10 Tips to Build a Strong Remote Team Culture
As companies make the shift to remote or hybrid work, ‘being at the office’ isn’t what it used to be anymore. Here’s why. In a new, updated world where meetings happen over laptop screens, it's not enough to simply copy and paste how we used to work into this new reality. If there's anything we can all agree on from the past few years of working remotely - it's that the rules of the game have changed.
Today, employees expect company leadership to provide them with tools to not only be productive, but also feel engaged and connected as they work from home (or anywhere else they would like to work from).
The problem is...remote work is also new for most companies.
So we had to do something about it. Through the process of trial and error, we built the framework that we currently use at Dive. And it really worked! We’ve scaled, increased engagement and grown to six different time zones at our startup! What did we do? How did we do it? Most importantly, could anyone else do it too?
The answer is yes.
We compiled our research and came up with a rulebook for setting up a strong remote team culture. Let’s call them remote work’s ten commandments, if we could.
And now, it’s time we pass on that knowledge to you. Without any further ado, here are the top ten keys to building a remote team culture where your people feel engaged, included, and invigorated:
1. Hire the right team
How effective is a bridge going to be if it's constructed with poor concrete and steel?
In other words, if the people working at your company are not the best fit, how can you build a great culture? Everyone says that hiring the right people is crucial. Everyone. But what does ‘right‘ mean?
Right is a combination of three things: skills, the right time for the employee, and the right cultural fit.
Skills are easy to judge. There are hundreds of guides to assess skills and they are measurable. The right time means the right mindset for the stage of your company. An early-stage company will look for hustlers while a later-stage company will need executors. The tricky one is the culture fit. A good vibe check is one where a team can share a room (virtual or real) and feel comfortable enough to express themselves.
Spend as much time as possible on making sure that you hire only the best people for your team. This way, you’ll enable a natural team culture to form a lot easier. Once hired, you’ll have to trust this employee and give them the autonomy to do things the way they want. Here’s what a NYT best-selling author has to say about hiring:
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that culture is really important. I used to think that you could just hire smart people and expect them to do wonders for you. But if people don’t fit within your company culture, they will be more likely to butt heads when it doesn’t make sense, quit when things aren’t going well and not care for your company.” - Neil Patel
2. Create your own set of values
Culture is different for every company. That’s why having a clear set of ‘rules to live by’ will harness the direction that your culture takes. Build a set of company values by involving everyone on the team, not just the upper management. At companies like 6Q, company values are used weekly to discuss the performance of individuals and the entire business.
“When marketers influence habits, they influence peoples’ self-identity. And so when a group or company does something that doesn’t correspond to our core values, it feels like a betrayal.” — Charles Duhigg
3. Onboard with an intention
Onboarding helps new team members understand what the company is all about. You have to build a process where new hires communicate things like, “Here’s who I am, why I joined, how to work with me, and ways to understand me.”
At Dive, we onboard every new employee using Dive rooms. We play games, use icebreakers, and have truckloads of fun rituals to bring out the fun side in our team’s fundamentals. It's important for us to help new hires feel like they’re part of the team right from day one.
Remember this: when in doubt, be creative! And if it’s not working, you should also be able to let it go and try something new.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Effective and open communication is crucial within a remote team. Without it, everything falls apart. Everyone should communicate asynchronously (or synchronously) using tools like Slack, Zoom, and Dive. In fact, effective communication is so important that it should actually be an important filter when hiring new candidates.
Implementing communication standards with buy-in from all team members will significantly improve culture.
In a podcast interview, Amir from Toggl shared interesting insights on communication. While channeling and improving communication, you are going to have the following levers:
- Communicate the channels you use for sync communication (Slack, Zoom, Dive, etc);
- Which channels do you use for collaboration? (Notion, Google Docs, virtual whiteboards, design and development programs);
- How should everyone communicate their availability to the team? (available hours, when you’ll be off or unreachable, your average reply times);
- Communicating with respect (offensive language, personal comments etc)
5. Don’t expand too soon
This is one of the most important hacks that a lot of remote companies often ignore.
Small teams enable remote companies to be that much more effective. In a big group, it’s difficult to make out who is speaking and who is not. In smaller groups, everyone has to (or will have to) contribute to work effectively. Managers can give extra focus to every team member and make sure that they learn and have clarity.
Most importantly, managers can develop a great personal relationship with their team members. This kind of relationship boosts motivation of remote employees.
6. Don’t forget the socials
When it comes to remote companies, there are no ping pong tables, happy hours, or common lunch places. Your remote team members might be a Slack handle or a face (or sometimes, even a placeholder display picture) on Zoom for you.
‘Having fun at work’ is one of the most missed out elements at a remote company, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ways you can bring fun into your team culture:
- Schedule Casual Chats: Try scheduling a casual team call at least once or twice a week. Use this time to chat primarily about things outside of work. This will really help everyone understand what the other person is like in real life. You’ll get insight into how they think (and more importantly, chill). Another quick tip? Top up this time by having a beer or pizza together. There’s nothing like sharing food and drink to keep everyone engaged.
- Online games: Games are a great way to build a bond between teammates. We have a weekly social hour for games, and play games during every company meeting (all on Dive, of course). In fact, this became one of the most sought after times because it brings everyone together to have some fun.
- Bring fun into every meeting: Dive makes it easy to start meetings with a YouTube party or a quick round of Draw Party. Encourage creativity. You’d be surprised how talented your team really is.
- Make sure people are taking time off: Managers should ensure that teammates are taking enough time off. This will help in avoiding burnout.
7. Make the most of your meetings
Having a good remote meeting can be as simple as turning on your video camera and using GIFs so that employees feel comfortable.
Along with this, make sure you follow standard meeting best practices. Create and share meeting agendas before the meeting starts. Also take down notes, action items, and follow-ups, and share them with the team afterward as a quick meeting recap.
Remote team members can’t go out for a drink together after work. So it’s good to keep a balance between spending time on work-related topics and chatting about life. What we’ve seen is that having a meeting schedule helps organize meetings better. The meeting schedule completely depends on how your team works. You can have daily sync-up calls, weekly planning meetings, and recurring brainstorm sessions.
Remember this: your synchronous time is very important and you must use it wisely.
Whatever you decide, keep it simple. Too many useless meetings can mean a lot of wasted time that could be used for individual work.
8. Focus on your 1-1’s
As a remote team, it’s very possible for someone to go unnoticed in the background. It has happened to some of the best leaders that we know. But it doesn’t mean that it’s unavoidable.
It’s the manager’s responsibility to make conscious efforts to check in with every member on the team. In fact, you can easily avoid many issues that could have escalated by having frequent one-on-ones with your team.
Here’s a quick list of questions that could help you:
- How could we/I improve in any way?
- What are we not doing?
- What would you like me to stop doing as your manager?
- What’s not fun about working here?
- How’s everyone at home?
- Are you happy?
- How can I make your life easier?
“For managers, empowering team members in a remote work environment can be challenging. With our current state of remote work sophistication, the best we can do is make sure people are able to identify when things feel off for them. Then listen and be prepared to unblock them.” — Hiten Shah
9. Reward, recognise and release
Rewarding people for great work helps with building a great culture and sets an example for others to follow. That’s why you should recognise team members who deliver results and follow the company’s values.
On the other end of the spectrum, team members who continuously slack off should be let go. This sets another example and tone for the company.
“The culture of a startup is defined by three things: 1. How the founders behave, 2. Who they recruit, reward, and recognise. 3. Who they release (let go).” — Dharmesh, CTO Hubspot
10. Trust the process
Do remember that culture building is an ongoing process. There’s no right or wrong way to do it and it varies a lot for every company and team. The core of culture is that employees should feel happy in their jobs. Once you’ve managed to do so, that’s half the battle won.
The rest shall follow soon after.
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