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Creating an effective remote culture for your team is not easy, but it's necessary. Here are some tips to help you do it well.
Remote teams live and die by their communication and collaboration skills; if your employees are not cemented into the company’s culture early on, there’s very little chance that they will be continually motivated and engaged with their tasks. On the other hand, a truly engaging and unique culture can inspire your (remote or in-office) employees to be more loyal, productive and, most importantly, proud in their line of work.
Whilst a team in an office can just lean around their cubicles to talk or chat across a water cooler during a 5 minute break, a remote culture requires more effort to both put in place and keep running. Without the easy interaction between workers an office provides, the task falls completely on your shoulders to keep things afloat.
… Or does it?
Back at Process Street we run an entirely remote ship, and we’ve picked up a thing or two in how to create a solid remote culture. The best thing about these cultures is that they can even become self-sustaining - just set it up and you’ll only be required to input the bare minimum to maintain it. Chances are that most remote teams are even already achieving one or two of the key factors in creating this culture, but I’m here to share the four pillars that sit at the core.
So, if you’re new to employing remote workers, find yourself frustrated at the lack of communication or worry about the distance (figuratively) between employee and company, sit back and relax. We’ve got this.
Remote workers have the benefit of flexibility; applying arbitrary working hours according to a specific time zone onto them is a recipe for disaster. Instead, you should encourage your workers to put in their hours at the time of day when they are most productive.
For example, some people are night owls and work best in the morning and evening. Allowing such a person to put in four hours at the beginning and again at the end of their day will result in the best results, rather than having them stick to a 9-5 arrangement. Buffer are a great example of this, with their policy of letting workers put in the hours they’re comfortable with.
Not only does this make them feel happy about their workflow, but it allows the employee to get more done and creates a casual atmosphere for your culture to grow and flourish.
There is no room for a culture to flourish – let alone become self-sustaining – when your communication is spread over email accounts and five different apps. If your team has no idea what anyone else is talking about, or isn’t able to access a comment due to deleting a long chain of emails, entire projects can crumble.
If, however, you centralize your communication by making sure that everything is relayed through just one or two apps, there is almost no way that any team member can fall behind. This is especially key in remote teams which span multiple time zones, as it almost negates the problem posed by the delay in communication between America and Europe - nothing is missed (even in large batches of messages to someone offline) because everyone is fully aware of where they need to go to catch up.
This also serves to combat the very real danger of isolation which all remote workers (and teams) face; you’re ensuring a thriving remote culture sustains itself by, frankly, avoiding self-sabotage. Still, why take my word for it when Sandwich Video have a swanky video to demonstrate the point?
A culture will sustain itself if those inside of it feel that there is something worth sustaining. If your company culture-building process is only “communicate, make sure everyone can see messages that relate to them,” that’s like telling someone to be excited about the color beige. It doesn’t work; you have to do more than just ensure people know how to communicate with one another.
You need to inject some life into your culture to keep it going, and the best way to do that is to get your entire company involved and contributing their personality beyond mere work chat. Create friendly competitions based on common interests or schedule communal events to help your workforce bond and swap casual banter that just doesn’t flow during work hours.
For example, at Process Street we’re currently running two competitions, with another on the horizon. We’re unashamedly geeky, so it suits our culture to host a Hearthstone tournament for the whole company; a collectible card game in which you duel against other players. To make sure that the competition wasn’t rigged by experience, we also limited the card selection to only pre-made decks, as we have both new players and long-time veterans amongst our ranks.
Alternatively, if your team isn’t the gaming kind, you can have contests around other subjects. We also run a pseudo-contest to see who can find the best worst film. Every week someone is nominated to post a film in our general Slack channel, which we are then tasked with watching together. To give you an idea of the quality we bring up, some of our highlights include The Beast Must Die, Shivers and (our latest entry) Piranha Sharks. While it isn't the most enjoyable film to watch, the activity brings us together as a team, and gives us something other than work to talk about and bond over.
Onboarding is both something that you need to put a lot of effort into, and (later) an aspect which you can almost completely leave your culture to do for you. Ensure that your employee onboarding process is solid by introducing employees to the rest of the team and encouraging your existing team to reach out of their own accord. Don’t force the interaction, but having this foundation is key in ensuring that your remote hires both know who to contact if they’re having a problem and feel comfortable enough to do so.
Once your culture is firmly set, this will actually take care much of the onboarding process for you, as the competitions, events, and team spirit will incorporate any new hires into your culture naturally. You’ll still need to introduce them to your team and perhaps give your existing hires a slight nudge, but your flourishing culture of communication, competition, and collaboration will work wonders for getting them on board with your company’s attitude and aims.
There you have it: the secret to a self-sustaining office culture, even when your team is remote. Although an effective culture can be a process to set up, the rewards of such are often taken for granted. Make your employees more loyal, productive, and above all else happy with their workplace, remote or otherwise, and you’ll find that no matter how crazy your culture may be, it just works.