Building a strong work culture with a remote team

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Building a strong work culture with a remote teamV1 Staff Writers
February 7, 2019

As more and more businesses are going remote, employers are asking how they can build a strong work culture with a distributed team

Editor’s note:

In partnership with Engage, V1’s latest offering, which helps businesses to build thriving and profitable remote teams, we are pleased to offer a series of stories that explore key elements in remote work, including problems facing leaders and distributed workers, and solutions for how they could be addressed.

More and more business leaders are going remote, and as they do, they’re trying to figure out how to build a strong work culture with a remote team. In order to reap the rewards of such an environment, when employees can’t meet at the neighborhood bar or coffee shop, companies need to actively explore ways to make sure everyone’s not only on the same page when it comes to the mission, but also feels like part of a team. But how?

Employers need to invest to build a carefully arranged constellation of tools and social opportunities designed to foster a sense of teamwork and togetherness that can reach across the miles to give employees a sense of loyalty and connection to one another, even if they’re rarely, or never, sitting in the same office.

To establish this sense of camaraderie, and alongside it, strengthen a sense of shared values and philosophies, leaders need to build out a team framework that reflects the company and its employees. A strong work culture has been shown to encourage employees to stick around, which means higher retention rates among workers and higher revenues. To achieve this, companies need to build an environment where people care for their colleagues as friends, not only treating each other with respect, but also supporting each other and making one another feel valued, according to Emma Seppälä – faculty director at Yale School of Management – and Kim Cameron – professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan.

At V1 Worldwide, where all employees are remote, frequent all-hands meetings and “coffee talks” bring people from across the organization together. They share stories and exchange quips over presentations and conversations that both help make sure everyone’s up-to-speed, as well as highlight ongoing priorities and initiatives for the business. These kinds of forums have emerged as the team has grown to over 30 employees, and have enhanced the quality of connections between team members working thousands of miles away from one another.  

Providing employees with the tools they need to perform at their best is important in any business, but for remote teams, it can make or break a company culture. More than just being up-to-date with the latest tech, it’s central for employers to choose the tools they believe will help create the right environment for their remote workers.

Giving team members the ability to talk back and forth on real-time instant messenger apps like Slack or HipChat, as well as project management tools like Trello and Asana, not only give workers what they need to perform their tasks effectively, but also give prospective employees the confidence that the business knows how to support them in their projects and collaboration.

Remote teams can also become closer through the tools they use, according to Web application integration tool Zapier’s guide to building a remote work culture. “A co-located office develops its own personality through inside jokes, shared experiences and a collaborative environment, such as a meeting room with white boards. A remote team needs to develop something similar. The easiest way to do this is with your day-to-day tool set,” Zapier notes in its guide. That is to say, tools can help employees build relationships with one another, and create a positive atmosphere for the team.

Being remote isn’t an impediment to building a successful work culture, Ken Weary, vice president of Hotjar, emphasizes in a recent interview with V1. It just takes a little imagination to get the team bonding, says Weary, whose company employs over 70 people.

“You look for those opportunities to make sure that you’re giving avenues and promoting the activities that are desired by either the executive team or the company,” he says.

Hotjar’s employees live in 19 different countries, and the company’s management ensures the team stays in contact on a regular basis. “We have a meeting cadence where every department does a daily scrum and a weekly retrospective,” says Weary. “Every Wednesday, we have what we call the team bonfire. It’s a chance to talk about a variety of different topics. Sometimes we play games – we do online charades. Sometimes we do, ‘What are your favorite holiday traditions?’”

It’s not uncommon for remote team organizations to use these types of ideas to promote a sense of community. Buffer, another company with an entirely remote workforce, has a number of what they call “virtual watercoolers” that are designed to build camaraderie. These include virtual music sharing rooms, uploading photos to instant messaging tool HipChat, and sharing book ideas and jokes in the team’s Facebook group.    

Just because a remote workforces is distributed in different cities, states, countries or even continents, doesn’t mean its team members shouldn’t meet in person. In fact, while sharing jokes, GIFs and photos online is a great way to build relationships in the virtual office, some organizations believe it’s important for remote employees to spend time together, face-to-face.

Hotjar’s team meets twice year, says Weary, while online billing software Chargify brings its employees together once a year. “Something magical happens after team meetups. Everyone is excited. You can feel the increased energy, camaraderie, and passion. Not to mention great meetup-related Slack jokes and memories that carry on for years,” according to the company’s blog. “If you work in a traditional office setting, the idea of spending a week with coworkers probably doesn’t sound as enticing, but for our team, it’s something we look forward to all year!”

Of course, organizing a full, in-person team meeting is a luxury not all companies can afford. As Chargify’s team has grown, the company has had to reduce its annual full team meetups from twice a year to once. To make up for it, the company arranges smaller, satellite meetups for employees who live nearby to one another. They also attend conferences and local events together, gathering in ways where the company isn’t always footing the bill.

Whether in person or online, business leaders still face the challenge of building a thriving work culture. Of course, remote teams face different challenges to their in-office counterparts when creating a strong work culture, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t simple solutions and steps to follow. Employers of remote teams have a host of tools, technologies and know-how at their disposal to get their employees clicking and thriving, wherever they’re working from.

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