Since the universal shift to work from home, companies have had to think outside the box when it comes to building a culture remotely. One company that has managed to achieve this while also building out an entire operation from the ground up in Ireland, is Diligent Corporation.
We spoke with Diligent’s Site Lead, Ruairi Conroy, about his experience of building a culture remotely and the advice he would give to other leaders looking to create and maintain morale with distributed teams.
To date, Diligent has hired over 100 staff entirely remotely for the European HQ in Galway. What has enabled you to ramp up so efficiently?
Putting the candidate's experience front and centre is key. Given the ambitious hiring goals we have at Diligent in Galway and knowing that new starters would have 100% remote experiences, we took a step back and re-imagined the pre-start and induction of new hires coming into the business.
We went about mapping out the candidate experience from the moment they accept an offer of employment through to their early weeks in the business, to ensure we designed as engaging an experience as possible.
It is important then to have a well-thought-out ramp-up plan after new hire induction and this is an area, we have spent a lot of time focusing on and will continue to focus on moving forward. We built a core team around ensuring that this top-class candidate experience is delivered upon.
We have been very fortunate to work with our recruitment partners, Cpl, in ensuring we attract the best talent and efficiently hire without compromise. I feel we have done a great job, a true partnership in action.
Finding candidates who are a good culture fit can be a challenge when hiring without meeting face to face. How did you overcome this? Did it make the hiring process longer in some cases?
It is true that not meeting a candidate face to face can make it harder to gauge culture fit but here is where you need to adapt. We have been fortunate to have been able to involve many long-tenured Diligent team members from different offices all around the world in the recruitment process.
Their experience and feedback have been invaluable. It is important to understand the true reasons people have for joining an exciting, fast-growing company like Diligent during the interview process and ensure that the candidate's motivations and values are aligned with that of the business.
What has the onboarding process looked like for Diligent’s new employees in Ireland?
The candidate experience is of the utmost importance to us at Diligent. New employees in Ireland can expect a welcome pack to arrive at their homes in advance of starting as well as receiving various communications about how we work in Diligent and a warm welcome from their manager. Each morning of your first week there is a welcome call to ensure all questions are answered and the activities of the day ahead are clearly explained and understood.
The onboarding process is a high energy multi-media journey where new hires will experience product and customer simulations, executive podcasts, daily group tasks, and an end of week 1 recruitment pitch that pulls all learnings together. There is lots more packed into the onboarding process all supported by a dedicated site where new hires are supported every step of the way.
Companies across Ireland have been looking at ways to bridge the gap between remote teams. What are the key things that have helped Diligent to not just maintain, but build a company culture virtually in Ireland for the first time?
Remote working has totally changed how companies engage with their employees. Building a company culture from scratch virtually needs to be a team game. One of the important things we do is survey employees regularly on how they are feeling and to get suggestions for improvement. As the Site Lead, I also meet with groups of employees regularly to help foster relationships across teams and seek their opinion on why working for Diligent matters to them personally and how we can constantly improve.
These valuable employee inputs help me run team workshops to identify key actions for impact that are communicated across the site with owners and due dates. At Diligent we like to hold ourselves accountable to our stakeholders and I want to lead by example here.
Based on employee feedback we identified that a sense of “community” and “health”, both physical and mental, were topics that are close to the hearts of our Galway team. Based on these themes and the help of several volunteers, we organised a 4-week challenge to walk/run 2,000 KMs whilst taking pictures of what you experience along the way.
This was a great way to get to know people on the team and their remote environments, it really helped connect us all. We created a dedicated Slack channel to share distance travelled and pictures with daily tallies counting us down towards our goal which we exceeded. Based on the successful completion of the challenge we decided to make a meaningful donation to a charity decided on by the team and we decided to support COPE Galway. We did a wonderful interview with the team in COPE Galway to understand more about the great work they do and the impact our corporate donation would have.
Another thing that works well is that I post a weekly video for our Galway staff discussing the key areas of impact for the site and I push this out over Slack to encourage engagement from the team. I make sure topics that are most important to the team are updated regularly and highlight successes and welcome new joiners.
Leadership is of course a strong component of culture building. As Site Lead, what tips would you share with other leaders that you have found useful in uniting teams and creating a strong remote culture?
Be authentic – When creating a strong remote culture, it is so important to build trust and form a meaningful relationship with your team. Authenticity for me is the most attractive trait both personally and professionally and it helps people connect with you as a leader and learn who you are and how you operate.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! – It is important to have multiple options to engage your team and for you as a leader, to be accessible in different ways. Some of the things that have worked well for me are video updates, team workshops, pulse surveys, virtual coffee catch-ups, and live townhalls. It is important to find creative ways to communicate and to have consistency around key updates, so people know what to expect and when. This is even more important in a remote environment to help bring structure.
Only ask for feedback if you are going to action it – Everyone has an opinion and that opinion matters. Closing the loop on feedback is critical and if you don’t intend to follow through and identify added value actions based on what you have heard from employees then don’t seek feedback in the first place.
What hasn’t worked in terms of employee engagement that you’ve learned from?
When the pandemic first hit, and we all moved from the office environment to remote working, there was a tendency to check up on how people were doing too frequently which led to micro-management and unease. I think I learned this quickly and understood that trust needs to be established in this new remote environment.
As teams we all needed to recalibrate our rules of engagement and for this to truly work it needed to be a two-way street where everyone describes how best they like to manage and be managed virtually. Then new individual and team rituals have formed that work for everyone.
Working virtually means that employees are more likely to develop micro-cultures within their teams/divisions as opposed to having a more unified company culture created in an office environment, has that been the case with Diligent?
I think it is natural to see some micro-cultures form based on the team you are part of as those are the group of people that you are engaging with daily and in the absence of being in a physical office space, there is less opportunity to get to know people in other departments.
We have addressed this in a few ways that include (i) team social events (ii) cross-departmental workshops (iii) virtual coffee catch-ups (iv) grouping new hires cross-departmentally during onboarding (v) breakout rooms during Galway site townhalls where people get to know each other better.
We are committed to continuing to be creative about surfacing opportunities for people to collaborate and learn from each other. This is a very important part of the culture for Diligent in Galway.
Diligent's people work hard to create an environment that supports innovative thinkers. How have you cultivated a culture like this remotely?
I have found that the best ideas most often come from listening to your customers and staff. At Diligent, we solicit feedback from the teams on what we should “Stop, Start & Continue” doing to ensure we are working smart and seeking new and innovative ways of doing things that could improve how all stakeholders experience working with and for Diligent.
One of our core values in Diligent is “creativity”. It’s where we explore how things can be done differently to improve upon quality, impact, and the customer experience and we have an internal recognition program that celebrates team members who demonstrate this value and several others.