What comes to mind when you hear “teamwork” with your coworkers? Most likely, working in person in an office together with other people. However, these days, teamwork has taken on a new meaning for global companies with employees and contractors in multiple time zones. How do you develop a sense of community and company culture when your remote team is spread across countries?
Technology has enabled us to work from any location we choose, whether from home, at a coffee shop, in our car, or in a rented workspace.
A remote company can have a physical office location, but the team only works at the office if they want to. There aren’t enough desks for everyone, even if they all decide to show up to work there. Another type of remote company doesn’t have a central office. Everyone works from home.
These types of remote companies can develop a company culture and connection between team members because they have the following common factors.
Strong Leadership and Clear Goals
A positive company culture depends on strong leadership from management and a clear goal or purpose from day one.
At one remote company where I worked, I had a phone call with my new supervisor, who set up a series of Zoom meetings for me, gave me an email address to access company files, and assigned me tasks to complete.
I faced several challenges that first week. I had to chase down team members on the other side of the country or on another continent. When I needed to find a teammate I didn’t know, I had to figure out how to get a hold of them. Unlike a traditional office, there was no reception desk to call or a central place with all employee numbers written down.
Unlike a traditional office, you can’t wander the halls to find someone who can help you or knock on someone’s door to ask for help. With a remote company, that email or phone number is your lifeline. Clear guidance lessens any frustration that could arise from these unexpected issues.
My supervisor usually checked in to make sure problems could be solved or suggested how to find a solution. Having someone I could rely on to clarify things was important. Otherwise, it’s easy to start feeling isolated and alone without clarity.
My supervisor was also a role model for company culture. When I started working with other team members on projects, I set up my tasks with them the same way my supervisor did. I also checked in with team members about projects. Clear communication is vital to a remote company.
Responsive and Frequent Communication
Building a successful, remote team depends on responsive and frequent communication. Having platforms, apps, and chats set up for team messages is the first step. The second is creating a culture of responsiveness.
For one company that I worked with, communication was very infrequent. People messaged the team with reminders of team meetings or items that were due for multiple people. When anyone posted a link to a completed project or suggested an idea, one or two people responded with a thumbs up. Sometimes there would be no communication for hours or days.
As a result, it was easy to feel detached from the company, like working on a deserted island. The infrequent messaging was like seeing a beacon of light, a frail trail of words in the darkness.
In contrast, another remote company I worked with had multiple chats set up and used platforms such as Slack. When one person posted an idea for review, multiple people wrote in with feedback and suggestions. A social chat group was filled with lengthy banter about weekend activities, jokes about life, and friendly jokes about coworkers.
Although I was working alone in a room, I felt like I was in an office full of people because of all the frequent communication.
Someone at this company had started this culture of frequent communication. New team members continued the culture. Not all the chatter was about work, although it could start with a work topic. People wanted to stay in touch.
Getting to Know the Team on a Personal Level
Socializing helps a team to gel. Otherwise, you have a group of people working on tasks. When you’re just a cog in a wheel, it’s much more difficult to be invested in the company. Getting to know the team on a personal level further develops company culture.
The first step to getting to know coworkers is the jokes and quick comments about a favorite food or weekend activity during a Zoom meeting or in a team chat. It’s also important to meet with them outside of work.
Pre-covid, meeting in person for company social events such as themed lunches, Christmas parties, or company functions was one way to get to know coworkers. It’s different talking with someone in person than watching them on a Zoom screen or reading their DMs.
You connect better with people when you see their body language and hear their voice. Messaging apps do not capture these aspects of a person.
Most importantly, when you don’t have meeting time limits, it’s much easier to get into deep conversations about your coworker’s hobbies and vacations. When you know more about someone on a personal level, it becomes more like working for friends than strangers who are a name and a tiny facial profile on an app.
Now that we are highly discouraged from meeting in person, getting to know people on your remote team is harder. Harder but not impossible. I was surprised when I attended a strategy meeting, and we discussed not goals for the company, but goals for each attendee.
It was intriguing to hear about this personal side of people I had been working with remotely. At the end of the session, we had created goals for the company’s future. I also had a clear picture of the people working on this team.
Creating a strong company culture for a remote team takes effort. You need leadership and clear goals for the company and individuals. Frequent and responsive communication is necessary for building connections. Most importantly, getting to know your team members on a personal level develops a sense of community.
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