Why Company Culture Is Critical Today

Written by Mike Ranellone on April 13, 2020

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The recent shift to remote work tests more than just the limits of modern IT — it also holds up a mirror to company culture.

Organizations built around great people and open communication are finding creative ways to work through this period of uncertainty. For others, the new reality of video calls and comment threads highlights opportunities for growth and development in this area. 

When we look back on today’s economic climate, we’ll see it as a starting point from which the very best companies began to pull away from their competition. It’s critical to remember that people will be a key differentiator moving forward, even as we’re all forced to scrutinize budgets in the short term.

No matter how tempting it may be to cut back on “soft” investments that don’t produce immediate ROI, the organizations best prepared for long-term success recognize that now is the time to double down on culture. 

Here at JumpCloud, the human connections we’ve built are helping to sustain us and drive innovation, even as we adapt to new challenges. We continue to look for ways to support teamwork and interpersonal growth, with a renewed commitment to our common goal of providing the very best in cloud directory services. Here are some of our team’s essential focus areas. 

Doubling Down on Mission, Vision, and Values 

As we grew over the last several years, we learned that it takes intentional action in order to scale culture. How do you take the elements of spontaneous collaboration and laser-focused problem solving that happen organically on a small team and replicate them across a much larger organization?

For us, it’s about maintaining transparency from the top down to ensure that each employee, whether a software engineer or a sales representative, understands how their contribution fits into the big picture. 

To keep everyone aligned around our mission, vision, and values, we hold regular company-wide meetings with a different department leader presenting each week. These meetings create an opportunity to highlight current initiatives and recognize progress, while offering a preview of the department’s extended road map.

Presentations don’t need to be exhaustive or time consuming — just 15 minutes a week goes a long way toward keeping everyone on the same page and aware of what’s going on around the company. And although we currently miss the social aspect of gathering in the same room, there’s still something about seeing hundreds of familiar names in one video call that helps to reinforce the feeling that we’re a team, and we’re in this together. 

Now is an especially good time to revisit your organization’s values. Do they still ring true, and do they translate to the current situation? If not, is there room to update them? Thoughtful values help translate long-term goals into the daily habits that set team members up for success. Ideally, they’ll have a unique meaning for your company and industry but also remain applicable across a variety of circumstances. Here’s how we interpret ours:

Build Connections On the surface, this is about establishing secure pathways for user authorization and authentication in the context of our cloud directory service. But its other meaning, in terms of cultivating strong relationships, feels especially important right now. We work to connect with each other internally and especially with our customers and partners, to listen to their specific needs and figure out how we can help. 

Think Big — Not only do we have ambitious goals for our product and our company, but Think Big as a value also helps us think about our larger context and how our actions and road maps fit into, and hopefully help, the current global situation in some small way. 

1% Better Every Day — Sustained progress is important to us, and we aim for a healthy balance of attainability and ambition here. 1% feels like something each individual can accomplish, even right now, and those single percentage points add up over time, to the tune of 37x year-over-year improvement! 

Hiring and Retaining Great People  

Although many businesses have slowed down hiring in response to economic uncertainty, critical positions still need to be filled and backfilled as they become available. When it comes to hiring for those positions, there’s little room for trial and error right now. Think of this as an opportunity to revisit your hiring process and make sure your application and interview priorities align with concrete goals for each position. 

As difficult as it can be to predict how someone will perform in a role, if you can increase the likelihood that you’ll find a great fit on your first try, you’ll avoid the cost of repeating the process and you’ll see value returned in the form of faster onboarding. This doesn’t mean holding out for unrealistically perfect candidates, but it does mean identifying the top one or two skills or background areas that matter most to a given position and keeping the bar high in those areas.    

Hiring itself is only part of the equation. A thorough onboarding experience helps even extremely talented people get up to speed more quickly and start to feel like they’re part of your culture. Remote onboarding can be a challenge, and it may not be enough to just send out pre-recorded slideshow presentations in lieu of in-person training sessions. It’s worth asking what steps you can take to recreate the human interactions that normally take place during office-based onboarding.

That might mean hosting informal meet-and-greets over Hangouts, or pairing each new hire with a designated peer who can answer questions while helping to create a welcoming atmosphere. A strong onboarding experience also requires coordinated IT efforts to make sure new employees are provisioned with the tools they need to be successful from the start.  

Replicating Office Culture 

We’ll be the first to admit that while we’re thankful to be able to operate fully in a remote capacity, many of us are also missing our office and the camaraderie that goes with it. Even if you’re not noticing a drastic change in quantitative output, it’s important to stop and think about what intangible aspects of your company culture are missing right now.

Certain things will be difficult to replicate, like the way people in the same room can feed off each other’s energy in a brainstorming session. There’s still value in acknowledging that absence and attempting to make up for it. 

Some of the steps we take to replicate our office culture include daily team stand up meetings, virtual happy hours, and increased communication around schedule availability. The stand up format, borrowed from popular engineering workflows, ensures that each team member starts their day with clear direction and an achievable goal.

On the social side, we’ve discovered that having a person “lead” a virtual happy hour by asking questions and facilitating answers can remove some of the awkwardness that comes with trying to guess who will speak next.

And in terms of availability, we want to strike a balance between collaboration and distraction-free deep work. In place of wearing headphones at our desks to signal “I’m busy right now,” for example, many of us have taken to using new status icons on Slack to indicate what we’re up to. 

Interested in learning more about our approach to identifying talent and building a strong, resilient culture at a growing SaaS company? Check out Thrive Global’s recent interview with Aaron Wilmot, our VP of People. 

Mike Ranellone

Mike is a writer at JumpCloud who's especially interested in the changing role of tech in society. He cut his teeth in the ad agency world and holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Colorado-Boulder and a B.A. in English and music from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. Outside of JumpCloud, he's an avid skier, cellist, and poet.

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