One of the common concerns we hear from leaders is how to create or maintain strong company cultures. This challenge is exacerbated considerably when the business (like ours) is globally distributed.
My co-founder, Shane Metcalf, and I thought it would be helpful to share some of our experiences leading a distributed team and solutions for growing camaraderie and cohesion even when employees are located all across the globe. Our latest 15 Minutes of 15Five Webinar is all about remote company cultures:
When everyone is in an office together, people naturally gravitate towards each other during and after work to share stories and build relationships. That experience often falls to the wayside with remote teams. What we’ve done is create short weekly rituals that give people an opportunity to connect beyond the business. Trust, which is a vital ingredient for any high performing team, emerges from knowing more about co-workers; their desires, personal experiences, and challenges.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday our entire team comes together for a virtual meeting called, The Boost. We use Zoom software so that our people in San Francisco, New York, Washington, Oregon, and all over Europe can interact “face to face”.
Mondays we share gratitude for a random object or experience like the internet or our taste buds. Wednesdays we do a group mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes. Question Fridays are all about random questions that are not work-related like, What was a cherished childhood memory? or If you were to get an advanced degree, what would you study? We also go into product updates and sharing the status of finances…etc… but we begin with connecting and learning about each other.
Pro Tip: We intentionally engineer these check-ins three times per week, and the content is a reflection of our own core values. Figure out your core values and create your own unique rituals aligned with them.
People can often feel like they are isolated. We have a number of people who are an “office of one”, like an engineer who works from Poland or our product manager in The Netherlands. They require more communication from the rest of the team so that they don’t feel isolated.
As for the do not disturb concept, there can be constant messaging going back and forth, like with Slack. This can be incredibly distracting. Primarily for individual contributors who need to get into flow state, we recommend turning off Slack and email and carving out chunks of time when you’re not available. Set the expectation that you won’t respond right away.
There’s a sense for remote employees that they should be highly responsive so that people know that they are indeed working. But that practice is highly counter-productive to inducing flow states at work.
You also want to be creating continual permission for employees to bring up issues that aren’t coming up in team meetings or one-on-ones. You want to prompt people to provide continuous employee feedback, so that you don’t find out months down the road during an annual review, that someone is leaving the company because they were feeling disconnected for so long.
Pro Tip: Be transparent and over-communicate the business numbers. When you are virtual, you have to work extra hard to have people feel ownership of the company.
There’s no replacement for face time. This may not be able to happen regularly, but it needs to happen. At a minimum we get the entire company together once per year for a company-wide retreat. Individual teams should have some face time at least once every three months. Our leadership team gets together each quarter, and other teams do one day off site meetings.
It’s worth the cost of the plane ticket. With early stage companies every dollar counts, but the ROI here is so much greater than just the cost of airfare. Our designer who lives in Holland told us in January that she probably would have already taken a different job if not for the annual retreat. Now she’s in it for the next five years, because we met her basic human need for connection.
In the early days of 15Five, Shane still had not met the other two people on the team besides me. After the first retreat, the level of trust, ease, and efficiency skyrocketed for everyone.
Pro Tip: You don’t need to have everyone in the office together all the time. A small dose of face time goes a long way.
Whether your team is co-located or not, there must be a clear and compelling vision and reason that they’re showing up every day. More so for a remote company culture, where people can feel disconnected from the purpose and how they fit into it. So going back to over-communication, you can’t just discuss recent progress or initiatives. Talk about the vision as well:
– Where are we going to be in a year? In 5 years?
– What do we stand for as a company?
– What are we trying to accomplish in the world?
Create a place for that to be communicated and received to maintain the unity of the organization.
Pro Tip: When you are virtual you have to work extra hard to keep everyone informed on how the vision is developing.
Check out the rest of our short recorded webinar to hear Shane and I answer questions like these:
What are some ways to help an “office of one” feel more connected to the rest of the company?
In your recruiting process is there anything in particular you are looking for in candidates who will be working remotely?
David Hassell is Cofounder & CEO of 15Five, employee engagement and performance software that helps create high performing teams by combining continuous feedback, pulse surveys, objectives (OKRs), peer recognition, and one-on-one meeting agendas, all in one lightweight weekly check-in. Follow David on Twitter @dhassell.
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