Building a remote office culture is not an exact science. Much of it relies on your interacting with each other, communicating, and collaborating of their own accord; it's not something you can force. That's not to say there's nothing you can do, however: there are a few techniques that can give your team the best possible remote work culture to bring out their personality and make remote work both enjoyable and productive.
At , we run a completely remote ship. With employees in America, England, Latvia, the Philippines and more, we’ve had to work around multiple time zones, potential communication barriers and (the killer) potential isolation that remote work can bring. Thankfully, with the right practices, tools, and ideology, we’re running a well-oiled, productive machine. It all starts with onboarding.
Onboard Your Employees Thoroughly
Building a remote office culture starts before your new team member ever logs in. You need to have a plan of action to ensure that they don't encounter roadblocks, such as login details and incorrect permissions. First impressions are everything!
Not only do you need to have all of the correct resources ready for , you should also make sure that the employee is introduced to everyone else on the team their very first day. Make their new environment as supportive as possible by initiating introductions and encouraging your team to be welcoming.
For example, one of the first steps in our employee onboarding process is to introduce new members on the general Slack chit-chat channel (our virtual water cooler, if you will) with a shower of funny gifs to put them at ease. Nothing says “welcome” like rolling the Giphy dice, after all.“[When onboarding, you’re] setting the stage for a career’s worth of productivity and achievement” - Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack
Communicate and Collaborate
Culture is created by the people who constitute it, so you need to encourage communication and collaboration as much as possible in a remote team.
Part of this should have already been achieved by your onboarding introductions, but by keeping regular contact with your remote employees you can get to know them beyond their employee ID and ensure there are no gaps in your communication. This is vital: if they feel like nothing more than a cog in the corporate machine, there’s very little incentive to keep talking with their peers.
We have various Slack channels for each team, such as content creation and customer support, along with a general channel where we all say “Hi” every day and talk about how things are going. We also have meetings (generally on Skype or Google Hangouts) twice a week with the rest of our teams and the CEO. This allows us to stay in contact, report on progress, and get help with anything that’s frustrating or blocking us.
As with any meeting, however, the key is to keep it interesting. We generally chat casually for the first few minutes of each call, which allows everyone to relax before giving their progress reports and makes the rest of the team more approachable for day-to-day communication.
Host a Friendly Competition
Another great way we’ve found to inspire camaraderie and a little friendly banter is through gamification. Each week, we take turns recommending a hilariously bad movie for the rest of the team to enjoy. You’d be surprised at how many gems we’ve managed to dig up, and it’s a fantastic way to form stronger bonds with co-workers. Note: the last thing you should do is create a cutthroat contest. Nobody likes to lose when the same people win a sales race every month, for example.
Alternatively, if you’re a little geeky like us, you could host a company match (or other online game). We’ve just completed our first round, limiting everyone to basic pre-made decks to ensure that the veteran players can’t engineer their own success. This gives employees a chance to directly interact and have some fun outside of work, which does wonders for morale.
Get Everyone On Support
With all of our success encouraging employees to interact with their teammates and managers on a personal level, we still had one problem to overcome: how to encourage different teams to collaborate with each other and strengthen ties even more?
The answer is customer support.
Although it may sound like a chore, we’ve taken to rotating our employees through customer support duties in order to encourage collaboration and help them learn our product inside out. As a result, our devs have a running conversation with the content team, the VAs can comfortably talk to sales and everyone understands what is happening with the product.
As an added bonus, our varied time zones are now becoming a huge positive — we can have at least one employee on support duty almost 24 hours a day, and we have a huge number of backup technicians if one of our support team members isn't available.
Building Culture on Your Remote Team
Remote work can be difficult for both employees and managers. Communication isn’t as natural, and new hires are often more reluctant to voice their problems, as they can’t just stick their head into their neighbor's cubicle. If you can pull off creating the right remote office culture, however, those problems soon melt away in a sea of and co-operation.
If you've worked as part of a remote team, how did you go about building company culture? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Author Bio Benjamin Brandall writes about SaaS, productivity, and technology at . Find him on Twitter .