Remote work

How to build (and sustain) culture in a remote environment

4 min read
Dennis Field
  •  Mar 19, 2020
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What does it take to get 700 fully-distributed employees from across the world to show up, collaborate, and effectively operate as a business in sync? That’s a question the our people team often gets asked. We’ll be the first to say that it’s a work in progress, but a few key ingredients have proven to be critical as we’ve scaled. At the core, it’s taking a design-first approach to the work and culture.

Yes, it’s pretty common to find design practices in product and marketing teams; at InVision, these practices and frameworks show up in many of the service-based organizations as well. I am actually a product designer turned people designer. Since arriving at InVision over five years ago (when we were just 50 employees), I’ve been using my product design background to help shape programs and solve employee experience challenges on a variety of teams. Currently, I’m a part of our people team. We design all of our experiences, from our corporate employee onboarding to rolling-out annual benefits open-enrollment. It’s in this planned approach to solving problems that we can move quickly, iterate, test, and refine and ensure our employees (our people team customers) stay at the center of our solutions.

Trust

In a distributed environment, we have to trust a great deal in our employees and our processes. An example of this is when a new hire starts. They’re trusted from day one to show up on time and attend their first day of onboarding. We have to trust that the process and tooling are fully ready and ensure they make it into the “virtual office.” In our environment, nobody can see someone locked out of the office or roaming around trying to find their desk. The process has to work.

Norms

Every company has standards or an operating system that is unique to how they function. InVision is no different in that we, too, have a unique operating system, and it’s what the biggest difference is, comes down to not just how we collaborate and work on these projects in remote environments, but also how we connect with one-another. We work hard to socialize these norms and ensure individuals know that certain challenges or emotional feelings are normal. Because we all work with the same constraints, it helps us with context.

Another layer to normalizing is how we explore solutions around universal office norms. Office norms are the experiences that are often expected from employees when they come from a non-distributed workplace to ours. These norms can be a challenge to replicate in an environment like ours, but we’ve worked hard to recreate them. Here are a few examples: If I want to thank a colleague for going above and beyond, it’s pretty easy to treat them to a coffee or lunch if we’re in the same building, but for InVision we’ve had to use tools like Bonusly, our employee recognition and rewards solution, to help encourage these interactions. While I can’t buy someone an actual cup of coffee, I can give them a small bonus to use as they choose. Even though I can’t meet up with a colleague in-person after work to build a connection, I can attend a virtual happy hour with my team. And, though I can’t just gather in a conference room to work alongside my peers and feel the “energy” that comes from us all working together, I can open a Zoom room and a Freehand and invite my peers to work and chat. The list goes on in ways we’ve designed these moments to connect individuals and make working distributed feel as tangible as it can be.

This book compiles the most important lessons we’ve gleaned from years of scaling InVision into the company we are today: one with 700 employees across 30 countries—and zero offices. We also pull from our experiences building digital collaboration software as a distributed organization and working with remarkable design teams around the world.

Download the book for free

Tools

We use many of the same tools to communicate and collaborate here at InVision as other non-distributed companies. Standards like Confluence, Slack, Zoom, G-Suite, and the InVision product are the core suite for helping us collaborate and get work done. I’d say the big difference here is that these tools are not just complements to our stack, but are used to their fullest extent.

We also have tooling that helps us drive our culture and live our principles. Bonusly is core to our go-giving culture. Degreed is how we socialize and connect everyone through learning.

Tools are not just digital at InVision. We use our environment and various other mediums to also assist in our experiences. For example, we were all mailed a set of custom-made cards to keep on our desk that serve as reminders to live out our principles whenever we can. We use them as “flashcards” to recognize someone when they’ve embodied a principle during a call.

Leaning in

Going from a traditional work-environment to a distributed environment can be a challenge. In reality, though, in the five years that I’ve been working here and helping shape these practices, it’s more natural than most think. The key to making it work is that you must lean 100% into it. Bring your whole self to work. Work and life are fully integrated within an environment like ours. It’s much easier when you look for moments to connect beyond work and get curious about what someone’s own “corner office” looks like. Ask questions and learn about their life.

At InVision, it’s not uncommon to see someone’s pet, child, roommate, or partner show up in a call. Over time, these little interactions ensure InVisioner’s relationships go beyond the work. It drives empathy, connection and a more diverse conversation. We get to know each other beyond a work persona or what projects are being worked on. We’re also more able to see the skills and unique qualities each of us bring to these projects. It is personal. Yes, it’s different at first, but it quickly becomes very natural for most. In fact, teaching new InVisioners how to be comfortable and navigate this dynamic is what our corporate onboarding program is designed to do.

The above are just a few areas we focus on daily to ensure our culture and employee experience can continue to evolve and grow at the speed of business. Critical to this work is looking at data, trends, and also knowing that our organization is always flexing. What our employees need today may not be what they need us to design for them tomorrow. That’s okay. Our jobs as designers (and the entire People Team) are to ensure that we’re listening and creating the moments to help facilitate and cultivate these moments in our culture. We’ll explore options, try things, re-design solutions, and have a lot of fun along the way. We don’t own the culture, but we do get to help design and shape it.