Fostering Global Company Culture in the Era of COVID-19 How the principles of multinational companies must adapt to meet the new normal

Guesty posted on 11 Jun 2020

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I have been on the management team of global tech companies for the past 20 years and always felt that the following experience is a big part of what I bring to the table: how to build an effective global organization; how to scale company culture to multiple locations; and how to create synergies and human connections that transform a company into a stronger, more successful leader in its given field.

Along the way, one thing I have always told my team is that nothing replaces face-to-face interactions. Case in point: I make it a priority to travel to remote office locations and understand how employees there spend their day to day, get to know them, as well as hear about their challenges and goals first hand. In fact at Guesty, a software platform for short-term rental property managers with offices in 4 continents, we bring all of our remote teams for training at headquarters, not just because it’s an effective way to train, but because it allows them to absorb the company culture, create friendships, and understand how to respect and accept differences in local culture and communication styles. We also invest in team gatherings, company trips and office parties to create stronger bonds and closer relationships around shared experiences.

Investing in collaborative spaces

Much like our customers, who are hospitality brands investing in the designs of their properties for comfort and usability, we take pride in creating a warm, family-like environment and believe the way our offices are designed is meant to reflect a culture of openness and transparency. Teams are seated in groups to enable close collaboration, we have different meeting spaces to facilitate formal meetings and casual conversations, a large cafeteria for everyone to dine in, and a game room and gym for our employees’ well being.

But with COVID-19 having an immense impact on company culture, acting as the catalyst to organizations across the globe largely working from home, the Guesty work spaces we called a second home in early 2020 are going largely unused.

The new normal in company culture

This global pandemic brought with it lockdowns, isolation and social distancing. From one day to the next, everything we learned about creating and scaling our culture became irrelevant. You cannot meet in person, cannot travel abroad, cannot come into the office. And after figuring out how to navigate the challenges of moving everyone to work remotely while maintaining a structure around team meetings and collaboration, we began thinking about our culture, and how COVID-19 impacts it.

What we found: despite the disadvantages of remote work and distancing, there are some advantages to this new way of working that we can celebrate:

  1. Truly Flat Organization: We learned that when everyone works from home, we level the playing field. There is no head office nor remote offices meaning no one is left out from a discussion that took place in person as in person simply doesn’t exist at the moment. Video meetings created a sense of equality for all. Everyone works remotely, everyone shares the same difficulties of working from home. Through our Zoom windows and virtual backgrounds we found out that this could actually strengthen the relationship between our teams across different offices and allow everyone to contribute to the discussion in a similar manner.
  2. Work-Life Balance: Employers and employees alike are always looking for a balance that enables employees to invest in their work without feeling burned out. The last thing you want is for employees to feel they are missing out on family time, hobbies and their general well being. That balance and how to achieve it has always been tricky. During this period, the lines of work and life have blurred. You can take a call minutes after you got out of bed; our kids walk into our room in the middle of a meeting; we smell our lunch burning in the oven during a customer presentation. On the one hand, you can claim these blurred lines disrupt the balance, but on the other hand, many of our employees reported increased satisfaction from saving time without the need to commute, happiness about being able to have their lunch break with their loved ones, and feeling reduced pressure overall. This begs the question: can we create a more balanced lifestyle for our employees by remote work irrespective of COVID-19?
  3. Relationships and Interactions. I stressed the importance of sharing experiences and building relationships in creating and scaling a global company culture. So how can you do that without face-to-face interaction? I found that this unique situation creates some opportunities in that area. So you don’t sit in the same office, but you can see what books your colleague has on the shelf behind her, or watch the view from her window. You can meet team members’ families and see how they designed their living room. There is something very informal about seeing people in their homes. It is as if you have been invited to come inside, to some extent. I saw those I work with be more relaxed and open in their personal environment and it leads to more open and candid conversations.

Celebrating the wins of this unique situation

At Guesty, we began finding special ways to interact online, with virtual happy hours, cocktail making and cake baking, lectures and workshops, and lots of smiles and virtual hugs over video. Invite people to a party and many may not show up. But invite them to a virtual party and they will show up, even if it’s on their mobile phone. The ease of “meeting” virtually has resulted in many of us spending more time “together”.

Are we doing a better job at scaling global culture virtually? Not necessarily, but there are positives and negatives to both the old way of doing things, and the Corona-era way of doing things.

Originally published in Linkedin

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