Building Company Culture Remotely

Thought Leadership

By Apply Digital Staff | June 18, 2021
Desk with an open laptop

In 2020, the way we work changed forever — and how we build and maintain a positive company culture changed too.

In some ways, Apply Digital was lucky. We were already a tech-forward company, using tools like Slack, Notion, and Zoom to our advantage, which made the transition to complete remote work easier — at least from a digital perspective.

But from a community perspective? The transition required more thought. As the People Operations Team (POps), it is our job to make sure our teams are happy, connected, and engaged even while apart.

It’s all about the people

So, how do we do it?

By taking a human-centered approach. Just like every team at Apply Digital, people drive what we do. But as the POps team, our focus is on our own teams, instead of clients or their customers.

Whether through surveys or direct communication with our employees, there’s a little digging involved. Employee research is not much different from user research — discovery is always fundamental.

And for the POps team, our discovery phase includes a new hire survey that helps us plan personalized birthday celebrations. But during the pandemic, we were able to repurpose this survey to create virtual experiences fit for our whole team, such as happy hours centered around mutual interests and catered lunch breaks with former desk buddies.

At the start, everyone was excited to attend these events. But as time went on, we all began to experience digital fatigue.

So, we adapted. Using the feedback we received, we now host non-mandatory happy hours where people can drop in for however long they want. And it works.

Try, try again

It’s a trial and error process. Our POps team searches for the best solutions by regularly checking in with everyone. Our one-on-ones let us really talk to our teams and gather valuable insights into how everyone is doing. And it gives them the space to be honest and open.

For instance, our employees said they were working through breaks because colleagues can’t walk by their desks for casual conversations. We try to emulate that experience with 10–15 minute calls with small groups of people. This approach is especially helpful for new team members.

Man looking at computer

New year, new hires

We’ve been growing immensely as a company.

  • So far in 2021, we’ve onboarded 40+ full-time employees and 30+ contractors

  • From 2019 to 2021, our Toronto team has grown from 26 people to 65

  • We’ve hired across the globe, including San Francisco, Brazil, New York, Mexico, and New Zealand

Changing our in-person onboarding experience to a completely remote one required mindful considerations.

The structure remains roughly the same as before. The first meeting continues to be with the POps team to ensure a positive start. And they still receive their first-day gift basket filled with a water bottle, notebook, and a little plant to make their work experience better — it now arrives at their home instead of being set up at their desk. They’ll have orientations with the department heads to learn about the duties of each team and our CEO meets with every new hire to walk them through the company manifesto as a way of establishing a transparent environment.

What has changed is the way we build connections. Meeting new people and getting situated all through a screen isn’t easy.

We created a buddy system so new hires have a go-to person for questions and support. Longer introductions were incorporated into our weekly all-hands ‘Apply Everything’ meetings so everyone can learn a little bit about them. And we schedule chit-chats so they can meet people from other teams.

On the ground

Our remote work success is owed to people. It was through our teams that we learned what worked and what didn’t. We knew how important it was that everyone connected with each other, but we also understood that everyone felt inundated with video calls.

We’re mindful of how many chats we schedule so we can avoid digital burnout. We also encourage everyone to engage with our escape-room Slack channel so people can get to know their colleagues. Whatever events we organize, we ensure there’s no pressure to attend or stay the entire time.

Computer Showing "Slack" App

From monthly cooking sessions to weekly drop-in game nights to the occasional trivia party, our team is together again, even through screens.

Moving forward

Life may never go back to the way things used to be — and that’s a good thing. This era of remote community-building proves we have what it takes to succeed and also opens up global hiring opportunities.

As our people grow and evolve, our approaches grow and evolve along with them — this sentiment will stand the test of time.

The Apply Digital People Operations team

This article was written with Daniella Varela, People & Culture Generalist, Stephanie Singh, People & Culture Generalist, Michael Gaa, Talent Lead, Tristan Higuit, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, and Colleen Bin, Head of People Operations. This team has worked diligently to ensure Apply Digital is an organization filled to the brim with positivity.

Co-Written by Jaime Chang