Remote work is the new professional status quo, and it demands that companies change the way they work for good by managing emotional culture.
It has plenty of upsides, such as having a highly diversified team. Our team at Fireflies.ai lives in 11 countries and 41 cities. We learn a lot from each other from a cultural standpoint. We adapt to each others’ varied tastes.
At times, it can be challenging, too. Different beliefs, cultural backgrounds and linguistic norms can easily lead to misunderstandings if we don’t find and strengthen a common ground that will bind us together.
The common ground is emotions.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that emotions are universal even though the way we communicate them varies.
It doesn’t matter where you live. Joy, excitement, fear, relief and all the other emotions are experienced by all.
One of the key features of our product is measuring the sentiment of meeting attendees based on polarity. Do they have positive, negative or neutral feelings about their meetings?
In this sense, I guess you can safely call us an “emotional company.”
What is emotional culture?
A healthy emotional culture is foundational to a startup’s existence.
It is the “affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions” at work according to award-winning researcher and professor at Wharton, Sigal Barsade.
It highlights how team members are feeling along with their intellectual contributions. Are they happy, sad, anxious, fearful, excited, interested? The list goes on.
What my cofounder Sam and I like about this is that it puts our team members at the core of the organization, not just our customers or our product. And this is how it should be.
Managing emotional culture is central to this symbiotic relationship. It helps us retain our best talents. And, more importantly, it helps team members enjoy the work they do and find true value in their job.
Leaders motivate their employees better by allowing space for emotions into the workplace and shaping them. To do this effectively, we need to break this idea down into simpler micro-actions that companies can implement to manage their remote teams’ emotional culture better.
A healthy emotional culture will look different for each organization because each organization is uniquely different. But building the right emotional culture for your company is a process that needs to trickle down from the C-suite.
Emotional culture framework for startups
A good place to start is to move forward with a framework that outlines your approach. I like to think three pillars are intrinsic to the health score of our emotional culture at Fireflies. We call it the Three C’s of Emotional Culture:
It’s more straightforward than it sounds. Better communication drives compassion, and people who care about each other, collaborate better.
Here are a few useful tips that help us improve the emotional culture at Fireflies that hopefully can come in handy for others:
Hiring & onboarding
Building a healthy emotional culture starts with creating your remote teams.
When new folks are onboard, assign them buddies that they can lean on. These should be employees that have been with you for a while and reflect the culture you want to foster.
Emphasize creating a good documentation culture, especially when you’re hiring, training and onboarding. It saves you the trouble of repeating yourself a dozen times, and more importantly, missing out on information you consider essential to convey.
Define what a good fit for the job role you offer looks like. Sometimes you hire for experience, but aptitude and rate of learning is more important. You can take someone who is a fast learner, applies themselves well, and absorbs things like a sponge and they will almost always outpace an experienced person who doesn’t have the same drive. In a remote context, self-starters fall into this category.
And you can get away with a lot of things when you’re in person because you’re next to each other, you can listen to what each other says, and you can learn through osmosis based on what your teammate next to you is saying.
With fully remote teams, these things take extra effort to make it work.
Fostering a strong community
It’s essential to foster a culture of joy, which creates an inclusive space for your diverse workforce (personality types, gender, ethnicity, working styles, etc.). The business case for DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity), for example, is stronger today than ever and also applies to remote teams.
Imagine this: Diversity is like having a seat at the dinner table. Equity means having the freedom and confidence to order your favorite meal even though no one else is calling it for themselves. And inclusion means being able to have a good time together while you all eat your separate, unique orders.
To move to the meat of the matter, you want to create that sense of community and that sense of togetherness even though everyone is remote because one of the drawbacks of working remotely is that it can get pretty lonely quite often.
One of the things we at Fireflies value are our virtual retreats and virtual events through video conferencing.
It’s also essential to figure out how you manage across different time zones. You always would like to have some people working across different time zones. You don’t want someone working in a time zone all by themselves or alone because that leads to demotivation.
It helps if you can have your respective managers have an equal amount of facetime or some sort of overlap between timezones. Otherwise, some of your employees in certain time zones will be neglected.
Identifying the dynamics of effective teams is a critical element of effective performance management.
For example, hiring the right people from the get-go is vital. You want self-starters. You want people who can work on their own without constantly being monitored.
Being resourceful is crucial in remote teams. That is a big red flag if an employee is stuck on something, doesn’t speak out about it or reaches out for help, and makes no progress till your next sync.
It’s easy for someone to go on cruise control and do the bare minimum because they are not monitored by a manager 24/7. Hence, we take a very strong stance on results/deliverables vs. how much time you spent on something or when you checked in.
Building and managing a good emotional culture will always be a work in progress. We might not get it right every single time, but we will keep on trying to make it work for everyone. The key is for leaders to listen to their team members and be empathic about the cultural differences that are tied to every verbal and non-verbal signal.
Equal speaking is highly encouraged in our team and we appreciate a show of emotions. It is what makes us human. It is what makes us better. It is the very thing that will help us get through any adversity and go to where we need to go.