Building a top-notch remote work culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes planning, trial and error and innovative approaches. It’s also a process that needs many different ingredients for success, such as implementing the right communication tools, creating avenues for socializing and coordinating time zones.
I’ve run a remote company for almost a decade, and over the years, a few factors in particular have stood out as essential when it comes to building a stellar remote work culture. Of course, these factors are by no means the only ones that matter, but they are some things that I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way).
Hiring in Geographic Pockets
I know this sounds counterintuitive to the notion of remote work, but bear with me. Many remote companies take the approach of hiring people nationwide or globally. While remote work does make that possible, I think it’s better if you take a slight twist to that approach — by hiring groups of people in geographic pockets.
For instance, you could hire three people in Houston, four in San Antonio, seven in Seattle and eight in Denver. These employees would still be working from home, but they also have the option of meeting up in person for working sessions at coffee shops, grabbing drinks during happy hours, or maybe even taking weekend trips. These in-person meetups can foster greater team bonding than a Zoom hangout could ever achieve.
Another benefit? It cuts down on time zone headaches. Because groups of your employees will be working in time zones that are either the same or quite close, it’ll be easier to schedule meetings where everyone can be present during “standard” work hours.
Rolling Out a ‘Culture Buddy’ System
When people start a new job, they not only have to learn how to accomplish their tasks but also figure out how to navigate their new company’s culture. Grasping the company’s culture is easier and faster for in-person workers because they can do things like grab lunch with their new team members and observe how people interact.
Remote companies have to be more intentional about getting people up to speed on the cultural element. That’s where a culture buddy system is beneficial.
With this system, you pair each new employee with an existing employee (their culture buddy) who can show them the ropes. The culture buddy can introduce the new employee to other team members, answer the new employee’s culture-related questions, help the new employee navigate the company’s hierarchy and more. The new employee ultimately feels less isolated and like they have an ally in their corner.
At my company, we call our culture buddy system “Jedi and Padawan” (because I’m a Star Wars geek). We’ve seen our system help employees from both a social and a professional standpoint. For one, it’s raised the comfort level our employees have with their jobs. It’s also enabled our employees to integrate into our processes faster. Overall, with this system, new employees become full-fledged team members much more quickly than they would if we left them to their own devices.
Helping Everyone Get to Know Each Other
For any team to thrive, especially a remote team, it’s essential that people get to know each other. Those connections help everyone get along so projects can progress and results can be achieved.
Remote teams don’t have the same opportunities as in-person teams to spontaneously connect, such as running into each other in the hallway or grabbing lunch on a whim. Sure, they can spontaneously bond over a great GIF response in a Slack channel or a funny background on Zoom, but I don’t recommend business leaders depend on these possibilities. Instead, I recommend intentionally creating opportunities for your team members to get to know each other.
One approach is via fun and games. For example, at my company, we pop onto Zoom, and everyone enters a code to play Kahoot’s gamified quizzes. Through these quizzes we set up via Kahoot’s platform, employees can share tidbits about their lives, such as their pets and the music they’re currently listening to. Of course, the caveat with helping everyone get to know each other is you should recognize that people have different comfort levels around sharing details about their lives. If an employee doesn’t want to discuss, say, their pets or artistic interests too deeply or at all, don’t push the matter.
Creating a Sense of Commonality
Common bonds help unite people. That’s one of the reasons university alumni groups and athletic fan bases exist.
It’s no different in the workplace. Creating a sense of commonality with your employees will help them feel more devoted to the company and create a strong community. There are many ways you can go about this. My company, for instance, has an internal newsletter called “Above the Fold” that regularly goes out to everyone (our team is involved with creating the newsletter, too — they came up with the name and contribute the content). The newsletter informs the team on things like compliments from our clients, new hires and company changes. In addition to helping people feel connected, the newsletter also ensures that no one is left in the dark about what’s happening.
Ultimately, when you have team members who understand each other, get along, bond and feel strongly connected, your company will be at a major advantage.