I recently gave a talk to about 300 entrepreneurial CEOs from across Canada. A few days after the session, I received an email with a question about culture. I thought you might find my answer helpful.

I run a small IT consulting shop in Toronto. We do fantastic work, and my staff of 4 is amazing at what they do and how they do it. Our clients love us, and many used to hug my staff when they went onsite, pre-pandemic.


As our company grows, I am wondering how to build/keep culture when new staff and current don’t want to work in the office more than one or two days a week. I would also like to hire remote staff. Weekly status calls and being in touch all day helps, but the water cooler talks and dinners with the team are more challenging. I would love your thoughts and experience on this.  


My Response

That is a tough question and one that many organizations are grappling with. My best advice is to be very thoughtful in spending time making personal connections. That means taking time during Zoom meetings to have people interact on a more personal level. Talk about their hobbies, their family, what sports they follow or play, their favorite place they’ve ever traveled to, and many more similar questions. People need to get to know each other before they can trust each other.

You can set aside time on your schedule to check in on people for no reason other than just catching up to see how they are doing. Much of organizational culture is created by the personal interaction between people that has nothing to do with business. Be sure to let them know there’s no problem, and they’re not in trouble. You’re just calling to chat.

Also, it will be necessary to consistently communicate the core ideas around the culture you want to create. Share the vision. Talk about the values that are most important to the organization. Emphasize your purpose. Talk a lot about the importance of the main elements of your culture. Don’t leave it to chance. It is impossible to over-communicate these things.

Lastly, I would implement a cadence of quick surveys about the culture. You want to keep your finger on the pulse. If you routinely check in, you can catch problems before they become too large. I see many organizations struggle because they don’t keep a close enough eye on their culture, and it gets in serious trouble before they realize it.


My Takeaway

This is one of the most challenging issues facing leaders today. Nobody has a clear answer. I do know, however, that we are never going back to work in the way we did. Furthermore, there will always be some level of remote work from now on. So, building and maintaining a culture with team members who are not in the office will continue to be complicated.

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  1. Hi John,

    The Work of culture building often takes a backseat to getting stuff done. When that happens, cultures deteriorate, and people are treated like tools.

    Your encouragement to work at it regularly is challenging, but necessary. Consistent check-ins seems like one of the simplest methods. It might be useful to keep a list of potential questions to ask people during personal check-ins.

    Thanks for your positive influence in my life.

    1. Thank you so much for the comment, Dan. On the personal check-ins, I would likely ask people how they are doing, and potentially ask about their family. See how their weekend went or what they have planned for the coming weekend. If you know they have a hobby or a favorite sports team, I would ask about that. If the kids played sports I would ask to see how that is progressing. My goal would be to keep it completely away from work-related issues. I would not want to be too personal, but still, make it a personal conversation.

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