How We Built a Die-Hard Team of eComm Experts in a World Gone Remote

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How has your business handled the transition to a remote or hybrid workspace over the last year and a half?

As COVID-19 kept most people isolated in their homes, companies worldwide were forced to accept the growing trend of remote and hybrid office hours earlier than they had anticipated. The new structure brought several questions and challenges that were long since ironed out in the previous era of office-based work.

How do you promote a positive, growth-focused company culture over zoom and emails?

How do you facilitate collaborative problem solving when everyone is in their own home?

Are your employees getting all of their work done when they aren’t being supervised at the office?

As you may know, we are based in Homer, Alaska, but over three-quarters of our team works remotely across the United States. Because we are a half-decade ahead of the office space evolution, we want to share some of the knowledge we’ve gained from our experiences over the last six years.

Culture Starts at the Top

Before we dive too deep into three of the most significant challenges businesses face as they transition to remote and hybrid workspaces, we must note that company culture starts at the top.

You must understand that your company’s culture will follow in the footsteps of its leader. If you genuinely care about your employees and invest in their professional and personal lives, your culture will become one full of trust and meaningful connection.

“People are very smart. They can tell whether or not you’re saying things for the sake of trying to get something from them. They can tell if you actually live by your core values, if you actually believe in your vision, or if you’re just trying to use this as a hack to grow your business.” (5:30)

On the other hand, if your priorities revolve around working your employees to the bone with no regard to their humanity, your culture will follow suit. Statements about valuing employees and culture must be backed up by action. Now that we’ve addressed the impact that a leader has on culture let’s look at a few of the most significant challenges that remote work brings to a company’s culture.

From “Hard to Manage” to “A Culture of Freedom and Accountability”

When COVID-19 forced offices to work from home, many bosses worried that productivity would plummet. After all, how would supervisors know that employees were working their 40 hours and not slacking off throughout the day?

At Shopanova, we’ve experienced success by implementing a “Be Your Own Boss” policy. We empower our employees by giving them the freedom to handle their own work. Rather than micromanaging each task, we clearly outline the expectations for each role and allow our team to regulate themselves.

“Rather than entering into this world where it’s very tempting to micromanage your people, we found that it’s much better to give them freedom, but also hold them accountable. And so what that ended up being for us was this thing called a ‘Be Your Own Boss’ policy, and effectively what is an unlimited vacation policy.” (14:39)

One particular portion of this policy that excites our employees is unlimited vacation days. Our team can take as many vacation days as they please, so long as their work is completed on time. We encourage them to take a vacation during slower times rather than when we are packed full of work and employees are yet to take advantage of the policy.

Turning Ambiguity into a World-Class Standard Operating Process

Arguably the most challenging part of remote and hybrid work environments is presenting positional responsibilities and training employees.

Without showing someone process-based work duties in person, each person’s responsibilities and job description often become ambiguous.

Early on in Shopanova’s existence, we prioritized recording standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each position. Now, every new hire or employee that is transferring positions knows precisely what is expected of them every week. SOPs serve both as job descriptions and checklists to ensure that we never miss a beat through transitional moments, making it easier to cover for employees out on vacation.

Converting Isolation and Loneliness into Meaningful Connections

The last challenge we will address centers around the camaraderie that comes with positive in-person office cultures. Businesses that operate remotely often struggle to curate the same connection that they experienced in the office, and we wanted to address that early on as we built Shopanova.

One specific action we take to promote meaningful connections across our staff is scheduling a weekly meeting to check in with our whole team. In this meeting, we chat less about business strategy and focus on each team member, giving them the time to talk about successes they’ve had, things they’ve learned, and ways we can help them.

“Because we’re not in the office every day bumping shoulders and having that level of small talk, we tried to create a really intentional time once a week where everyone can feel valued and their opinion is heard and they’re able to chat and share stuff that’s meaningful to them.” (7:30)

While curating a positive company culture in a remote team has its fair share of challenges, we’ve found effective ways to counteract these struggles. By promoting freedom and accountability, generating practical and clear SOPs, and facilitating time for meaningful connections amongst the staff, we believe that you can change your company’s culture for the better. And never forget, culture starts at the top!