06.13.20166 min read

3 Ways Remote Teams can Foster a Strong Company Culture

More and more, co-located companies are looking to remote work for key advantages like increased productivity, access to a larger talent pool, and lower overhead costs. According to FlexJobs, remote job listings increased by 36 percent in 2015. But you can’t build a remote team in the same way you build a co-located one. Companies have been experimenting with remote work within their co-located company culture for over a decade with mixed results. It’s only recently that companies like Automattic, Buffer, and Help Scout have successfully built their teams on the foundation of remote work. And the key to that success is building a strong company culture.

Culture is often overlooked as an important element for business success, but research shows that an organization’s culture has a big impact on employee engagement and happiness. While culture evolves more fluidly in co-located offices, companies that operate remotely need to be much more intentional about building a strong culture. Here are three ways remote teams can foster a strong company culture.

1. Hire for a “remote skillset”

Remote work is not a great fit for everyone, so learning how to screen for a good fit in the hiring process is key. At Help Scout, it took us a while to understand what kind of people thrive in a remote environment and we made some hiring mistakes early on. But once we identified those key traits, we adjusted our hiring process to screen for them early on. The top three things we look for are strong writing skills, time management, and curiosity.

Strong writing skills are a must have to be successful on a remote team. Remote teams depend on tools like chat or email for communication, so workers must be able to communicate complex ideas and issues clearly through writing. Bad writing can turn a two-minute chat into a 10-minute chat, which no one has time for.

Time management is another key skill because remote workers are solely responsible for their own time. Look for people with experience staying focused and on-task while working autonomously. Ask candidates for examples of how they successfully navigated a busy time or challenging deadline. The answer can be extremely telling.

Curiosity is also important. On a remote team, you can’t tap someone on the shoulder and get an answer right away. The person you need an answer from may be in another time zone. You need to be willing to look for the answer in an internal blog post or other team documentation. If your interviewee has a lot of questions about how the team communicates or how information is organized within the team, it’s a good sign.

2. Remote team connectedness

Studies show that relationships are key to happiness. When you invest in ways that encourage connectedness among your team, you generate momentum and boost productivity throughout the entire company. Since remote workers don’t have the advantage of impromptu watercooler conversations, which foster workplace relationships, it’s up to the leadership team to bring the teammates together.

We arrange “Friday Fika” to encourage relationship building. “Fika” is a Swedish term meaning “the act of taking a break during the workday for conversation, coffee, and cake.” We pair employees randomly and dedicate 30 minutes each Friday for pairs to video chat about anything. Some pairs even enjoy a coffee and pastry “together” while they chat. This time allows employees to find commonalities and form personal bonds—which eventually creates trust and allows for the open flow of ideas.

Buffer prioritizes relationship building through company retreats. Buffer brings employees together three times a year for retreats in locations around the globe, like South Africa or New York City. As Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer explains, retreats are an opportunity to ”learn about what makes each other tick and what our true passions are.”

3. Aggressive transparency

Transparency is a cornerstone of remote culture. Remote workers can easily feel out-of-the-loop or forgotten, so information sharing is key for a culture of trust and respect. Company updates should be shared with everyone at once, as soon as appropriate. At Help Scout we send daily emails that include company revenue metrics, and we replaced a real-time weekly all-hands with a weekly video update.

Transparency is also key for knowledge sharing, something that can be less natural for remote teams. I love how Simon Ouderkirk, hospitality evangelist at Automattic, describes the importance of knowledge sharing in his blog post:

“Your default must be aggressive transparency—I say aggressive because even if you are killing it chats/tickets wise, if you aren’t sharing your expertise, if you aren’t distributing that excellence in a way that is useful for all of us, you’re only doing half of your job.”

Collaboration tools like Slack, Yammer, and Hipchat, bring ease to knowledge sharing, but these tools are only the first step. To institute a culture where expertise and learning is shared often, leadership should put deliberate processes in place. Atlassian, for example, encourages members of distributed development teams to have weekly 1:1 video chat sessions, so code knowledge is regularly shared.

Going all-in

The key to all three of these tips is going all-in on remote culture. If you try to optimize for both a remote culture and office culture, you’ll likely do a poor job at both. Instead, embrace your remote culture wholeheartedly. While some of our team at Help Scout is co-located in Boston, we take care to operate as though everyone is working remotely. Every business decision we make is through the lense of remote team so everyone has access to the same information and no one is left out of the loop. With this even playing field, everyone can benefit from and contribute to our remote culture.

This article was written by Becca Van Nederynen from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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