AllVoices Experts: Building Company Culture & Community in a Remote First World, with the Spokn Team

The Spokn Team
January 20, 2022

About Spokn

Spokn is the podcasting platform for work.  It’s transforming how companies build culture and community in a remote-first world.  

What are the key elements of “great” company culture?

There’s no single recipe for a great company culture – especially now as companies work to lay plans for permanent remote or hybrid models.  But one thing is certain: to succeed long-term, companies need a fundamentally different approach than the piecemeal, often reactive measures they’ve taken since COVID began. Zoom workshops, virtual craft sessions and Donut matches - all useful stop-gaps - are no longer sufficient.  For companies to retain (or build) a great culture, they need to begin with a different mindset – one that acknowledges that as they grow, the vast majority of employees will never experience ongoing, in-office ‘culture.’ 

We’re lucky to work with some incredible ‘culture-first’ companies like Udemy, Robinhood, Cedar, Podium and Snyk that are leading the curve in reimagining “great culture” in a remote or hybrid world. 

Their specific approaches differ, but they share a common thread: a new focus on community. It’s a feeling of fellowship and cooperation with the people around you, who share your values and your pursuit of a goal – regardless of where they are or in what time zone.   

What separates a “good” company culture from a “great” company culture?

When it comes to company culture, one word separates “good” from “great”: community.  Here’s what it looks like in action: 

  1. Connection: a company with a great culture will invest in programs and processes that help employees feel connected to each other (and to the broader mission of the company) - regardless of whether they’re in the office or remote, working 9AM-6PM or making their own hours.
  1. Communication (10x): leaders who communicate with transparency and humility are natural community-builders.  They tell “the story of why” behind important projects, hires or strategic decisions.  In doing so, they establish trust and rapport – two elements crucial for helping employees to navigating uncertainty and the strains of scaling.
  1. Diverse Talent Thrives: at companies with amazing cultures, we find that diverse talent doesn’t just exist – it thrives, making outsize impact in every corner of the business. At these companies, DEI initiatives have access to the resources, experts and executive champions needed to make a measurable impact.  Because DEI is a strategic lens used to make decisions across the business, it’s a part of everyone’s job from setting office policies to holding performance reviews to developing product.

  2. Intentional Remote (or Hybrid) Policies: as companies scale in a remote or hybrid model, there’s a tendency for 'in-groups' and 'out-groups' to form (think in-office employees vs. remote hires, or pre-COVID vs post-COVID hires). These unofficial groupings can impact morale, engagement, performance, and career mobility.  Companies with a great culture subvert these exclusionary groupings and offer alternative, inclusive communities for employees that aren’t dependent on ‘face time’ at the office or being an early hire.

  3. Shared Vision and Values: when employees are trying to solve a hard problem quickly and at scale, there are lots of opportunities for missteps and misunderstandings.  This is especially true in remote teams, which offer fewer chances for informal check-ins to align.  Companies with a great culture have effective methods for quickly aligning new hires to the strategy and values, and for reinforcing these year-round regardless of an employee’s tenure. 

In a nutshell, what is Spokn?

Spokn is the workplace podcasting platform for the remote-first world.  Fast growing, culture-first companies like Udemy, Robinhood, Cedar and Snyk use Spokn to tap the popularity of podcasting for better internal communication, employee engagement, learning, talent acquisition and more.  

Can you share how some of your customers have leveraged internal podcasting?

It’s a long list! Companies use internal podcasting to support a huge range of business priorities. The common denominator: companies are trying to build community, connection and belonging for employees in a remote world.  Most of our customers have felt the intimacy of voice and storytelling listening to podcasts in their personal lives.  They realize that the format provides a perfect balance: the richness of voice carries far more meaning than an email or Slack message, and at same time it avoids the Zoom and scheduling fatigue that leads to burnout. 

Among the most popular podcasts we’ve seen: 

  • “Grow” series: Company leaders share their career paths, why they're excited about the company, and fun hobbies/interests.  This creates rapport with leadership to help remote employees feel a sense of connection, plus it demonstrates career pathways within the company to reduce churn.
  • “Kudos”: Employees submit brief audio recordings of their kudos and thanks during the month; the top 10 recordings are turned into a single episode which a leader shares with the company.  It’s a much richer form of thanks than a message written on Slack, and the recognition from an executive is a great way to keep top performers motivated. 
  • “Watercooler Wednesday”: This fun storytelling series creates a sense of community and belonging by capturing diverse employee voices from around the company, all focused on a monthly theme (such as life hacks, parenting, or an awareness month). 
  • “Performance Pods”: To improve the quality of performance reviews and goal-setting processes, companies like Robinhood create podcast mini-series that feature experienced managers and leaders who share hacks and recommendations.  Hearing how respected leaders from different parts of the company personally approach the process makes the advice feel relevant and relatable for employees. 
  • “Manager Mixtape”: To supercharge managers without hours on Zoom, companies host interviews with experienced managers to unpack common challenges in areas like coaching, feedback, prioritization, etc. and share tips for addressing them. Crucially, tapping internal experts (as opposed to random HBR contributors, for instance) makes the insights specific and relevant to the company’s values and operational realties. 
  • “Strategy Snacks”: To align employees with the company strategy, this interview series features internal leaders and external experts to unpack key initiatives.  ShipBob, for instance, interviewed a board member to help employees understand how the company’s strategy has evolved, and Udemy’s President did a deep-dive with the CEO of LinkedIn Learning to explore how the broader e-learning ecosystem is changing.   
  • “Pod-boarding (Onboarding)”: This series energizes new hires and gets them up to speed fast.  Interviews with members of the leadership team and employees across the org focus on the company vision and strategy, the recipe for high-performance success, customer interviews, and how to get involved in ERGs.  Spokn can integrate with HRIS platforms to automate drip campaigns or playlists for each new cohort of hires. 
  • “Fresh Faces”: Interviews with new senior leaders introduce them and break the ice for employees who won’t have the chance to meet them in person. Plus, it provides leaders with an opportunity to build their leadership brand in an authentic, informal way.

Tell us about how Spokn really supports teams with a remote-first mindset.

Remote-first models require companies to tackle culture building and interpersonal connectedness in fundamentally different ways. For one, existing means of internal communication are great for synchronous events such as kick-offs or town halls, but not as great for leaders to tell their personal stories and show vulnerability to help build rapport and trust with their teams. Spokn helps them do that in an authentic and personal way.

Second, employees in a remote-first company expect, and often need, work to cater to their personal schedules (ie. caregiving responsibilities, working in different timezones, etc.) Delivering departmental or project updates in an asynchronous podcast format helps teams stay connected to the mission without piling on more Zoom fatigue.

Additionally, without a physical “watercooler” for people to interact around, companies need a new way to codify and showcase company values and culture and help employees get to know the people they work with – without “forced fun.” After all, Slack is noisy, Zoom meetings are transactional, and employees won’t have the opportunity to pick it up through osmosis in the office. Podcasts that highlight and celebrate people’s stories are a great way to build and strengthen that culture. Plus the analytics that Spokn provides help people and culture leaders keep a pulse on what their teams are reacting to in real-time.

How does Spokn increase employee engagement and improve the team’s overall experience?

Podcasts on Spokn humanize and enrich almost every part of an employee’s experience – even before their first day. 

“Pre-boarding” podcasts with welcoming messages from the hiring manager and teammates create a warm bond and excitement in the lead-up to Day One.  In their first weeks, onboarding podcasts introduce new hires to the company’s origin story, its values, department leaders, strategic initiatives, and company lore.  The result?  New hires ramp faster and feel like insiders, even if they’ve never stepped inside the office. 

One of the most powerful ways that podcasts enhance employee engagement is through creating a sense of community.  Hearing stories – and the act of sharing them, too – reveals areas of common interest and helps employees feel a sense of belonging.  Think about it: when you hear someone on a podcast, you instantly have a conversation-starter.  It seems small, but it means a lot when you haven’t met a coworker before.  

As employees progress at the company, learning and development podcasts enable them to learn from internal company experts and identify potential mentors and coaches.  These podcasts offer relatable stories and realistic advice that’s specific to the company culture to guide employees through topics like feedback, performance reviews, setting goals, coaching, and having difficult conversations. 

Podcasts from executive leadership help employees see the ‘big picture’ – keeping them aligned to the company strategy and motivated to contribute.  Recognition-based podcasts like ‘Kudos’ or ‘Spotlights’ elevate diverse voices within the company and provide extra affirmation for top performers. 

Finally, capturing recordings of live events in Spokn’s podcast repository makes it easy for new hires, caregivers or geographically diffuse employees to access the information after the event, so they can stay in the loop.

What is your advice for companies to measure the success of their internal communications efforts and creating meaningful connections at their company?

While less advice and more affirmation, we want to start by stating: way to go! Measurement is so important - especially now, when companies need to become far more sophisticated in their internal communications and employee engagement efforts to support remote work. 

A great place to begin is to measure trust and transparency within the organization and retention. A company could easily run a survey through a platform like AllVoices or Culture Amp to dive into Likert-scale questions such as, “I feel like I can trust leaders at my company,” “I feel the company operates in a transparent way with employees,” and, “I feel like I can be myself at work.”  

For companies that implement internal podcasting, the ‘gold standard’ is to hold a survey prior to the launch of podcasting, then at the three-month, six-month and year-marks.  Because Spokn has its own suite of analytics, customers are able to map their engagement survey data against the data we provide on areas like popular podcast topics and most and least active departments. 

When was your last “Ah-ha” moment?

We recently had two ‘Ah-ha’ moments.  

  1. Being interviewed for a podcast is a big deal and a huge motivator for many employees.   (This LinkedIn post explained why, and made our day). It feels amazing to have a place to share your story, and when a coworker Slacks you after to chat about your episode, it really makes you feel like you belong.  Our take-away: your voice is your superpower, and being able to share it makes you feel superhuman.  
  1. Spokn started a podcasting club (it’s like a book club, but instead of pre-reading a book and discussing it, we all listen to the same podcast and discuss it). The takeaways our colleagues shared about how a podcast made them feel led to so many stories being shared.  It reminded us that podcasts can be a great starting point for a conversation.
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