budget for food and activities and send around pictures of the festivities. Employees who work remotely but are closely located meet up for dinner and drinks. We even run a virtual holiday party for our employees who are far removed from each other and use a web conference to share holiday experiences and plans. Most offices, including virtual employees, participate in a gift exchange that allows employees to learn a little bit about one another and treat each other.
From time to time, we do get the opportunity to visit offices and try to capitalize on those visits. I’ve been lucky enough to visit our Ireland and Toronto offices and have also met up with groups of employees in Texas, Baltimore, DC, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Chicago. During these trips many of our employees exchange gifts and items specific to the place they are from. We’ve even had employees request that travelers take gifts back to teammates who work at another location.
Part of our culture is recognition that not everyone is virtual and some of our teams do benefit from being in office. We run yearly, location based Townhalls to connect with individual offices and collect feedback from a smaller group of people who may have location specific concerns, ideas, or questions. We also provide offices with a snack and holiday budget to ensure teams can mingle over food and celebrate together.
At Snipp, we’ve found that there is no one way to make a culture. Our quirky, hectic, and hustle style comes from a combination of almost a hundred personalities dispersed across the world. Much like our backgrounds, our approach to building a company culture is broad and always growing. We are proud of our year-over-year employee satisfaction increase and plan to continue to improve our current 91% employee satisfaction rating. So far, we’ve seen great positive returns on our approach to employee appreciation, communication, shared experiences, visits, and offices.
COO, Snipp Interactive