As a people ops manager, most of my work focuses on building the kind of workplace where people feel able and motivated to do their best work.
Being named to Inc’s Best Workplaces is a major accomplishment for our team and we’re incredibly proud that Nava’s supportive, inclusive culture is being recognized — especially since our company is 100% remote.
Since day one, we’ve taken an intentional approach to building a culture where our employees feel valued and engaged because we know that the success of Nava begins with the success of its people.
Here are three actions that Nava has taken to cultivate a culture focused on team-building, driving engagement, and reflecting our company values.
Invest in your people ops team early and often.
When I first joined Nava, I was pleasantly surprised they were investing in people ops at such an early stage. I joined as one of the first ten Navanauts at the company which signaled to me leadership's commitment to creating a people-first company.
Compare this to many startups that don’t make their first people ops hire until they’re at a 50+ headcount and struggle with scaling an intentional culture. After all, culture is built from the beginning at any company — and it takes hard work to undo the damage of haphazardly built practices resulting in lower employee engagement and retention.
Start planting seeds early. Once you have successfully made that first people ops hire, I recommend starting with a listening tour. Ask employees: “what do you like about our culture?” and “what could be 10% better?”
Secondly, it is important to align on company values early and to include the team in that process. Your early hires are going to have a huge impact on your company so it is important to make sure that they are values aligned.
Lastly, get the investment, in both time and money, to create spaces for connection.
Build spaces for connection
When you’re working at a remote company, it can be difficult to build and deepen relationships. Employees no longer have the opportunity to build personal connections while grabbing a cup of coffee in the office kitchen. When we are all jumping from zoom to zoom, we miss out on the spontaneous opportunities to connect with each other free of a meeting agenda. This is critical to establishing trust and empathy between colleagues.
In a remote world, it is hard to be fully spontaneous and unstructured, but we can still create spaces that are conducive to building relationships.
Here are some of the spaces we’ve built to bring folks together:
- Jam Sessions - Every other week, Navanauts across the company come together to brainstorm and tackle a problem together. Previous topics have included “building a better async work environment,” “reducing unconscious bias in hiring processes,” and “caring for mental health while working remote.”
- Space Jam - AKA our company-wide retreats. Twice a year, we bring everyone together for a couple days of collaboration, celebrating wins, deepening relationships, and enjoying a destination together. So far we’ve been to Upstate New York, Park City, and Miami.
- Space Walks - A more inclusive alternative to a happy hour, these once-monthly virtual gatherings are all about fun. For instance, we’ve brought in a mentalist to “read people’s minds”, solved a murder mystery, and taken a cooking class.
- In-person offsite budget - It’s simple. We want teams to get together regularly. So we offer funding to make that happen. Every person at Nava receives a quarterly stipend of $2000 to plan team or cross functional meetups, and they’re welcome to build a schedule that works for themselves and their families. Our teams have hosted offsites in some awesome locales, including Puerto Rico, New York City, San Francisco, and Austin!
- Zoom vs Around - Just like many offices have break rooms or designated areas for socializing and relaxing, we created virtual spaces where Navanauts can kick back. We usually use Zoom for official Nava business, but host daily coffee chats and informal team hangs on Around.
Experiment and find what works.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for building company culture. Sure, you can plan events and encourage community, but culture should grow organically and authentically to your employee population.
Sometimes that means trying new things and seeing what resonates most with your employees. It means being open to failure. It means being appreciative of any learning opportunities that come your way.
It also means seeking support and ideas from people across the organization. At Nava, we believe that all Navanauts should be creators and co-pilots of our culture.
A recent experiment we launched was based off a comment on an engagement survey, suggesting we test out some new ways to connect virtually. So we took that feedback and hosted a day-long cross-team co-working and bonding session — we called it Around Day.
We blocked off one Friday to experiment with different forms of collaboration to further recreate some of the connection that naturally happens in an in-person office. We set up virtual co-working rooms (including one with a playlist of songs shared in our #watercoolermusic Slack channel), hosted a kudo-thon to celebrate our teammates, and led a sourcing session to find potential new Navanauts.
When it comes to building a great place to work, there is no finish line — but we’re thrilled to keep moving Nava forward as we continue to scale and evolve.
P.S. We’re hiring! Check out our careers page to see open roles.