5 Lessons about Culture That Helped Us Double in Growth in a Remote Work Environment


5 Lessons about Culture That Helped Us Double in Growth in a Remote Work Environment

September 29, 2021

By Siew Mee Yong, Managing Director and Chief People Officer

As an offshore B2B marketing agency, working remotely is second nature to us at 2X. As our clients are mostly based in the U.S., most communication happens via email and collaborative tools, while weekly calls and video conferences are focused on clear objectives to be mindful of everyone’s time.

In the early days of the pandemic, most discussions centered around transitioning to a fully remote workforce and equipping employees with the tools to remain productive—but this was only half the battle. Today, adapting to a remote work environment is the bare minimum for organizations aiming to survive.

In one of the most tumultuous years for businesses worldwide, 2X has done more than survived. We’ve accelerated our growth—being recognized as one of Inc 5000’s fastest growing companies—and more than doubled in size. When we eventually return to the office, there won’t be enough room for the 200 (and counting) employees who joined us remotely … but that’s a discussion for another day.

Like other organizations that had to shift their operation models virtually overnight (no pun intended), we had to learn and adapt quickly. After some introspection, some of the questions we asked were:

  • How can we keep employees happy and productive in a remote work environment?
  • How can we maintain the positive culture we’d cultivated when everyone is separated?
  • How can we ensure everyone’s on the same page about the company’s growth trajectory?

We believe employees’ productivity and happiness go hand in hand—in fact, you can’t have one without the other. As such, after setting our employees up for remote-work productivity, we’ve found that the glue that holds it all together—and the key to maintaining growth at a time of tremendous disruption—is culture.

Here are 5 lessons we’ve learned about creating a healthy culture in a remote work environment.

    1. Create opportunities for people to be honest

A few months into working remotely, some private talks revealed that some employees were showing signs of burnout, and this discovery started the first of our many initiatives to safeguard employee wellbeing. We wanted to know how many people felt the same way and what kind of changes we could make to alleviate these situations.

To find out what people thought about working from home, we sent a company-wide survey, paying close attention to the way questions were phrased and putting research into enabling our people to answer honestly.

The survey asked detailed questions about the comfort of employees’ working environments, whether they had the right equipment, how productive they felt about their work, and whether communication between colleagues and clients was adequate, as well as many other questions regarding their mental and emotional health.

We knew it was important to obtain honest feedback. And while the survey revealed some uncomfortable truths, it also allowed us to address them effectively.

Another area where we found room for improvement was in our weekly delivery meetings where account leaders shared updates and progress within their respective clients. The format worked fine with a leaner client portfolio, but it was apparent that the meetings included too many accounts in far too short a time. This caused managers to only present positive results, without enough time to dive deep into current issues.

So, we changed the structure of our meetings from once a month to biweekly, and included only 4 to 6 accounts grouped by similar pain points. This allowed the meetings to be more than just status updates. Instead, they became an opportunity to collaborate. With all accounts receiving the attention they needed, potential issues could be identified and highlighted, and managers who had experienced similar issues could offer helpful suggestions and ideas.

    2. Trust that employees want to be productive

This trust begins in the hiring process—our core mission is to hire people who are committed and eager to learn. Once a person joins 2X, that trust is built on. For example, in the survey, most employees cited issues with “disconnecting” from work and conversely from home life. Our solution was to fix working hours and build a culture where everyone understands that after-work communication will be addressed the next day. Our project management platform also allows us to monitor utilization hours closely, and over-utilization will raise a red flag to be addressed—either by adjusting internal resourcing or by managing clients’ expectations on service delivery.

We also realized how crucial it is to have a conducive remote work environment, so we started a program to sponsor ergonomic furniture and office equipment, such as keyboards and monitors, allowing our people to separate “work” from “home”.

    3. Provide opportunities for growth and learning

Just because people aren’t going to the office, that doesn’t mean their growth should be stalled. This is especially true for Millennial and Gen Z employees—digital natives who want a clear plan for their growth. Nothing shows them the door faster than stagnancy, and providing ample opportunities for growth (and communicating it clearly) is key to retaining talent.

We truly believe the company grows when its people grow. One of our growth methods is to provide structured training programs with mentors who provide regular feedback, identify where the gaps are, and closely monitor progress.

Another issue highlighted in our survey showed that young leaders were struggling to manage a remote team for the first time. We resolved this by pairing up young leaders with more experienced managers and augmenting the operational management side at peak phases to make sure first-time managers do not get overwhelmed.

    4. Create structures for spontaneous team-building

At the office, the pantry serves as a watering hole and also a place to relax with a game of ping pong or two, so that people are more likely to bump into each other. In a remote work environment however, we had to create opportunities for people to interact in a casual setting—because when we get to know each other, it becomes easier to share knowledge, approach a colleague, and ask for help. Besides that, it also cultivates higher employee engagement, which means higher productivity and lower employee turnover.

So, how did we create these casual opportunities for people to bond? We sponsored lunches grouped into teams and roles, and we also sponsored company-wide tea breaks to introduce new employees. There are also “opt-in” lunches to give newbies a chance to get to know people—and senior employees a chance to interact with people outside their delivery teams.
This move opened the door for self-initiated activities, and we now have groups of people with mutual interests getting together regularly for game nights, fitness classes, movie marathons, and more.

    5. Prioritize employees’ wellbeing

With the survey, we discovered that working remotely in the midst of a pandemic has inevitably caused some people to experience different emotional, psychological, and social conditions – including loneliness, depression, stress, and burnout. It was essential to address the mental wellness of our employees, and the first step was to educate ourselves.

We learned that we could desensitize speaking about the topic of mental health by spreading awareness, and most importantly, we could support our employees by offering them the resources to achieve better mental wellness. We compiled a list of support services where our staff could book company-sponsored therapy sessions.

Additionally, we implemented a no-questions-asked sick leave to destigmatize taking a mental break. This was important if we wanted to create a culture where mental wellness is prioritized.

Another program we came up with was the “leave to rest”, which allowed employees to convert their vacation days into funds for a relaxing getaway, a spa treatment, or a fancy meal. This was to encourage employees to really use their time off for something enjoyable, as opposed to simply running errands.

Prioritizing employees is a long-term investment

Now with all these initiatives, some might wonder, ‘What happens if my employees abuse these privileges?’ We believe that prioritizing employees is a long-term investment with amazing returns. We know that those who will thrive from these privileges outnumber those who take advantage of them so much more. We learn by trying, and not letting one bad apple change the course for doing good things.

For 2X, it is so important to build a healthy work culture—our growth would not have been possible without a happy, productive workforce. We’ve built our culture by paying attention to our employees’ needs and initiating the right programs to address them.

This is how 2X has continued to grow, and how we’re able to help our clients grow. It’s why we go above and beyond to deliver impactful marketing that drives organizational growth for our clients. And when forward-thinking CMOs come to us to be an extension of their team, it’s how we’re ready and able to hit the ground running.

Siew Mee Yong

Siew Mee Yong

Siew Mee Yong is 2X's versatile Managing Director and Chief People Officer whose open-mindedness has shaped a diverse career path. Beginning as a researcher in computer networks, Siew Mee transitioned to designing digital user experiences for BT, having a track record of managing large teams with a below 2% attrition rate. Prior to 2X, she was the VP of Global Marketing at Quintiq—now Dassault Systèmes—where she oversaw 30% year-over-year growth and developed an off-shore marketing services function supporting 16 independent global business units.