Building Remote Cultures Before, During and After Zoom Pandas

Janel Ryan, SailPoint and Jordan Shapiro, Cato Networks

Following a Zoom call where our CRO showed up dressed as a panda, it got me thinking about how remote cultures can work really well. That one seemingly silly act spawned a much larger conversation with a former co-worker where we were suddenly bouncing ideas off each other on how to excel in our remote environments.

With juggernauts like Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft rethinking their remote working policies it’s a timely discussion. There are right and wrong ways to implement a remote culture, but once you’ve made the decision or had it forced upon you by a pandemic, it’s important to do it correctly. These are a few of the ways we saw a path forward in this new normal (and the paths to avoid).

Humans + Technology = Success

It takes the right mix of people and technology to make a remote culture work. Whatever flavor that may take for you depends on the tools and resources your team needs, but the lesson is this: People drive innovation. When your team is connected and has a desire to make an impact, nothing can stop them… except perhaps technology or lack thereof. Your technology must enable your team to stay connected, work efficiently together from wherever they are, and keep them focused on making an impact.

Learn As You Go

How do you build a culture that: connects team members around the world, works for a rapidly growing organization and respects people’s time and workloads?  As the HR lead in the Americas for Cato Networks, a rapidly growing networking and security startup, Jordana Shapiro is striving to build an effective remote culture in a widely dispersed workforce. According to Shapiro, with a half of the workforce being remote and Headquarters thousands of miles away, it is like “trying to connect several different cultures.”

Get Back to Your Roots

For Becky Harmonson, Cultural Program Manager of SailPoint, it starts with the company’s core values. Fifteen years in, SailPoint has had time to evolve their remote culture, and according to Harmonson, it stems from SailPoint’s four values of Innovation, Integrity, Impact and Individuals.

Harmonson’s role at SailPoint is to help define the environment in which people work, making people feel connected and valued. Making them feel they are contributing and making an impact. Going back to those values means that you have a strong foundation for supporting your employees, no matter where they are.

Building Community

Cato Networks has a lot of experiencing managing remote teams, but their challenge is how to build scalable processes to maintain the small company style teamwork and communication as they grow. Whether it’s via an all hands meeting or the  company newsletter, they want to continue to build a robust cultural and communication framework. With a half of their 230 employees remote, it is easy for teams to be siloed by roles and by distance.

One thing Harmonson has found effective in bridging the distance is by developing ways for people to connect. She challenges people within her organization to reach outside their team. Once started, people pay it forward naturally. “If somebody takes time out of their day to reach out, people are going to respond to that.”

She also maintains the remote personal connection between teams by sharing photos of people and sharing how they relax and celebrate around the world. People also share knowledge – via coffee talks and lunch and learns. Sometimes it’s a ‘how to’ like “How to cook with a few staples you have” to “Giving more effective presentations.” Making people be part of driving and owning the culture is paramount.

From Shapiro’s viewpoint, “Individual isolation or only focusing on your own goals does not serve the company or the employees long term, we need to continue to view ourselves as part of a greater whole, encouraging company goals and thus helping others as part of our own success”. This is facilitated by a culture that fosters connections, both professional and interpersonal. These connections are a strong source of benefit for companies including care, innovation, and cross functional cooperation to solve big problems quickly. You have to have individuals in all roles continue to help drive the connections – it has to come from management, from employees. You have to nurture the sense of a broader community.

Adjust, Adapt, Repeat

In a recent company all hands call, SailPoint CEO Mark McClain was asked what the pandemic has made him do differently. McClain said it has made him rethink how we hold meetings with remote teams. Rather than have a few people join a meeting remotely and having several people in headquarters in a conference room, all should be on via video. Why? To level the playing field. Until recent events, Mark didn’t understand the inherent bias. He also has found benefit in reaching out directly to his global teams. Hearing the global voice of all his employees, not just leadership, provides greater context and more meaningful dialog.

SailPoint has had time to evolve our culture. Don’t be overwhelmed if your organization is not ready for a Zoom panda or remote yoga sessions. It is important to start with your core values and determine a few ways of connecting. Ways that span geographies and roles, creating a connected workforce.

The people at SailPoint created a strong culture prior to the pandemic, one employees credit with giving them strength during this time. It’s beyond supporting one another professionally. It is stepping up as people to share, support and communicate.

Our discussion concluded with a sense of collaboration and an understanding that there are a many great ideas about culture and how to build one. But one fact stands out. It starts with a company’s values. Not only what the leadership defines, but how it lives through your employees and how it connects to create, to innovate.


Discussion