In the first part of the series, I shared our challenges and experiences in building fast-growing remote teams during the pandemic. For this second part, we will be focusing on the next crucial step after we’ve gathered the team- building company culture. From my time at Booking.com, Amazon, as well as a couple of early-stage start-ups, I had witnessed first hand the difficulty in building world class cultures. Having to build it now ourselves at Ula and entirely remotely no less, has been an interesting experience.
How do we take a group of 200+ teammates from 7 different nationalities (90% of them who’ve never met each other before!), align them with our vision and build a collective culture around it? As one would expect, it has been quite a challenge – but also a very rewarding one! It was tricky at the beginning, but after months of trial and error and inputs from all our teammates, we have found our rhythm to building ‘the’ Ula culture.
Here are some of the things we’ve implemented over the past months which have worked for us and enabled our culture to grow.
Share and Allow Your Vision to Resonate
Our people are the company’s pillars and we always ensure we spend quality time talking to each one of them. We share our vision, our ambitions and what to expect when working together. Hierarchy is also so old-school. Instead, we encourage all teammates to share their perspective with regards to company and culture building. To enable this form of inclusive culture building in the early days for our India office, I personally went to Bangalore multiple times (pre-covid) and shared with teammates there our enthusiasm and vision of using tech to improve our customers’ lives. Culture is borne from people, and we will always strive to be as inclusive as possible, online and offline. It is very important to let people know that their opinion counts and that they are in an environment conducive to share their thoughts.
Dedicate Time for Online Cultural Events
In the meantime (because of covid), we have also taken our in-office cultural events and transitioned them online. From our monthly Town Halls, to Game Nights to Mentor Sessions, we make sure these events happen online so teams have ways to connect and interact outside the normal course of business. We also ensure these events happen on a weekly basis so teams can look forward to meeting each other and have consistent avenues to have fun and socialize with each other.
Create Opportunities for Spontaneous ‘Water Cooler Conversations’
Water cooler conversations – from the day when we had offices with water coolers! – are casual discussions between teammates about non-work-related topics. From books, to movies, to hobbies- these important conversations allow teammates to bond on a deeper level besides work. To recreate these discussions, we made use of Slack (given Slack became everyone’s ‘office’ during covid). We have the work-only Slack channels, but also created many other non-work ones. We have channels for #pet-lovers, #kpoplovers and even a #random channel where everything goes. These channels are great outlets for teammates to share their favorite topics, chat and bond- essentially replicating the offline water cooler moments.
Celebrate Festivities and Milestones
With everyone working remotely, we make deliberate effort to celebrate special moments together. From Halloween to birthdays and the local festivities of each one of our locations, we ensure everyone feels special and included in the celebration by sending a small gift or cake. Sending these gifts requires little effort, but allows us to show appreciation to all our teammates. Receiving these physical gifts as tokens of appreciation is also extra meaningful, especially today with everyone working remotely. These celebrations also serve as timely reminders for our teammates to take breaks and disconnect when necessary- practicing the work-life culture we preach at Ula. Also important, it serves as a great opportunity to celebrate each one of the cultures at Ula – which is essential to us, as we see our diversity as our biggest asset.
Our Ula Family Today
Ula turned one year old recently. Despite the young age of the company, our culture today feels like that of a company many years older. While most of us have not met in real life or worked physically together, the hard work and immense fun we have online together certainly makes it feel like we did. I am certain that when the pandemic clears and when our teammates get to meet, they won’t be strangers but close counterparts of our strong Ula family. The small events at our Jakarta office we’ve slowly started organizing again and the great success they’ve had are testament to that.
In hindsight, the pandemic made company building difficult, but again we’ve risen to the challenge and come out stronger. A close knit Ula family of 200+ members- made up of 7 nationalities, spread across 3 countries and bonded by our collective culture.
What an accomplishment for the entire Ula family.