A remote team (also known as a “distributed team”) operates completely independent of location. They don’t need to share the same office space, or even timezone, to get work done.
Some remote teams have never even met their closest colleagues in person. Yet the suite of online tools, new management practices, and the amazing Internet make work possible (and dare we say it, even more productive).
However, remote teams, being a fairly new practice, still run into snags. One of the biggest questions that founders with remote teams face is: how do we build company culture when we never see each other?
Why company culture is important
Building a good company culture will help you keep your employees motivated, which affects their performance, how they treat your customers, and how well they do their jobs.
Research shows that engaged employees are more profitable and more likely to stay with your organization, whereas disengaged employees cost the organization and overall economy thousands in financial losses.
Bad company culture also produces undesirable traits in your team. A lack of team spirit, gossip, bad habits, and unfriendly competition are all signs of bad company culture and dangerous to your productivity.
The difference between remote and co-located team culture
In a co-located team, building culture is fairly straightforward since everyone is in the same place, at the same time, fairly reliably. If you want to go to a movie together, have a team lunch, or do a quick activity before work you can get everyone together with minimal planning.
In a remote team, culture-building activities are harder to implement, although not impossible. Below are a few differences between remote and co-located teams that you should consider when planning culture-building activities.
- People cannot meet physically
- Not everyone is in the same timezone
- They may use shared working spaces (they cannot be too loud or move around a lot)
- Internet connection speeds will vary
Why you should invest in remote teams
Regardless of these company culture challenges, remote teams are still worth investing in. Having a remote team decreases your overhead and overall business cost. Remote workers are healthier and happier, which leads to more engagement overall.
An increasing amount of talent is shifting towards freelancing and virtual work, which means in order to collaborate with these capable professionals, you’ll need to offer the business model they prefer to work in.
Plus, when you have team members in different timezones, it allows you to provide 24/7 customer support without disrupting any sleep schedules. Talk about a win-win!
How to build culture in your remote team
So, let’s get down to it. Building culture in a remote team is difficult, but ultimately rewarding. Team culture is reflected in work ethic; how much care do people put into their jobs, how friendly are they with colleagues and clients, and what standards do they hold themselves to independently? Studies show remote workers are already more productive than their in-office counterparts, but when you engage them as well your business will have a true A-team.
Have a virtual water cooler chat
Keep an online space open for your team to chat with one another and discuss non-work related topics. We have a #random chat in Slack where we learn all sorts of fascinating things about each other. Thanks to that chat, I know who participates in April Fool’s, and what kind of remote work tools and tech my teammates use.
Do a team challenge
Try doing a month challenge throughout the team. Whoever wants to participate can join in on it, but don’t force anyone to. For example, you could do a 3 kilometre challenge and run 3 kilometres every weekday for that month. At the end of the month people show how many kilometres they ran total and how many days they completed the challenge.
Team challenges give everyone something light to talk about, and helps the team feel closer with a simple common goal.
Meet up in person when you can
Not every remote team can afford to do this, especially at the beginning, but meeting up in person is a great way to build culture. There are multiple coliving spaces that can host a remote work retreat for your team. These spaces are set up with fast, reliable Internet and convenient places to work, so your team can continue their work week while exploring a new place together.
Make support a team effort
Everyone in the Zapier team takes a turn at answering customer support tickets. This all-team approach to customer support provides better customer service, helps your team understand your product or service even better, and your company culture develops empathy and respect for the main support team.
Having everyone interface with the customers now and then gives them a deeper insight into your client’s problems, and helps keep everyone customer-focused.
Transparency does wonders for all teams, but it’s even more useful for building culture in a remote team. At Hubstaff, we keep our revenue transparent with Baremetrics. Any member of our team (or any of our users) can check in to see how our numbers are doing. I recall there being a big team celebration on Slack when we hit $100k in MRR.
We’re also transparent about who does what. Everyone on the team has access to a shared virtual kanban board, where all of our task information in stored. If I want to learn more about what’s happening with the blog, I can go into the project management software and check out who’s working on what, which topics are in the works, and more. We can support each other’s’ efforts and jump into the project cards’ comments.
About Rachel Go
Rachel manages social media at Hubstaff and enjoys writing the occasional blog post. She loves writing about remote work, productivity, and workplace culture. She works remotely from around Asia, and is continuously learning about content strategy, SEO, and WordPress. Connect with her on Twitter @rgo_go.