2023 Award Winner

Build community, not culture. Here’s why.

Build Community, Not Culture | Edgar Allan

For years, “culture” has been a buzzword used by companies from the biggest corporate beasts to the smallest startups. But have you ever thought of “culture” as a mere byproduct of a physical office – a reflection of one small group of people in a defined space who were able to participate in daily activities together? At Edgar Allan (EA), we do.

I may be new to the team here, but already within just these first few days – nay, my first few conversations – one concept that struck me (and stuck with me) is the company’s mission to build a community instead of fostering a culture. While every business has a different approach to working remotely these days, I feel like this view is compelling, to say the least.

“‘Culture’ is something that companies like to use to express a desired connection between their employees and each other, and between employees and the company,” says EA Brand and Content Director Kendra Rainey. “And it can be really wonderful, but especially now that a lot of us are working remotely, it can also be a point of stress for a company. How can you create culture when people are physically far apart? We wondered about it, too.”

The Turning Point

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, EA was very much an Atlanta-based company doing Atlanta-based work. Fast-forward to March 2020 and beyond, and we have grown into an agency that competes for clients not only locally, but also internationally, and hires from all corners of the globe.

“When COVID-19 hit and we went remote, I knew that everything was going to change,” shares Mason Poe, managing member at EA. “It was a terrifying time. Really quickly I could see that we weren’t going to go back to the office for a while. And then even if we were to try, it would be totally different, because once you have such a stark deviation from how you’ve been working, you’re not going to be able to just go back to the ‘normal’ that you had before. All of a sudden we weren’t ever going to be able to have that same type of experience.”

He was right, and that was just the beginning.

The Relationship Business (and the Business of Relationships)

“We wondered, what's the next way we’re going to work together? What’s the next way we’re going to build something that's not just a Zoom call and a paycheck?” wonders Poe. “I think the default for a really long time has been this notion of ‘office culture.’ But now that we’re not going to have the physical medium to bind us together anymore, we thought, let's not try to define ‘remote culture’ or ‘remote work,’ but rather create a new way of working that’s bound through a shared set of values, embracing a larger community, and working toward a shared vision.”

When you think about any individual team, culture is often tied to a location, such as a physical office in any given city. But community can be something that extends beyond a geographic region and can have multiple cultures embedded into it. EA maintains that you have to be more inclusive of the different multicultural units that are sitting underneath one community to make it work. After all, we are in a relationship business.

“It’s two parts,” says Poe, “the relationship and the business. And as we think about things like having an office or how we work…the medium of the office created a so-called ‘office culture,’ but the medium of the remote working world is more like a social network, which is more about community.”


Maintaining Missed Microinteractions

After working remotely myself for the better part of the past two years, I can attest to the fact that one of the aspects often missing from a physical office setting is the spontaneous little moments among colleagues and co-workers. You know the kind: Simply walking past someone’s desk, saying a quick hello that leads into an extended conversation about family life, or just dropping by to ask a question or work collaboratively for a moment or two. 

But while I personally never had the chance to walk through the doors of EA’s former office-slash-goat farm, there hasn’t been a moment of my EA journey thus far when I’ve felt the lonely sense of disconnect that comes with being marooned on a virtual island alone on one side of a monitor. Atlanta may be EA’s hub, but it’s not like if you’re not in Atlanta, you’re missing out.

“We’ve been working on ways to foster daily microinteractions,” says Poe – through a collection of interest-related Slack channels and asynchronous games and connection-points, regular all-staff Zoom calls, and of course, no shortage of shared gifs, memes, and emojis!


Constructing Communities

From EA’s content design community and Spanish-language community, to our own internal communities of foodies, musicians, and movie buffs, to the Webflow and no-code communities at large, we strive to treat these extended collections of people as our own private social network – constantly growing and deepening on multiple levels and across borders. This means you can be anywhere to take part, and that the community itself can have subcultures nested within it.

“Those different strata are something that’s just much less intuitive when ‘culture’ means only the people who are in the building with you, like in a work-constructed culture,” adds Rainey. “When you blow that concept out to creating community, you open up all kinds of doors…and possibilities.”

“We’re also working on building our external community, which includes everyone from clients to those we want to work with to people that we’re able to share ideas with and learn from,” adds Poe. “External community activities ultimately build up our internal community, and vice versa.”

Today, EA team members are “hubbed” in different areas of the country and around the world, “which allows people to come together – hopefully for a lunch every six months, maybe quarterly, or at a full-company meet-up once a year,” says Poe. “But ultimately, it’s just going to be one of these things that we figure out along the way.”


So while no one has all the answers right now, it sure sounds like we’re taking a collective leap in the right direction...apart, but still together.

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