How to Codify Your Culture as a Remote-First Business

Codifying your culture is quite simply the secret ingredient that will transform ‘culture’ from a flimsy buzzword to an essential framework that will be a game-changer for your organisation.

Whether you’re a fresh-faced start-up or a well-established organisation, there will be expectations to adopt a culture that directly impacts performance, engagement, and retention. But how to do it well, especially as a remote/hybrid company, is a completely different ball game.

In this article, I will share tips and tricks from Rival’s approach to codifying our culture (so far!) As well as some great resources that truly inspired us and can help you on your journey too.

When building Rival, we set out to revolutionize the employee experience and to proactively challenge, inspire and support our people to do the best work of their careers to date. We have ambitious business goals, so it was crucial to plant the seeds of systematic code to grow a human-first, best-in-class company culture.

Reflecting on the first 12 months of Rival, there has been a healthy blend of experimentation, success, mistakes and learnings. This process helped shape all aspects of our behaviour, business and client relationships.

We are a remote-first, fully flexible company, but we rate in-person time too (we had our first company-wide retreat in Turkey in October) - so hybrid we became. Launching in 2021, we had the advantage of cherry-picking the most valuable aspects of remote and ditching any inherited rituals that were no longer fit for purpose. This model was a pretty easy decision for us as we were (and still are) confident the benefits outweighed the cons.

“The biggest benefits of remote and flexible work come from being able to work together differently than we have in the past. The biggest change is moving from synchronous to asynchronous working patterns. We’re always pushing to find ways to work better together in asynchronous ways that take advantage of being remote.”

  • The Rival Handbook

But it’s certainly not without it’s challenges.

We said farewell to the serendipitous moments at the coffee machine and bonding over the joy of free snacks in the kitchen, we set out to design something from scratch. Remote culture and operations are crafts that will always need honing, but we are obsessed with trying new things and evolving our approach. It’s never too early to start documenting great ideas, so we got to work.

Company Manifesto. Company Code. Company Handbook.

No matter what you call it, it’s a living expression of how to operate as a collective. It will change and grow with your business, and be a constant reference point for you and your team.

Organisations have come a long way from clunky company intranets with the aesthetics of Encarta ‘95. Flash forward to 2009, Netflix publicly debuted their seminal culture deck on Slideshare. Popping the bonnet to see how the engine got people excited. These 129 pages paved the way for other companies to publicly share their own culture philosophies, vision and processes. 

We launched our V1 Rival Handbook in Summer 22…and after feedback and refinements, we are on V3 now! It all started with the golden question - if you were reimagining the workplace ‘from scratch’ for the world of today, what would you do? It is the go-to document explaining how our culture trickles through every aspect of our business:

Our Purpose 

  • Our Vision, Mission, Principles, Priorities, Goals

Our People 

  • Our Ways of Working, Rituals, How we hire, Compensation structure & Benefits

Our Responsibility 

  • Life/work balance, DE&I, Social & Environmental Impact

Policies

  • Early stage, there are legal requirements and compliance to consider, we are transparent on what best practices are
  • Flexible Working, Families, Remote Work - highlighting the competitive policies we have adopted and why they’re important to us

We get inspiration in reading and learning about what other companies are doing (see my list below), as well as implementing contributions from our own team. It’s important that the handbook is representative and we all own a part of it.

There are 5 key learnings from writing and implementing our own handbook:

Step 1: Listen

What does the team want and need to work to their full potential? 

Step 2: Distill

Digest and group the key themes you’ve heard. This is what people care about and it will create the foundation for your evolving culture

Step 3: Define

Ok so you’ve got the abstract ethos down. Move this into tangible principles. They should be inspirational, challenging and scalable

Step 4: Document

Pick a tool that works best for your team, something easy to digest and navigate

Step 5: Refine

Create regular opportunities to listen, review and share feedback as a collective. What do your new hires think? This will be v1 of many - trust me!

In summary, codifying your culture will never be a job ticked off your list, it takes discussion, reflection and a clear vision will ensure your high-performance culture remains intact. Arm your people with knowledge, codify your policies and processes, and your business will be ready to thrive.

📖Resources

Better Wiki is a curated library of resources on People Ops. They have some amazing handbook resources.

People Stories showcases the best real-life examples of People Operations, from values to benchmarking.

The Company Building Handbook has a great archive of Handbooks to get inspired by.

Bolt’s Playbook is one of my favourite handbooks. Rival signed a pledge to their Conscious Culture to help keep ourselves accountable to building something brilliant.

Buffer’s Open Culture Blog shares how they build their remote culture.

CharlieHR shares great articles on how they bring policies to life - read about how their Parental Leave Policy informed and shaped a parent-friendly culture.

Rival’s Handbook of course! 

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