Work culture used to be defined by shared physical spaces. Now it’s about the people, the ideas, shared values and the behaviors you model. Almost three years after the pandemic started, work culture continues to evolve and shift. With so much going on in the world, your team has become your constant as a proxy for the organization you work for. Which means the line between personal and professional has become increasingly blurred for a distributed workforce.
For those from historically marginalized or excluded backgrounds, it’s even more important to feel supported by your work community, both personally and professionally. So in a time when distributed teams are becoming the norm, how can we build a healthy, connected work culture that meets all of these different needs?
In today’s episode of Inclusion in Progress, we’ll be:
- Sharing examples of good practice we’ve observed in the tech industry around building a healthy, connected work culture for distributed teams
- Discuss how to account for newly emerging biases in the current workforce
- Creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to show up
- Examples of how to create an environment that encourages sharing ideas and equal involvement
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entry point into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
When we talked about organizational culture or work culture, this used to be defined by shared physical spaces. Now, it's about the people, the ideas and the values that you share, and the behaviors that you model in your organization. And almost three years after the pandemic started, it is still evolving and shifting. With so much going on in the world, your team has become your constant, for better or for worse, and as a proxy for the organization that you're working for. Which means the lines between personal and professional have become increasingly blurred for distributed workforces. When it comes to those from historically marginalized or excluded backgrounds, it's even more important to feel supported by your work community, both personally and professionally. So in a time when distributed teams are becoming the norm, rather than the exception, how can we actually build a healthy, connected work culture for distributed teams that meets all of these varying needs?
I'm Kay Fabella, I'm a DEI consultant for remote teams, the CEO of Inclusion in Progress LLC, and your host for this Inclusion in Progress podcast, where you will get research-backed industry insights into the future of work, and practical How To’s for Equity and Inclusion in our distributed world. You're also guaranteed to get a global perspective when you tune in, as our own fully-remote team works with clients across EMEA, APAC and the Americas.
So for today's episode of Inclusion in Progress, we'll be sharing examples of good practice around building a healthy, connected work culture for distributed teams. And although you're only hearing my voice on the podcast; Team IIP, I can promise you, is working hard behind-the-scenes to get these two new episodes for you each month. So be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app to know when those episodes go live. And, if you happen to be one of our OG fans and longtime listeners, please consider leaving us a review while you're there. Every review helps us reach listeners who we know would gain value from these conversations. A review directly helps more people who lead Equity and Inclusion at work, either in an official or an unofficial capacity, to have access to the resources, insights and discussions that we're having here on Inclusion in Progress.
Now, I've mentioned the incredible team that I've been working with before on this show – you even got to hear from a few of them on our special 100th episode. And despite there only being really me and one other person on the team who are actually co-located here in Madrid, Spain, where I've been since 2010. We've created a pretty solid work culture for Team IIP, if I do say so myself… Toot toot [Mimicking honking her own horn]! Well, we do our best to model the psychological safety that we aim to strategize and support our client partners with. And, for us on Team IIP, that looks like interacting with one another during our weekly meetings or our co-working hours, sharing photos on our asynchronous communication channels, or chronicling our ongoing list of inside jokes on what is affectionately known as our Team IIP Glossary.
The one constant in our work culture as a team is finding ways to deepen our trust in one another and see one another as more full, imperfect humans, despite not being in the same place, so that when a time comes when one of us is struggling with a task or we need to step away for a non-work emergency, we have that psychological safety to ask one another for help when we need it. And in our experience, establishing a healthy work culture takes a lot of time, a lot of trial, and a lot of error. And we're a small team, so it's easier for us to implement culture change when necessary rather quickly. But there are also several examples of much larger companies that have met the challenges of our world today to build their own version of a healthy connected work culture – one that supports their distributed teams to do their best work, no matter where they are or where they choose to work from.
So we covered this topic much more in depth in our 2023 Whitepaper on the Future of Work Culture, which is now available for download on our website at inclusioninprogress.com/learn. Our latest Whitepaper also shares how we've supported client partners in the tech industry around identifying barriers to psychological safety in distributed work, encouraging buy-in for inclusion for distributed teams at all levels of the organization, and guiding teams to create cultures of resilience and understanding, despite not sharing a physical space together. So we'll be sure to leave you a link in the show notes of this episode so you can download a copy of that Whitepaper.
But, for now, let's go ahead and take a look at some of the organizations working hard to build a healthy connected work culture for distributed teams, and some key takeaways for you to apply to your own organization.
Let's dive in!
So the truth is building a healthy connected work culture for distributed teams, as I've said earlier, takes time. There was and, I'm afraid, still is a bit of a misconception that giving people more flexibility about how and when they work and where they work from makes things more challenging and may actually slow things down for organizations. But, in reality, having a more flexible workforce that covers different time zones, countries, and cultures means that you can actually support your customers when you need it. It also creates much more equitable access to opportunities for team members, such as: employees from traditionally excluded regions, or professionals who are also primary caregivers. I talk about this in much more detail in Episode 97: Three Hybrid Workplace Models That Are Working. But, within the tech industry, Spotify and Dropbox have been really great examples for us of companies that are doing this well. The secret of their success appears to be in planning, preparation, and, of course, (as I said earlier) time.
Spotify, for example, believes that work isn't a place that you go to. They believe that work is something that you do. And, in February 2021, before they officially rolled out their Work From Anywhere Policy, the company prepared to make WFA possible for its 6,500 employees, and ensured that they could continue to work comfortably, safely and productively from locations of their choosing. Here's some of the things that Spotify did to prepare: They first researched labor law tax and insurance readiness by country, adjusted base salaries for local currencies and regions, provided co-working space options for employees, structured intact teams to be on similar time zones, and synced their internal operations, whether it was comms, recruitment, people ops, and HR. So, as of August 2022, Spotify announced that it experienced a lower turnover compared to pre-pandemic levels and increased diverse representation in the company. Which means not only were they able to retain the best talent, it will also be able to attract future candidates that prioritize diversity in their employers. Spotify also expanded beyond New York and California – traditional hubs for tech companies – and is now registered in 42 US States. And, here in Europe, the platform has increased its presence outside its Stockholm headquarters to Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. And the benefits to this go beyond recruitment and retention. After implementing the Work From Anywhere Policy, Spotify’s Q2 2022 earnings showed 23% year-on-year revenue growth. And in Q3 they actually showed a A $3 billion profit.
Another example of a company that continues to invest time and resources into building a healthy connected work culture for their employees is Dropbox. They also had a Virtual-First Policy that they rolled out in 2020. To prepare for this, Dropbox made some key changes, for example: removing their famous in-office perks, such as catered meals and state of the art gyms; converting their commercial office spaces into co-working spaces for employees, similar to what we saw with Spotify; as well as subleasing the majority of its 700,000 square foot San Francisco office space. Now, like Spotify, the impact of greater work flexibility has had a big impact on Dropbox’s performance in a number of key areas, including an increase in representation of women and underrepresented minority groups, an increase in job applicants and greater diversity, including up to twice as many applicants per open role; a 2.4x increase in gender diverse applicants per role, and a 2.8x increase of underrepresented minority diverse applicants per role compared to the year before.
They also saw an increase in income. Business revenue actually increased by 12% in Q1 2021, less than a year after going all-in on flexible work. The reduction of in office perks freed up resources to invest in successful career advancement and retention programs, meaning that traditionally excluded talent could now apply for positions within the company for their advancement without sacrificing non-work priorities, relocation costs or having to worry about caregiving duties.
So both Spotify and Dropbox are examples of the time, resources, and intention it requires to build a work culture that supports all distributed team members and, ultimately, leads to long term business growth.
Now, while there are many advantages to remote working, there are also challenges due to unforeseen biases that wouldn't necessarily surface in a shared office environment. We already discussed this topic in much more depth back in Episode 96: The Hidden Biases of Hybrid Work. An example which I've talked about on other podcast episodes is meeting times. Now, trust us, as a team that spans all the regions of the world, we know that timezone struggles are real. So if you feel me… please know you're not alone. Now, India, Australia, and New Zealand often get the short end of the stick when it comes to meetings, knowing they have to jump on Teams calls with North America or EMEA during their family time and/or their early morning. Religious or caregiving commitments may also present challenges around meeting attendance and times for distributed teams.
But there's also a virtual performance bias, meaning how we perceive whether or not someone is working hard or doing their job, which is often influenced by the tech platforms we're using to stay connected while working in a distributed environment. For example, some remote workers are happy to stay connected on Slack or on Microsoft Teams, whereas others may prefer to turn notifications off after a certain hour. And neither is a reflection of how hard they're actually working. But it may lead to unfair judgment or criticism by fellow team members, or even conflict. A healthy connected work culture would allow distributed teams to problem solve and troubleshoot together in a way that supports morale and productivity and acknowledges those unforeseen biases.
On Team IIP, we believe the area that we really need to be paying attention to right now is proximity bias. Because concern is growing that proximity bias actually creates inequities, and could entrench deeper structural inequality along racial and gender lines. Although employee experience scores are rising, there is growing awareness among executives of the risk of proximity bias or favoritism towards colleagues who choose to work together in a shared physical office. Today, the number one concern among executives with respect to flexible work is the potential for inequities to develop between remote and in-office employees. Recognizing hidden biases and investing in training and support to uncover and work through them will ultimately reduce misunderstandings between distributed team members, creating more efficiency and bolstering the healthy work culture needed to boost employee morale through challenging days.
We share some of the ways we've helped our client partners to build a work culture that supports distributed teams morale and productivity and our 2023 Whitepaper, The Future of Work Culture: How To Make Distributed Work Inclusive. In our Whitepaper, you'll discover how tech companies retain their talent and capacity for innovation, especially during a recessive period, what the role of DEI and psychological safety is for distributed teams, and how to build an inclusive distributed workforce post-pandemic that supports team members from across the globe. You can download a copy on our website at inclusioninprogress.com/learn, or head to the link in the show notes of this episode to grab your copy.
For a team to innovate and face today's challenges, they have to be able to solve problems. But problem solving also means being comfortable with taking risks, such as sharing an idea when it's not fully formed, without fear of being dismissed or not being taken seriously. What this boils down to is creating an environment where people feel comfortable showing up as a not perfect version of themselves. Which, admittedly, can be more challenging when you're working across different time zones, languages, generations and cultures. To create a healthy work culture that supports psychological safety and connection, to allow people to take those risks without fear of retribution or punishment, we have witnessed organizations creating structures and processes for sharing ideas, such as editable documents for the whole team to access, comment on and regularly revisit together; creating placeholder solutions, and encouraging their teams to do the same so that folks can revisit those ideas later, they can work on solving the urgent tasks that are in front of them without risking losing time as they work to find a solution at a later date. We've also seen organizations modeling and encouraging pauses, meaning that if your team asks a question that you don't know the answer to, either encouraging them to come up with the answer themselves or informing them that you'll get back to them once you have that answer. Showing teams that it is acceptable and even expected that you don't know everything at a given time. And that it's okay to pause, double and triple check before getting back to others with an answer.
So what does a healthy connected work culture look like for distributed teams in 2023?
The truth is, there is no one right answer. Except to accept that every team and work culture will need to have time, space, resources, and ways to regularly iterate as challenges arise so that teams can work more efficiently together, whether they're in or outside of a shared office. And it will take an all hands on deck approach to designing a supportive effective work culture. As we navigate a globally recessive period post-pandemic, when teams’ psychological safety may be more challenged than ever before.
So there you have it, how to build a healthy connected work culture for distributed teams, and some ideas from organizations who are leaning into creating a regular practice and including time and resources and expertise, whether internally or outside, to support psychological safety rather than reducing those resources at this time.
Now, at Inclusion in Progress, we've always recognized the need to investigate barriers to psychological safety at the individual, behavioral, and organizational levels, while navigating the reality of our post-pandemic distributed world. Because we know that identifying how to remove those barriers allows organizations to create a work culture where employees contribute their best ideas without fear of judgment or exclusion, ensuring an engaged, productive, and equitable work environment, no matter where employees choose to work from. We also know that the last three years have been challenging for every organization to navigate and it's important for us to continue providing you the resources that will set you and your teams up for success. To that end, we're pleased to announce the release of our 2023 Whitepaper on the Future of Work: How to Make Distributed Work Inclusive. You can download a copy on our website at inclusioninprogress.com/learn or head to the link in the show notes of this episode to download your copy. And if you'd like to learn how we can support you with creating inclusive distributed work strategies in 2023, you can email us directly at email@example.com to book a free, no-pressure consultation call with our team.
As always, thank you so much for listening. Thank you for sharing these episodes with others. And we'll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress!