MP chatted with Lorena Perez, Chief People Officer at Novakid, a fully remote Edtech business with over 500 staff in 20 countries, about developing and maintaining a positive company culture. Perez leads the team of 6 HR business partners and training specialists. This group is responsible for managing the HR requirements of over 500 staff, attraction strategy, recruitment planning and processes, performance management, compensation and rewards, engagement and motivation, and consulting on people matters and HR queries. 

Lorena Perez of Novakid
Chief People Officer at Novakid Lorena Perez / Photo courtesy of Lorena Perez

How can leaders cultivate a culture of inclusive leadership throughout their organizations, and why does such inclusivity matter?

The first step is to hire a diverse leadership team. 

Leadership cannot make informed decisions if the team is not diverse. We often see companies promoting their diversity, but the leadership teams are all the same people. 

It starts at the top! 

Ensure the leadership team comprises different nationalities, ages, cultures, backgrounds, and locations. 

Companies leading by example will trickle down to the teams and throughout the organization. 

At Novakid, we have 560 staff members from all over the world, each of whom brings their own experience, culture, and diversity to the table. 

Why is this important? 

Differing points of view enable the best, most inclusive decisions. 

Taking into account different points of view from people of varying cultures and backgrounds, it makes the outcome richer, thanks to a diverse group of people looking at an issue or making a decision. 

How important is recognizing employee achievements to developing a positive work culture, and why? 

It’s extremely important, especially in a startup environment. Recognition is important because focusing on achievements and results motivates people to continue achieving or exceeding their goals.  

High-performance teams need the motivation to stay at their peak. This comes through recognition and rewards. 

What should celebrating employees’ milestones and achievements look like, and why?

At Novakid, the recognition tactics we use include: 

‘Thanks’ Badges

Anyone can give a virtual badge to any other staff member. We recognize all types of input, from being friendly to achieving a certain goal; anyone can recognize any form of input at any level in the company.  

Recognizing Achievements in Slack Channels

We have various internal channels where everyone can see the communication about team results and achievements. 

All Hands Meetings

We discuss positive results or progress on projects, updates on targets, and milestones reached so that our people can celebrate together. Different teams get to see other teams’ work and can congratulate them.

Performance Reviews

Those who achieve the targets set for their role could result in salary reviews, promotions, work on special projects, or be awarded a bonus. 

The aim behind these tactics is two-fold: firstly, to celebrate when the business is doing well and achieving targets, and secondly, to motivate our staff. It inspires others to work harder or share new ideas when they see that behavior being recognized. 

According to The American Institute of Stress, 83% of American workers suffer from work-related stress. What are three out-of-the-box ways leaders can help reduce their employees’ work-related stress and add to work culture, and why these three? (1)

Lead by Example on Work-Life Balance

Leaders should lead by example. 

If the executives aren’t showing work/life balance, our team members won’t feel comfortable exercising their right to work flexibly. This must be addressed with managers/leaders who, for example, reply to emails on holiday. 

It sets the wrong example for staff and leads to discontent.

Leaders also need to realize that they don’t need to be available at all times. They can switch off and use tools like scheduling emails or turning off notifications at the end of their working day. There is always work to do, but you must rest for some time. 

Relook HR Policies Related to PTO and Flexible Working

Implementing flexible working hours and unlimited PTO has highlighted that treating employees as adults will motivate them to work hard, be more productive, and, in most cases, be loyal to the business. 

People want flexibility and autonomy and the freedom to self-manage. 

They want to enjoy life and a workplace that allows for this enjoyment. The problem is that many companies think this means no work, lots of play, and zero commitment, which is reflected in their workplace culture. They sense that you are not a team player because you have to fetch the kids or want to take a lunch break. 

That has to change, especially if you want to attract the best talent to your company. Commit to a work/life balance. Help people who struggle to manage their work life better. 

Give people the space they need to truly thrive. 

It’s essential to remember that some employees may not be as motivated as others and need additional support. While remote working is seen as beneficial in many ways, it can lead to working longer hours and feeling isolated, so it is key to ensure staff is managing their time efficiently.

Psychological Support

More and more companies prioritize wellbeing instead of just paying lip service, especially after the pandemic and resulting lockdowns. Fully remote or not, it’s hard to focus on work when you don’t have balance. Prioritizing well-being and putting programs in place for mental health support will pay dividends in more ways than one.  

We have a therapy platform that staff can use to book time with psychologists, and we have seen great results by encouraging staff to have open discussions with their HR business partners. 

Our staff can set up a time with their assigned HRBP to discuss issues with someone other than their team lead. Staff can ask for advice on how to deal with difficult situations or get clarity on the business policies. 

We host quarterly online team-building sessions and regular ‘virtual coffee’ dates and are looking into a well-being app for our staff. In addition, we recently implemented a buddy program for staff to encourage workplace relationships, achieve onboarding goals sooner and raise levels of employee engagement for new and existing employees. 

Managers discussing startup performance
Envato Elements

66% of American workers suffer from sleep deprivation caused by work-related stress. How can leaders determine whether these issues are due to toxicities stemming from leadership or compartmentalized toxicities that happen without the leaders’ knowledge, and how can they be addressed? (2)

Identifying the issue at hand is essential, either through anonymous employee surveys or HR practitioners having one-on-one conversations about the situation. The source of the issue must be identified and resolved as quickly as possible to avoid negativity spreading further.

As an example, if the issue is that a team member has a heavy workload and is always working overtime, it may mean the manager is too militant or is not assisting to prioritize the tasks at hand. To deal with the issue, the manager can be offered training or given an additional budget to hire another team member to assist with the workload. 

We recently launched a ‘Working Well Together’ policy that promotes work-life balance and respect for everyone’s time. The policy discusses how best to respect people’s time, your own time, and how to raise concerns. 

That being said, these policies only work if the individuals in the company implement them. If people don’t set their boundaries, policies don’t help! 

Not all environments need creators. However, what value can developing a creator work culture add to an organization, what might that culture look like, and how does one develop it from the ground up?

Nowadays, in the tech sector, people need to stay ahead of the trends to keep up with the rapid changes in the industry. In this case, people with an entrepreneurial mindset and a talent for creating are key considerations when hiring new team members. At the same time, if the company’s culture is one of innovation and new ideas are welcomed, team members would be encouraged to share their ideas. 

Startups often require employees to do more for less and do so with smiles. How can leaders spot when employees are overworked, positively intervene, and what corrective actions should be taken, and why?

At Novakid, working in a remote company means a more challenging environment. Any fully remote company requires honesty, trust, and integrity at the heart of its value system. Management no longer has a direct line of sight on employees and their daily activities.

Managers should check in regularly with team members more frequently than in a hybrid/office environment. They need to know how people are progressing with their KPIs and ask ‘why’ if they aren’t. Because our teams all work from home, it’s important for managers to check how people are feeling and their moods. It’s not just about the work; we are not robots, so being aware of this and offering help is essential.  

Encouraging open dialogue between team members allows people to feel supported and ask for help if needed. It’s essential to create spaces where people can share best practices or the best tools with which to manage their time. It’s amazing how easily you can create an engaging and flexible working culture if you allow people to try new ways of working and learn from one another.  

Employee surveys and pulse check polls (which can be done anonymously to ensure honest responses) allow issues to be acknowledged and addressed accordingly. 

We are implementing measurement techniques to assess employee wellness, namely ENPS and staff satisfaction surveys. ENPS is an Employee Net Promoter Score, similar to the NPS term used in marketing. 

Through surveys, we will measure how likely our staff is to recommend us to others and how they rate our business. In the surveys, we ask questions related to working hours, task allocation, KPIs, etc., so that we can clearly understand what people are happy with and the areas that need improvement. 

Does offering benefits such as four-day work weeks, unlimited PTO, health insurance, and the ability to work from home make up for toxic workplace cultures? 

No, not! 

These policies are used for retention and attraction, not to make up for a toxic workplace. 

Employees should enjoy an equilibrium of physical and mental balance in a workplace by being supported by their employers and team members. Companies must create an environment of freedom and flexibility to support independent decision-making, promote a problem-solving mindset, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. 

People who aren’t doing their jobs will soon be shown up by those who are. Set strict deadlines, clarify KPIs up front, and make sure the team is aware of the consequences of non-delivery. 

Give people the opportunity to ask for further information or assistance so that no one has the excuse of ‘I didn’t know what to do.’ 

Treat your employees like adults. 

By trusting people to do what they do best, you build trust in the hearts of your employees - they know you genuinely have their best interests at heart. Put honesty up front as a value and communicate with honesty, and this will soon create a culture where everyone trusts one another and themselves. 

When employees clearly understand expectations and receive regular feedback on their performance, they know exactly what is required from them and feel valued.

What do next-generation staff want from their workplace?

Authenticity, curiosity, honesty, purpose, and communication. These are the qualities that your future employees want to see in your workplace. The next generation isn’t looking to answer questions about where they will be in six years. They want to know how your company will connect with them and build a relationship that benefits everyone.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

While how we work has fundamentally changed, the need to craft and nurture an engaging corporate culture remains fundamental to an organization's success.

It shapes the kind of company you want to build and attracts the people you want working for the business. 

Suppose you want vibrant, honest, trustworthy, and curious people focused on taking your business forward.

 In that case, you need to put those qualities down on paper and define them as your company values. 

For remote companies, this is particularly important.

In this new era of remote work, fostering connection and promoting collaboration between physically distanced employees is more critical than ever. 

Crafting an engaging corporate culture for a fully remote workforce requires focus on three concepts: mission and values, people, and processes. 

Getting these areas right will empower employees to work the way they want, which has the potential to boost productivity and output while improving employee satisfaction. 

Employees, particularly younger generations, want to feel that their work has purpose and impact beyond simply earning them an income. At Novakid, for example, our mission is to teach children the universal language of English, as this will hopefully allow them to work with other cultures in the modern globalized marketplace effectively.

With this positive impact as our guiding North Star metric, employees feel inspired to work towards this goal regardless of their physical location. 

When companies focus on developing these three core concepts and ingrain them into the fabric of the business, they can craft an engaging corporate culture that ensures remote teams' health, happiness, and success and makes long-term business growth and success a reality.

Responses provided by Lorena Perez, Chief People Officer at Novakid.

Topic Contributors

Questions based in part on topics and comments provided by:

  1. Corey Ashton Walters, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Here
  2. Josh Saterman, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Saterman Connect
  3. Lorena Perez, Chief People Officer at Novakid
Entrepreneurs turn to VENTEUR for the insights necessary to succeed in business. Our mission to empower entrepreneurs has never been more important than it is now. Financial contributions are critical for VENTEUR to continue providing in-depth resources and original journalism for the entrepreneurial community. Please consider making a contribution to VENTEUR today.