The days of clocking in at 9 and leaving the office at 5 are long gone in the digital working age. Many teams are spread out in different offices or can even be entirely remote. Building culture on your team is difficult no matter the dynamic, but distributed teams have a greater hurdle to jump.
Co-located teams have an easier job of building a culture. Daily face-to-face interactions lend itself to fostering relationships. Additionally, bonding is more natural in the same office and planning off-site events is easier. However, that doesn’t mean you should just give up on building culture for your remote team. With just a little more time and effort, your remote team can be as close as deskmates.
There’s no doubt that culture is important in the modern recruiting world. Culture is the way that you can stand out in the recruiting landscape from your competitors.. On Gun.io’s Frontier podcast, tech leaders were asked what they look for most in the best candidate for their team and cultural fit was a priority for many leaders (You can see the rest of the research here). Having a strong culture can only continue to exist if leaders hired individuals that are a culture fit.
As a leader, there are many different approaches you can have when trying to build and support culture on your teams. Building culture on a remote team is going to be difficult, but it needs to be a top priority of yours in order to ensure employee satisfaction. Ready to get started? Keep reading to find a solution that you can implement on your team.
1. Use the right communication tools
In order to build culture on your remote team, they need to be able to chat about topics that are both related and unrelated to work. It’s crucial to choose an internal communication software that meets the formal and more informal communication needs of your team.
Provide spaces in your internal communication tools for co-workers to chat informally to help foster the natural “water-cooler” chat that happens in offices. At G2, we use Slack for our internal chat. We have work-related channels such as #content-marketing, where quick updates can be sent or leaders can highlight high performing articles. On the other hand, we have channels such as #g2dogs, where co-workers share their adorable dog photos or #supperclub where all things restaurant related are discussed.
Set clear standards and expectations for what purpose each communication channel has. If the more informal messaging software is used for important team updates, it’s easy for messages to get lost or ignored. Having different priorities for different channels can help ensure that there’s a tone set for each one and eliminate confusion for team members.
2. Meet in person
There are many benefits to having a completely remote team, from lower turnover to higher profits. However, when implementing distributed teams to your organization, ensure that you plan to have scheduled meetings in person. Doing so will help further the online bonds created between your team.
When bringing your employees to one central location to meet and work together, you’ll need to plan ahead so that they are significantly more productive than when you are all separate. Use an itinerary to create workshops and bonding sessions. You don’t want your workers to feel as if you’re wasting their time, so keep these meetings only a few days long.
A great way to help foster the culture between your distributed team is to include a volunteering event during your time together. Your teams will bond with each other by working together to give to another organization.
3. Hire for a culture fit
When choosing the right candidate to fill a role, there are a variety of factors to consider. You’ll want to make sure that they meet the technical requirements of the role, are open to feedback, and have a desire to grow in their position. When hiring for your remote team, it’s important to hire individuals that are a culture fit for your organization.
Unlike in-person teams, you can’t assume that a remote employee can mold to the culture as easily. In order to prevent turnover, ensure that the right person for the job also displays characteristics of your culture. You’ll need a self-starter who thrives off of working independently, since the majority of their work will be completed independently.
4. Identify your actual culture and publish it
At one point or another, there’s a good chance that your leadership or HR team has identified what they want the culture of the company to be. However, there’s going to be a disconnect from what is written to how it actually plays out. In order to best build culture for your remote team and attract candidates that align with your culture, it’s important to identify the culture that lives and breathes each day in your organization and then publish it for others to see.
Have your HR team identify culture through employee surveys. Your workers should be the voice of your culture, so let them identify what it means to them. After identifying the key themes in the survey, consider publishing a blog post about your culture. Another idea is to add a section on your careers page about culture. This can help draw hesitant candidates over the line to apply for a position. Companies that prioritize culture and publish it, like Netflix, do a great job in making sure that it actualizes itself on teams.
5. Highlight culture during onboarding
Once you’ve selected the right person for a role and they’ve accepted, you’ll have to onboard them. Onboarding contains everything from HR paperwork, company training sessions, and training on the role. If culture is important to your remote teams, mention this during onboarding.
There should be training during onboarding that discusses the company’s values and culture. Consider having a senior executive with a long tenure at the organization discuss what the values mean and how they are presented through the culture. Provide specific examples of what culture means to the company and how it plays out on different teams during training.
6. Video meetings: informal to formal
Video should be an important part of your work routine if you have a remote team whether or not the meeting is formal or informal. Select a video conferencing software that meets the technical requirements of your organization, such as screen sharing or participant capacity. Some organizations that work remotely start each day with a video meeting, if time-zones allow for this to occur, in order to catch up and provide that quick interaction with everyone that normally happens each day.
Most, if not all, meetings on your distributed team should be video meetings in order to build culture. The face-to-face interaction that video provides will allow your team members to form better bonds with each other. Additionally, video helps give everyone a voice and ensure that participants are active and engaged during the meetings.
Consider introducing regular, informal meetings through video to help strengthen the connections on your team. For example, you could have regular lunches on video where work is not allowed to be discussed. Another way is to randomly pair team members together every other week to provide an opportunity for them to get to know another person in the company. These meetings could be done via video conference in order to better facilitate conversation.
7. Give credit where it’s due
Just because your team isn’t co-located doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give the same level of shout-outs to high performing members. If someone goes above and beyond in a project, call them out in a group message or a team email. By propping up your employees, you’re building a trusting relationship. Trust is crucial because distributed teams rely heavily on independence and trusting others to carry their weight.
Transparency is key to fostering culture on your remote team and ensuring that your remote employees feel valued. Make sure that your team feels that being remote doesn’t put them at a disadvantage. All employees should be eligible for promotions or projects no matter their location. Build up your remote team and be transparent about feedback and where improvement is needed.
8. Measure remote engagement
Employee engagement is crucial for remote teams to build culture. Send out quarterly, anonymous surveys to identify how employees feel in their work. Identify areas for improvement and acknowledge where your team is already excelling. A way to have engaged employees is to make sure that all workers are up to date with their co-workers. Consider having regular email updates or dedicate time in team meetings for workers to talk about what they’re excited about in their lives outside of work.
Live out your culture
The only way to build culture as a leader is to live your culture and values yourself. Make sure that you act in a way that you’d be okay with your employees following. Building culture on a remote team isn’t impossible or that difficult if you make a conscious effort to help build it. Your culture can be something written on paper to check off your list or it can be something your employees breathe day in and day out when they work to help your organization thrive.
When agile hiring for your team Gun.io knows that culture is one of the key heuristics for a great engineer. That’s why they are already equipped with the adaptability to not only uphold but contribute to the culture of your team.
Anastasia Masters is a Content Marketing Associate at G2.com. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in history. In her spare time, Anastasia enjoys eating her way through Chicago's different neighborhoods, planning her next trip, and binging a new show on Netflix. You can follow her on Twitter at @anastasia_mm0.