Syrup Culture

Some thoughts on culture in a remote environment from a Syrup newbie

Greg Babel
Greg Babel
Jan 26, 2024
5 minutes to read

Is it possible to nurture company culture in a fully remote working environment? If you had asked me this question a couple of months ago, prior to joining Syrup, I likely would have responded with a resounding shrug.

My position has changed, however. Wouldn’t be much of a blog if it hadn’t. And if you’re feeling as skeptical as I was, I hope I can change your mind as well.

To clarify, I’m not talking about lip service culture. Hastily scribbled bullet points on a tucked-away corner of a corporate website don’t exactly scream human connection, let alone cultivate it.

So much of what can make work special — transforming rote task execution and carefully watched timeclocks into drive, progress — is the energy that pulses when a group pushes forward together, unified by a communal purpose. In person, that buzz can be intoxicating. So much so that I’m taking the time to write about it on the plane home from the most recent Syrup Summit.

Tell me a bit more about Syrup Summits

Syrup is a fully remote* company. Our team spans 12 time zones across the globe, which is pretty incredible considering we are a team of only ~30. Three to four times a year, however, that distance shrinks to mere feet as all Syrupers gather for Summit.

While this most recent Summit was in NYC, which happens to be where our headquarters are located, previous Summit destinations have included Montepulciano, Madrid, and LA. The general approach is to rotate between EU and North American locations.

These gatherings have three key outcomes, all of which are group exercises — everyone’s voice matters:

  • Reflect on the previous period’s accomplishments and lessons.
  • Workshop and decide on strategic initiatives for the period that follows.
  • Connect (remember that buzz I mentioned earlier? That’s what we’re talking about here).

Each Summit also has what I’ll call a “special focus” — an important topic that sits somewhere just outside of formal corporate strategy but still hums with importance. Examples include productive communication (the subtle practices that nurture actual connection, like active listening), destigmatizing mental health (with an emphasis on healthy vs. unhealthy stress), and next-tier accountability (fostering both inter- and intra-team responsibility in the pursuit of one vision).

Syrup Summit Fall 2024
* Anyone from the team in the NY metro area can work together from a spectacular co-working space alongside the company’s co-founders.

Summits are serious business — this is a rapidly growing company with massive goals, after all. But somewhat incredibly, they also manage to be rejuvenating. This doesn’t happen by accident.

Day One of the recent NYC Summit kicked off by co-creating a shared set of expectations for our time together, called a Container, that is agreed upon by the entire team. The emotional and mental safety this cultivated sets the tone for our time together.

Each day featured at least one full-team meditation session. A professional psychologist from Happy Clappy Club joined to lead multiple sessions on mental health with a particular focus on interpersonal engagement in the workplace.

And it was fun! Solving problems together was fun. Connecting with global teammates was fun. Competing in a series of physical brain teasers to avoid getting drenched in paint was fun (check out Beat the Bomb if you haven’t yet).

OK, onsites are cool and all. But what makes Syrup’s culture so great?

I won’t pretend to know much about corporate culture, so I hope you’re not expecting a full 101 course. The smart folks at MIT Sloan, on the other hand, do know something about culture. And looking at their core building blocks, it’s clear that we’re doing something right at Syrup. I’ll call out three shining examples here.

I get stuff done → that’s thanks to a commitment to nurturing a digital-first workforce. I have all the tools I need to be successful working from home or on the road. I connect with my teammates in a digital workspace (it’s called Gather, and as an unabashed videogame lover, it’s amazing to spend each day working in a pixel art dreamland). If I’m missing a technology — or the skill to navigate it — company leadership listens.

I lead and am led → that’s thanks to the cultivation of diverse leadership styles. I am actively encouraged to be an “entrepreneurial” leader, and I experience the same from my colleagues every day. Leaders-in-title demonstrate “enabling” leadership constantly through connection, communication, and coaching. And at the top, Syrup’s co-founders embody “architecting” leadership — even at tough, pivotal transition points like the one we’re at coming off the Series A raise.

I thrive → that’s thanks to an understanding that worker well-being is a necessary pre-requisite for strategic success. Remember when I mentioned the slightly fluffier activities we did during the Summit? Those are not one-off frivolities. They are part of an ongoing practice, one that stems from an unshaking support for each and every Syrup employee. This devotion to the team, demonstrated constantly by James and Ferdi (the co-founders I’ve mentioned a few times), is really a devotion to people. You see it in their interactions with our customers, our investors, even random passersby on the NY sidewalk on a freezing January morning in the middle of Summit.

If the sum of all that is not great culture, I don’t know what is.

And so to come back to my question: yes, it is possible to nurture culture in a fully remote working environment. Sometimes it helps to gather in person. Sometimes it helps to offer videogame-inspired workspaces. But always — always — it requires compassion. At Syrup, we have that by the (paint) bucketload.

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Some thoughts on culture in a remote environment from a Syrup newbie

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