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How start-ups can maintain culture and values across satellite offices

Anna Roe, Chief People Officer - TransferGo
macbook pro on brown wooden table

In many ways, start-up leaders are the envy of the business world. They are able to create an appealing workplace culture that works employees across different generations, and can attract the best talent. Problems are often solved through creative thinking while there’s typically a flat hierarchy and open communication channels. 

However, as these businesses grow, expand their teams and receive funding, a common issue is working out how to maintain the culture that has served so well, while scaling to meet the needs of a growing customer base. The reality is that different countries and regions have conflicting ideas of what is culturally acceptable and what is not – particularly in relation to diversity and inclusion. This can prove particularly challenging when recruiting new talent and getting employees to buy into the company’s values and mission. 

Nevertheless, it is possible to maintain values and culture across satellite offices, if leadership follows these tips: 

It’s impossible to completely replicate HQ culture 

Culture is born from creating a set of shared values that all employees can understand and embody, no matter where in the world they are. If anything, the last few months which has seen employees around the world suddenly turning their living rooms and kitchens into home-offices, has demonstrated the importance of having a culture that can be carried from office to office, wherever that may be. 

Importantly, culture is not about team drinks on Fridays or even wanting to ‘hang out’ with colleagues during or after work. Instead, it’s about making sure that all workers can operate in an environment where the company’s DNA can be lived and breathed. 

As we return to our new normal, it’s important that we continue to develop and adapt workplace culture so it fits into this new world of work. This not only means that best practices need to continue, but that culture can traverse regional differences and apply to those operating remotely. People leaders would do well to remember, however, that what is not replicated is often incidental. The football tables, contemporary sofas or regular ‘huddle groups’ are nice-to-have but not essential. Instead, what must be consistent is the core, founding values. These values underpin the company’s direction and can be the difference between further growth or stagnation. 

The People team must have a seat at the table 

Much like other business areas, such as technology or finance, HR, or now more widely known as the People team, is most valuable when it’s not siloed. Today, People is breaking out of its anachronistic stereotypes of helping to hire and fire, or form employee policy and benefits. Now, People is about being a key advisor to leaders on purpose and strategy. 

Across many different industries, the balance of power has swung in favour of talent. They are in the driving seat of their career, choosing where and how they work. As a result, the People team is ideally placed to ensure that company values are communicated effectively, and that start-ups can be an attractive career prospect for new workers, no matter where the recruitment is taking place. Furthermore, it is this department that understands how best to induct new recruits, implement the correct training exercises and ensure that all employees are ready to recognise and live the company’s founding principles. 

Moreover, they have the added benefit of having their ear to the ground and understanding how values can be updated to meet evolving expectations of businesses. Given the ongoing spotlight on BAME leaders and gender diversity, People can protect the business from bias and help to champion diversity & inclusion values. At TransferGo, the People team works closely with senior management to champion our diversity and inclusion foundations and ensure this extends to new recruitment. This is why we’re proud to have a 50-50 gender split across the business, as well as workers with over 23 nationalities. 

The next, and critical stage for People leaders, however, is to seek to proactively address the root of diversity and inclusion issues. For the most part, the core problem is unbalanced opportunities; those from certain backgrounds are afforded better chances and options to succeed than others. For example, the London technology job market is only 25% female, and for BAME candidates, the figures are even lower. 

Therefore, it’s on the People team to lead, and the rest of the business to follow, programmes that can democratise career opportunities, no matter people’s creed or background. At TransferGo, we’re taking action by visiting schools and colleges to offer technology courses to women and those of diverse backgrounds, while we’re also exploring how coding programmes can support returners and mums as a way back into work on a more flexible basis. 

Keep open and consistent lines of communication 

Companies with a consistent culture and set of values across satellite offices have one common trait: they are excellent communicators, not just with customers, but amongst the business. The art of communication has evolved with new technologies and so there’s no excuse for leaders to not engage with international employees on a regular basis. Ultimately, company values are driven from the top-down and maintained through living these in every action and communication. 

With the support of HR and the IT department, start-up leaders can build accessible intranets which house regular company updates, news-letters and further information on the company and its DNA. Leaders should also look to post regular blogs, describing industry challenges and updating on new customer wins or completed projects. Both blogs and emails can shed light on what a company truly values and can encourage employees in different offices to follow suit. 

As start-ups grow and become successful, it can be easy to forget the company’s roots or founding principles. It’s critical that these are retained because they provide a unique selling point – both to customers and employees, new and old, in HQ or satellite offices. What is equally important is that the commitment to those founding principles is never seen as a task, an arduous process that becomes a “tick-box” exercise.

Replicating the same culture across geographies is rarely achievable and in many ways not entirely needed. Every office environment should be unique in its own right; but importantly carry the same DNA in their approach to customer service, product delivery and employee engagement. This DNA must be driven from the top-down, with the support of HR, through recruitment processes, clear and regular communication and appropriate business strategy. 

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