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Jun 22'

Behind the Scenes: How Bucketlist Builds an Engaging Distributed-First Workplace

Research shows that 64% of employees would consider quitting if company policy forced them back to the office. For many people, waking up early and heading to the office is a thing of the past. 

Do you remember what it feels like to set your alarm for 6:30 AM to wake up, get dressed in business casual attire, pack a lunch, and leave your house for a 1-hour commute to get to the office for a hard 9:00 AM start? 

No? We don’t either!

workplace culture
Meme courtesy of Ricotta

Over the past few years, Bucketlist Rewards has fully embraced the distributed-first model in which team members can work from anywhere.  

How did we get here?

Before the pandemic, we were a small team made up of seven people; five were local and the other two were remote. The team members who were local operated under the traditional model of working 9 AM - 5 PM from Monday to Friday in the office. 

Once the pandemic and lockdowns started, and we needed to move our operations online, all subsequent hires have been remote. We are now a 45-person team (and growing!) working from 7 different timezones. A few team members who were originally local and from Vancouver have since moved to other parts of the world. 

With Bucketlist embracing a distributed-first model, we needed to decide whether our office was supporting the needs of the team. As the restrictions started easing up, we soft-launched the idea of returning back to the office to see what the team thought. We started by having social events at the office and specific days where we invited people to come to work. We saw that attendance was low and a full return never caught on. We also surveyed the team about the idea of returning back to the office in varying capacities to gauge interest. 

Highlights from our survey:

As a result, we are in the process of selecting a co-working space for our team to fulfill these needs. 

Major Benefits of the Distributed-First Model 

Going distributed has become a global trend - a study by Gallup found that around 77% of remote-capable employees expect to be working exclusively remote or in a hybrid situation moving forward. It’s estimated that about 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022. 

Bucketlist Rewards has chosen to move towards a distributed-first model largely as a result of the team’s needs and preferences. It’s a big value proposition for our team and potential candidates. Team members have shared that they enjoyed the increased flexibility, productivity, and work-life balance that comes with this work model. They also enjoyed the lack of stressful and time-consuming commuting, which often takes up many hours each day. 

From a business perspective, having a distributed workplace has also brought many benefits. When hiring, we have access to a larger talent pool, as we aren’t limited to the competitive market in Vancouver’s tech industry. 

“There’s a ridiculous number of good reasons why the distributed-first model works well. People love the ability to work from home and that’s very personally empowering. You can also tap into a global talent pool. When done right, I think it’s an amazing way to build a high-performance culture.”

- Jason Lindstrom, CEO, Bucketlist Rewards 

Building Culture at a distributed workplace

Culture needs to support the organization in the way that it’s set up so that employees are able to feel a connection to their work and their peers. That means that we’ve had to critically examine the in-office culture that we had built and see which parts still fit our needs.  

We’ve acknowledged that building culture looks different now and have taken advantage of tools and resources that support a distributed team. It’s paid off; we’ve recently been certified as one of the top 50 best companies to work for in Canada.  

For us, some of the most important aspects of our culture are transparency, good communication, removing barriers to access, and having a fun and innovative spirit. Here are a few of the things we’ve implemented to help us intentionally build a company culture that our distributed team can succeed in and engage with: 

  • • Weekly virtual company huddle with departmental updates to encourage transparency and reduction of silos 
  • L10 structure for weekly department meetings that everyone has access to and are able to fill in asynchronously
  • • KPIs and other company goals are documented and readily available to all team members  
  • • A company wiki with frequently asked company information and resources for new hires as well as existing employees 
  • • New Hire Survey sent out after one month to receive feedback from new hires to improve any onboarding or company processes.  

Hiring and Onboarding for a distributed team 

Hiring 

We understand that this is a relatively new work model, and we don’t expect external individuals to fully know what being part of a distributed-first team looks like. During the interview process, our hiring team is transparent about our distributed-first model to give potential candidates the opportunity to assess whether this is a good fit for them. 

While the work is remote, as a Canadian company, we do prefer to hire people within Canada due to time zone differences, employment legalities, and administrative logistics.

Not everyone is a good fit for a distributed-first model. When it comes to identifying strong potential candidates, we believe that the following qualities are important: 

  • • Personal accountability
  • • Success-driven/ goal-oriented
  • • Team-oriented attitude 
  • • Values balance
  • • Ability to work independently
  • • Innovative
  • • Proactively looks for ways to improve

Onboarding

Although the onboarding process looks different now, it’s become easier in some ways. We take advantage of the fact of the flexibility by putting people who start at similar times into a cohort to acquaint themselves with the organization together. Cohort members can fully participate in the onboarding process, no matter where they’re located. We find that being a part of a cohort really helps new hires foster a sense of belonging and support as they begin their journey at Bucketlist. 

workplace culture

Cohort-specific activities and resources we’ve implemented: 

  • • Scheduling group meet-and-greets with department leaders - A group meeting is less intimidating and more efficient!
  • • Invitations to company-wide meetings or social events that are already on the calendar. At Bucketlist, we have daily company-wide scrums (with smaller break-out rooms for the first half, then a group social conversation for the second half), and a weekly business-focused huddle.
  • • Provide tools and resources for asynchronous learning (eg. a company wiki) that doesn’t require a trainer to be present.
  • • Heavily schedule out the first week with meetings, activities, and assignments to help them feel comfortable and guided. 
  • • Communicate the expectations for the role. This will help new hires take ownership of planning out their own week as they get into the groove.
  • • Onboarding new hires onto the Bucketlist Rewards platform as soon as possible so that they can take part in receiving and giving recognitions. To be continuously building a culture of connection and recognition, it’s crucial to start from day one for every new hire. 

Challenges in a distributed workplace

1. Lack of boundary between work and home life 

Working from home can really blur the much-needed boundary between your work and personal life. For some people, their “office” is in the bedroom or on the island in the kitchen. There’s no door or commute to create an obvious divide. 75% of remote workers share that they’ve experienced burnout; boundaries need to be set to make sure that people are getting the physical and mental breaks that they need. 

At Bucketlist, success is not equated to the amount of time someone spends in front of their computer screen. Celebrating overtime is an old-school way of thinking that needs to be changed, especially in a distributed workplace where it’s so easy to work longer hours. 65% of remote workers reported working more hours than they had while working from the office. The company culture needs to focus on outcomes and results, not the number of hours worked.  

“The number one issue that everyone is struggling with when switching to remote management is the idea of managing outcomes and not inputs. If you set clear metrics and your team is hitting those marks, you don’t have to worry about how many hours they’re spending or when they’re doing the work. You’re managing towards the outcomes that your organization needs.”

- Robert Glazer, CEO and Founder of Acceleration Partners

How can companies help set boundaries?

  • • It needs to be clear that there are no expectations to respond to messages when you’re not working. One way to do this is to encourage employees to set their working hours on their Google Calendar so that it’s visible throughout the organization. 
  • • Encourage employees who have work-related apps on their personal devices to adjust notifications accordingly or have them on secondary screens so that it’s not always top of mind. 
  • • Encourage everyone to set up a dedicated workspace and create an end-of-day routine to shut down/shut off.

2. Building connections

In a distributed-first workplace, the amount of time you see your colleagues face-to-face goes down drastically, which can really impact relationship-building. There are no opportunities for people to bump into each other and strike up conversations, no spontaneous lunch outings, and no ability to drop by a colleague’s desk to quickly ask a question or check in. Companies need to be strategic to ensure that people still have ample opportunities to connect and build bonds with one another. 

That being said, there needs to be a balance when it comes to engagement and participation; we don’t want people to feel pressured into doing things that they don’t want to, even if it’s something that’s considered “fun.” We want people to feel that our initiatives are enhancing their experiences at work and nurturing connections, and not overwhelming them. 

"A flexible working style means that not everyone will want to be engaged in the same way. Take company events, for example. It’s important that the event has asynchronous components so that everyone is able to take part."

- Jenna Aquino, Marketing Manager at Wavy

How can companies help people connect?

  • • Consider having regular company-wide social huddles. We have a daily stand-up video call meeting that everyone in the company attends. It’s not your traditional format:
    • ‣ 5-minute breakout rooms to talk about personal/work goals for the day
    • ‣ 5-minute main room social chat (with everyone) where an appointed Question Master asks someone else a fun question. The person who answers is the Question Master the next day
  • • Utilize tools that were created to help people connect virtually. We use Donut, a Slack integration tool that automatically sets up virtual coffee chats between employees.
  • • Encourage a company culture where people have their cameras on during meetings. This is less about making sure that people are engaged and more about trying to build relationships, which is easier when we are face-to-face.  
  • • When hosting company-wide social events, consider ways team members can access it asynchronously. Perhaps you can create a dedicated event discussion space where people can share their experiences and build connections - if you’re hosting a virtual paint night, it’s fun to see how the paintings turned out! As our friends at Wavy (a holistic company culture platform) point out, an event itself isn't culture; it's a vessel that brings people together to activate the company culture goals that you're working towards.
  • • Our Bucketlist Rewards platform isn’t just about acknowledging work-related contributions - we celebrate personal achievements together too. Understanding what’s important to our colleagues outside of work really helps build those connections.    
workplace culture

3. New processes that didn’t need to exist previously

Throughout the transition, we realized there were missing processes that needed to be created for situations that didn’t arise before. For example, a major perk of being on a distributed team is the ability to work from virtually anywhere. But as a company, that flexibility needs to be balanced by a formal process that any team member can follow if they’re considering a major move. 

At Bucketlist, a relocation policy became necessary after several team members started to move during the pandemic. We realized that there were many security concerns and other logistical issues to consider. It’s been important for us to always keep in mind that what works for a team of ten will likely not work for a team of seventy-five; we encourage our teams to take a proactive approach to notice where processes are missing and to create them sooner rather than later.

Final Thoughts

It’s been quite the process of building the company and our culture in a way that supports a distributed team. Perhaps the biggest challenge was simply that it was a new thing that we had never done before. Despite the resources available, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, as every organization has different needs. We hope that by sharing our journey, we can contribute to the conversation in a positive way. To all the other companies out there who are on this journey too, you are not alone! 

“You don't always have to get it perfect on the first try. Start with version 1.0, and ask for input and feedback along the way. Being able to listen, learn, adapt and iterate how we work will be an ongoing challenge that organizations will be continuously navigating for years to come.”

- Katie Wray, People and Culture Senior Manager at Bucketlist Rewards 

What did you think about this article? Do you have any thoughts, questions, or experiences that you’d like to share on the topic of building the best culture in a distributed workplace? We’d love to connect and chat more! Email Rebecca at rebecca@bucketlistrewards.com

Curious about Bucketlist Rewards and the impact employee rewards and recognition platforms can have on your team’s culture? Contact us for a product demo with one of our friendly Culture Evangelists to learn how Bucketlist’s employee reward and recognition software can help you keep your team happy and engaged. 

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