When you hear “teamwork” with your coworkers, what comes to mind? Most likely working in-person in an office with other people. These days, however, teamwork has taken on a new meaning for global companies that have employees and contractors located in multiple time zones. When your remote team is spread out across countries, how do you develop a sense of community and a company culture?
Technology has made it possible for us to work from any location we choose, whether it is from home, at a coffee shop, in our car, or at a rented space. The last three companies I worked with were 100% remote.
Two of the companies had a physical office location, but the team did not work at the office unless they wanted to. There weren’t enough desks for everyone even if they all decided to show up for work there. The third was a startup without a central office. Everyone worked from home.
All three companies developed a company culture and connection between team members because they had the following common factors.
Strong Leadership and Clear Goals
A positive company culture depended on strong leadership from management and a clear goal or purpose from day one.
When I joined a remote company, I didn’t show up at reception where I was shown to my new workstation so I could get set up. I had a phone call with my new supervisor, who set up a series of Zoom meetings for me, gave me an email address so I could access company files, and assigned me a series of tasks to complete.
Not everything went as planned. The first week usually consists of chasing down people, which gets interesting when you have team members on the other side of the country… or another continent. When I needed to find a teammate I didn’t know, I first 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 couldn’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. What lessened any frustration that could rise from these unexpected issues was clear guidance.
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 very isolated and alone without the clarity.
My supervisor was also a role model for company culture. When I started to work with other team members on projects, I set up my tasks with them the same way that my supervisor had. I also checked in with team members about projects. Clear communication is vital to a remote company.
Develop 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, the 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 with respond with a thumbs up. Sometimes there would be no communication for hours… or days.
As a result, I felt detached from the company, like I was working on a deserted island. The infrequent messaging was like seeing a beacon of light in the darkness, a frail trail of words.
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. It seemed like if I peeked into the next room, I would find all my teammates there.
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 care about the company and be invested in the company. Getting to know the team on a personal level further develops company culture.
The jokes and quick comments about a favourite food or weekend activity during a Zoom meeting or in a team chat are the first step to getting to know coworkers. 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 looking at them on a Zoom screen or reading their DMs.
You connect better with people when you see their body language and hear their tone of 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, it’s harder to get to know people on your remote team. 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.
Each person on the team shared what role they saw themselves having on the team two years into the future. They also shared personal goals – if they planned to be married, have kids, own a home, change location, or have hobbies.
It was intriguing to hear about this personal side of people I had been working with remotely. At the end of the session, we as a team had created goals for company’s future. I also had a clear picture of the people who would be 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 are necessary for building connections. Most importantly, getting to know your team members on a personal level develops a sense of community.