As a lifelong Lakers fan, I couldn’t help but reference one of the greatest coaches in sports history regarding teamwork. Phil Jackson once said, “the strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” With 11 NBA championships under his belt, you have to assume he’s onto something.
In business, the strongest teams are found in organizations with an equally resolute culture, but much like basketball teams, an in-office environment lends itself to daily collaboration, establishing a company culture more naturally. So how do you build a strong company culture when your team is scattered across the country, or in our case, the globe?
At Formstack, we take great pride in our core values and spend a lot of time instilling them within every employee, many of which are thousands of miles away. Not to toot our own horn here, but we’ve gotten pretty good at it. As such, here are a few tips to building a strong company culture with a remote team.
Build a Sense of Shared Leadership
As a remote worker myself, it can sometimes feel like you’re on an island. That sense of disconnect can easily slip into feeling undervalued, or as though your role is merely checking tasks off a to-do list. A great way to avoid this feeling is to build a culture that fosters shared leadership.
A couple ways managers can encourage leadership across their teams is by putting individuals in charge of special projects, or advocating peer-to-peer coaching on their areas of expertise. One way we do this at Formstack is through our Culture Captain program. It links up existing team members with new hires for weekly video chats, encouraging communication and team building right from the start. New employees get paired up with two Culture Captains: one on their own team, and one outside their team, which provides them with two different perspectives and a new friend outside of their department.
Many of our employees enjoy quizzing new hires on their favorite movies, food, or sports teams. Others will use their time to answer any questions or concerns the new hire might have about company culture or starting their new role. The Culture Captain program is a great way to bolster a sense of leadership for the existing employee, while also immediately giving new hires a sense of belonging within the organization.
Communication is Key
Remember the island metaphor above? Without the ability to stand up from your desk and chat with your co-workers from time-to-time, remote work can get really tough. For in-office employees, developing a strong culture happens naturally through collaborative environments, inside jokes, and shared experiences. Remote teams need to find ways to mimic these in-person experiences to develop their culture.
Don’t worry, there’s an app for that.
We love Slack! Think of it as a virtual office for remote teams to have random conversations at their “watercooler.” You can create Slack channels about particular topics, like sports, music, or one of my favorite places, the virtual coffee shop for a safe space to be a complete coffee snob.
At Formstack, we have a #remoties channel dedicated to those of us that rarely, if ever, work out of one of our offices in Fishers, IN or Colorado Springs, CO. Our #remoties channel ranges from sharing each other’s local weather, which is surprisingly fascinating, to asking the channel a fun question of the day.
Every channel develops its own personality and helps build our teams from afar. But it’s not all fun and games—Slack is also a great place to get things done. We also have channels for each of our departments, like #marketing, #developers, and #inbound. We keep these channels open for outside team members to join and ask questions if needed. As the Social Media Strategist at Formstack, I’m an honorary member of our #cx rooms where our awesome Customer Support team often guides me in properly responding to customer inquiries on our social media channels.
One of our core values is to help others succeed and these Slack channels do just that!
An app within an app, HeyTaco! was created by Slack and implemented by our Employee Experience team to encourage fun and meaningful team recognition. One of our core values is centered on relationships and what better way to develop meaningful relationships than giving credit when credit is due?
Using the taco emoji within Slack, we can award up to five tacos a day to one team member for doing an extraordinary job, or disperse them among multiple colleagues that provided a helping hand. Tacos can be redeemed for fun prizes, like a signed photo of our VP of Sales and CX, Beau Brooks, or yummy baked goods from our Marketing Analyst, Heather Cerny. Save up enough tacos and you can even be CEO for the day!
Now these are just a couple examples of how we use technology to streamline communication and stay connected as a remote team. With distance and time zones, it’s important to give your team a variety of ways to stay connected, both in work and in play, so don’t forget to explore different project management apps to help keep everyone up to date.
All Hands on Deck
Plain and simple, in-person meetups are extremely important to building a strong company culture among a distributed team. Every year, we have an entire company retreat called All Hands, where we all get together from around the world and meet in one centralized location. During this week, we partake in team building exercises, from city scavenger hunts to playing games and solving puzzles. We also take some time to get down to business and truly collaborate as a unified group.
We always come back from these retreats feeling rejuvenated and focused on our product and customers, and closer to one-another as friends and colleagues. Plus, it’s always fun to learn things about your coworkers that you can only learn by meeting them in person, like how surprisingly tall or short they are compared to what you imagined behind your video chat screen. #RemoteWorkJoke
Once you’ve mulled over these ideas and put some into action, don’t forget to share about them! Your remote teams will love seeing the company culture they’ve helped build be front and center.