Hennessey Digital is and always will be a 100%-remote company. We don’t have a brick-and-mortar location that our team goes to every day, and this was a deliberate choice that’s become a strategic advantage for us. In a virtual work environment, we can recruit top talent from anywhere in the world!
Virtual work arrangements are here to stay, and we’re sharing our best practices for how to build a strong organization in a remote work environment.
Work environments and COVID-19
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: COVID-19. Of course, many organizations were forced to move to a virtual model when the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. Companies scrambled to figure out how working remotely “could” or “should” look for them: policies had to change, video calls replaced in-person meetings, and home offices had to be set up.
While COVID-19 forced many organizations to move to virtual work environments, it was business as usual for us. There were, of course, some changes that occurred due to COVID, but we used to Zoom meetings and instant messaging all along, so we had a head start on the “all-remote work” thing. Our founder and CEO Jason Hennessey recently shared our remote work strategies on the CallTrackingMetrics podcast: listen in and learn how we’ve found success as a virtual organization!
Over the years as a global, 100%-virtual company, we’ve tested various strategies and tactics, learned from our mistakes, and celebrated our wins together. Here are our top three tips for how to build a strong organization in a virtual work environment, no office required.
Communication is critical
In any industry, communication (or lack thereof) can make or break your company’s level of success. At Hennessey Digital, we’ve found that clear, frequent communication is what differentiates us from other agencies.
As a high-growth company, we also know that purposeful, high-quality internal communication leads to successful outcomes within the agency. Each department within the organization works hard to deliver excellent work to our clients, but sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s happening outside your own department—or how what you’re working on might affect other functional areas.
Information silos happen, and that’s why we started a regular meeting cadence with company leadership to share wins and progress towards our annual goals, discuss ideas and projects, and learn about initiatives that affect multiple departments to prevent rework and miscommunication.
At the same time, we are careful not to overload schedules with meetings: before we send out a meeting invite, we remind ourselves to ask, “Can this meeting I’m about to request be an email? Should this email I’m about to draft be an instant message?” Always consider the urgency level and need for efficiency when sharing information with others.
And because the internal ties closely to the external, our communication practices also affect how we work with our clients. Our work involves strategy, content, and technical aspects working together, and when clients can tie our efforts directly to leads coming to them, they can clearly see the value of their investment. We frame issues and ideas from the client’s perspective: we know what matters to them, so when we communicate the activities and steps we’re taking on our clients’ websites, we connect it back to the ROI that these activities yield for their business.
Technology’s role in virtual work environments
Closely tied to communication, connectivity via technology is another factor in making virtual work environments successful.
Our team is connected through multiple channels throughout the day. As we shared earlier, it’s important to consider which platform is appropriate for different types of information and the urgency level of the message.
We use Slack internally for instant messaging between individual team members, among departments and project groups, and, occasionally, to the entire organization. Our #general channel is used for company announcements and celebrating work anniversaries (“Henniversaries” in our world), birthdays, and new team members joining us. We also use specific channels for projects, departments, and personal interests.
Email is reserved for non-urgent items and things that require more lengthy explanations like an announcement of a new program launch. We also use email to correspond with clients and outside vendors. Anything that requires an “official” paper trail like a digital signature or acknowledgement goes through email.
Our Director of People Success Jill Wenk sees a shift in expectations on different communication channels. Jill shares, “We find that this is an adjustment for many new hires: at many companies, emails are still the main form of communication. Here, it’s more limited to company business.”
Zoom is another tool we use quite a bit. In a virtual work environment, many of us have never met in person! Without an office, we miss out on those face-to-face interactions you get when you work in the same physical space together, so video meetings are the next best thing.
We encourage everyone to turn their camera on when we’re on Zoom calls (including clients!) whenever possible. Seeing everyone’s facial expressions is another way to connect with each other and pick up on nonverbal cues we’d miss without a video feed.
Manage projects and train people
Aside from written and verbal communication, we use Asana for our project management tool to keep everyone up to date on the details, deliverables, and deadlines for client projects and internal work. Staying organized is as equally important as staying connected, and with multiple clients and projects happening concurrently, you need a good tool to track it all.
Not only are we connected through technology; the technology itself is connected through integrations. Slack is integrated with Zoom and our Google Workspace, so we can check availability and initiate meetings quickly within our messaging tool. We also use 7geese (now Paycor) for performance management, and when we give a fellow team member a shout-out for a job well done, it’s integrated into Slack so we can instantly see kudos come across in our #recognition Slack channel.
These are the tools that work for us: there’s no “special system” or magic bullet that works perfectly for every organization. (And we should mention that we’re not paid by any of these companies, but our Venmo is open if they’re feeling generous!)
Proper implementation and training is key to any new process or technology’s success. Investing in training is something we take seriously, so we have a full-time Learning and Development professional on staff. They create valuable training modules through Lessonly for everything from new team member onboarding to keeping up with compliance standards and training on new processes. We truly believe in living by our guiding principle to “never stop learning!”
Knowledge is power, and empowered employees make for a strong culture.
And speaking of culture…
Culture and virtual organizations
While some leaders are bemoaning the loss of office culture with the rise of remote work, we’ve found that “culture” has less to do with physical location and more to do with strong, frequent communication, openly sharing information with each other, and having fun while we work.
Creating a strong culture in a remote work environment means we feel connected to the mission, vision, and values of the organization, are engaged in the work we do day-to-day, and are invested in one another’s success, which involves time, effort, and intentionality.
This effort isn’t the responsibility of any one department, either. In addition to being engaged in our day-to-day work, we also love to have fun, and our “Culture Crew,” an ad hoc group with team members from all functional areas, creates and hosts annual company-wide events including “March Meowness” (our pet competition), a Halloween costume contest, and our ugly sweater contest during the holidays.
“You have to be intentional about connecting with team members when you’re not in an office together, because it won’t always happen organically. The Culture Crew is a huge part of creating this intentionality and helping all team members across the globe feel included in our team culture,” Jill says.
Writing your core messaging
For us, “culture” also refers to our rules for the road and our standards for interacting with each other. Creating our core messaging helped us articulate who we are and our bigger “why” for what we’re all about. Even going through the exercise of writing our core messaging was an expression of our work culture: collaborative, open-minded, honest and transparent, and always innovating and improving on what we do.
Having a stated mission, vision, and guiding principles drives our decision making and helps us live our values through our work. At the same time we were finalizing our core messaging, we also reimagined our existing employee handbook and rebranded it as the “Team Member Playbook.” This new iteration infuses our personality into a document that has a reputation for being dry and boring, which engages team members in the material (and makes referring to the Playbook less of a chore!)
We created our 127 Code of Honor to communicate how we operate and it’s right there on our website for anyone to access. The 127 Code of Honor is not an internal document that only Hennessey Digital team members can see. Because it applies to everyone who works with us, we want clients, vendors, and future team members to understand what our expectations are around behavior and decision making.
Culture add versus culture fit
Speaking of future team members, when we’re recruiting for an open position on one of our teams, we ask ourselves, “Who would be a good culture add here?” Much is said about “culture fit” in recruiting practices, but “culture add”promotes diversity, both of thought and in our team members’ backgrounds. It helps us keep growing and innovating, which is one of Hennessey Digital’s guiding principles.
Another critical part of our company culture is our guiding principles. These are infused into the decision making process at Hennessey Digital and are directly tied to team member performance.
Our four guiding principles are:
- Be honest and transparent.
- Stay nimble; never stop learning.
- Do the right thing, always.
- Make it fun; don’t be a jerk.
When we give a team member recognition, it’s automatically tied to one of these principles. When we shout out a teammate for a job well done, we’re always thinking about how their actions are tied to our core beliefs. Our culture is intrinsically tied to performance, so there are no gaps between what we say we believe and how we’re rewarded as team members.
We make it easy to recognize a team member. Because 7geese is integrated with Slack, we can recognize a team member on one of those platforms and it feeds into the other with full transparency into both systems. Everyone can see who’s recognizing whom, and team members can acknowledge these shout-outs with emoji and comments.
At the end of the day, we’re a digital marketing company. But what makes us different is our willingness to always make things fun around here. Our team is quick to make jokes, share hilarious .gifs in the team chat (and in our bios!) and surprise and delight each other at any opportunity. When you like the people you work with, it makes logging in every morning something to look forward to.
Bringing it all together
“Work culture” is more than just a stated mission and goals or the benefits package offered to employees, although these are certainly part of it.
We think about “work culture” as the feeling we have when we show up and do our jobs every day. There are multiple factors that affect work culture including team structure and management style, the quality and frequency of communication, the level of psychological safety team members have, and “satisfiers” like pay and benefits.
Engaging team members across the globe is important to making everyone feel included and valued. We celebrated International Month in May to spotlight the countries and cultures of our team members outside the U.S. We’re now up to 8 countries represented outside the U.S. and counting!
We also want our team members to be able to give back, so we’re observing a Day of Giving this month for our people to take paid time to do virtual volunteer work for the charitable organization of their choice.
Basically, we show up for each other, we care personally about each of our team members, and we treat them well. Doing this isn’t just the right thing to do: it’s the right way to do business. Take care of your people, and your people will take care of your clients.
Communication, connectivity, and culture drive our remote work environment. What about you?
Do you have a virtual work environment or are your employees fully-remote post-COVID?
How are you creating a strong work culture without a physical office? Tweet us at @HennesseyDgtl and tell us all about it!