Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

One of the biggest challenges facing remote teams is how to create and maintain a positive company culture. In fact, it’s hard enough keeping a whole team happy and motivated when you all share a workspace. Get a distributed team of employees that have limited, if any, face-to-face contact, and this problem gets magnified a few times over.

That said, while it’s undeniably difficult to create a remote company culture and ensure distributed employees feel that they’re working towards a common goal, it’s certainly not impossible.

Here are 10 tips from pioneering companies that have bucked the trend of remote working = isolated working, to create a positive company culture across their remote teams.

1. Acceleration Partners – Invest in the right technology

It’s pretty much impossible for a remote business to operate successfully without the right technology. Legacy on-premise systems need to be replaced with cloud-based solutions that allow employees to work collaboratively and communicate with ease, regardless of where they’re located.

Acceleration Partners is a leading affiliate marketing company that boasts an impressive client list including brands like Adidas and Target.

Technology has played a key part in ensuring their remote team members feel as much a part of the culture as those who work from the office every day. Their chosen suite of tools includes:

  • Zoom – for video conferencing and other meetings.
  • Skype – to simplify real-time communications between employees in different locations.
  • Google Docs – to streamline task collaboration.
  • TINYpulse – to anonymously gauge workers’ feelings and identify any issues or concerns that may need addressing.

Read more about the steps Acceleration Partners has taken to create culture across remote teams here.

2. HelpScout – Leverage video

Help Scout’s team is spread out across the world – a setup that, as we know, can make it extremely difficult to create a positive company culture. Video is key to remedying this.

The company hosts weekly “Monday morning video parties” that are designed to “keep the team informed about new feature releases, birthdays and other company-wide news.” The meetings can be viewed live or team members in incompatible time zones can tune in later, so they don’t have to miss out.

Help Scout uses video for more than meetings, though.

I love their “Cribs” idea, in which team members were encouraged to give their colleagues insight into their life by making video tours of their homes.

They also host monthly “Troop Talks,” which they describe as “a lightly structured monthly video chat centered around a single topic.” Participation is totally optional, and staff members are notified in advance of the discussion topic, so they can decide whether or not they want to come along.

Read more about how Help Scout leverages video to create a remote culture here.

3. 15Five – Embrace transparency

Embracing transparency is something all businesses today should be trying to do. However, the additional challenge of building trusting relationships in remote teams makes transparency even more important.

15Five leverages their own tool to help foster a company culture based on “trust, accountability and transparency.” The company is always open to hearing feedback to the point that they encourage employees to give feedback on the performance of management.

Read more about how transparency is part of 15Five’s remote culture here.

4. Groove – Assess potential employees’ “fit” with a trial period

I can’t really state enough how important employees are to your company culture. Staff members who don’t share your beliefs or values and who don’t “buy into” what you’re trying to achieve will – almost certainly – have a negative impact on your culture.

To help minimize “wrong hires,” help desk software giant Groove assesses each potential employee’s “fit” with a trial period. This is designed for the benefit of both the potential staff member and Groove themselves. Not only does Groove want to ensure the potential hire will “fit” into their team, but they want the assurance that the person is going to feel happy and fulfilled in the role.

Only once the trial period is completed and it’s decided the potential hire “fits” the Groove culture, will they be taken on full time.

You can read more about how Groove hires top talent remotely here.

5. 6Q – Introduce new remote workers to the whole team

It goes without saying that when a new hire comes to work with you on-premises, you introduce them to everyone they’ll be working with and, depending on the size of the company, potentially to the whole team.

Unfortunately, this social ritual is often sidestepped when that employee works remotely. 6Q, which offers tools for collecting employee feedback, follows a process that ensures this doesn’t happen when they welcome someone new.

They send an introductory email to every member of the team that includes, alongside the new hire’s contact details, their answers to five non-work related questions.

In addition to this, they encourage the new hire to arrange one-to-one meetings with as many members of the team as they feel comfortable with.

You can read more about this, and other ways 6Q fosters a positive company culture in a remote team, here.

6. Teamwork.com – Acknowledge and reward hard-working remote workers

When you all work from the same location, it’s generally pretty easy to see how hard employees are working and pick up on their achievements. You can hear them go that extra mile for a client on the phone and you know when they’re staying late or arriving early.  This also makes it really simple to thank those staff members for the effort they’re putting in.

Things are very different on remote teams.

You need to have a great deal of trust in your staff and pay extra attention to the work completed to assess who’s slacking, and who’s going above and beyond.

You also have to make a particular point of thanking and rewarding those who deserve it.

To ensure their remote workers’ achievements are acknowledged, Teamwork.com holds quarterly “Teamwork Legend” awards in which their employees’ contributions are rewarded with certificates and gift cards.

You can read more about this and other ways Teamwork.com manages successful remote teams here.

7. Buffer – Schedule regular retreats

One of the biggest barriers to creating a great company culture in remote teams is a lack of face-to-face contact (video helps, but is no substitute for working with your colleagues in person).

To get around this, Buffer schedules all-expenses-paid retreats for the whole company, three times a year. This means they’re paying for flights, accommodations and (most) meals, as well as a few activities.

It’s worth bearing in mind that these retreats aren’t “holidays” as such. The team is expected to work their usual hours (give or take), but for these 10 days the team can come together and operate like a “typical” company (except for all the after-hours social activities).

You can read more about Buffer’s retreats and watch a couple of videos on what they’re like and why they do them here.

8. Edoc – Create a culture of learning

One of the secrets to being happy and fulfilled at work is feeling confident in your abilities – being sure that you’re good at what you do. Questioning our ability to do our job will drag us down, and understandably so.

This is why it’s important for every company to give their staff the tools they need to develop their skills and perform their jobs to the highest possible standard. Of course, ensuring remote employees have what they need isn’t always easy. Often senior members of staff will train more junior employees in-house – an approach that’s difficult, if not impossible to replicate remotely.

However, just because it’s more difficult to keep remote staff up to speed than in-house staff doesn’t mean you should leave them to figure things out for themselves and hope for the best.

Edoc, which builds tools designed to aid in productivity and collaboration, understands this, and as a result has incorporated a “culture of learning” into their overall company culture.

As well as ensuring employees have access to courses and other training opportunities, Edoc hosts a whole month of company-wide professional training sessions every year.

In fact, Edoc’s CEO Jim Mullaney once hosted six weeks of “Friday leadership trainings” from his own home. Local staff were invited to come along in person while those who lived further afield could telecommute.

The result is happier staff that sticks around longer. As Jim says: “If employees aren’t learning, they’re leaving.”

Read more about how Edoc built a great remote company culture here.

9. Basecamp – It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

Often when we think about remote working, we think about employees on the other side of the world from their employer, or people traveling the world, working from a palm-tree lined beach (totally impractical, but it makes a great visual).

Image Credit

The reality, however, is that not all remote staff always work remotely. Often staff that lives locally will switch between working remotely and coming into the office as it suits. This is great for company culture, since staff benefits from regular face-to-face contact. It’s also an ideal middle ground for many employees who have obligations that prevent them from working in an office full-time, but that would miss the social aspect of sharing workspace with a team.

In other cases, some companies will employ a mix of remote and in-house workers.

This is something the project management specialists at Basecamp have done. Their team started out working in a traditional office setting but found that the space they had was bigger than they anticipated needing, and that the rent was too high.
As a result they decided to rent just a few desks instead. Today, the majority, but not all, of their employees work remotely.

10. Zapier – Trust your team

Trust is essential in all companies, but it’s even more important when you work remotely. This is something Zapier has come to understand while building a team of remote workers.

The issue largely comes down to the fact that distributed teams don’t know how much or how hard their colleagues are working. While some companies try to resolve this with rules dictating things like when bums should be on seats, or even requiring them to be on camera all day (yes, this is a real thing at some firms) most companies, like Zapier, understand that all you really need is trust.

If the work’s getting done that’s a sure sign your remote employees are pulling their weight, and really, that’s all you need to know.

Read more about how Zapier has built their remote company culture here.

Do you have any tips to add for creating culture across remote teams? Comments are below if you have a moment to share them:

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

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