This is a guest post by Running Remote conference, who cover every facet of building a remote team to help develop the future of work.
Remote and hybrid work has become the norm for millions worldwide, and while it’s filled with opportunities and advances, it comes with challenges too. One of the greatest challenges that remote team leaders face is the obstacle of creating a team culture and maintaining the ‘human element’ of interaction. Remote companies need to be proactive about building team culture, it’s not something that will happen without intentional and broad effort.
Most agree it's important and needed, but many aren’t sure how to go about implementing it in a way that feels natural and effective. Offices create opportunities to connect naturally but they don’t often occur within a remote working environment, and an optional Friday virtual happy hour isn’t enough to foster a strong remote team culture. Remote culture is not simply about social bonding but touches upon all of the elements that create a strong culture, from values to trust.
Challenges of remote work team culture
Data suggests that remote workers suffer from a sense of isolation, so it is essential that opportunities are created for team members to connect, feel supported and be part of a vibrant team. Team culture is one of the core appeals that draws high-quality talent to organisations and creates an environment that promotes well-being as well as excellent work from employees.
The challenges of building remote culture, are of course the lack of face-of-face communication, lack of belonging, as well as different time zones and cultures. Team rituals can be weaved into workdays and weeks, bringing people in distributed teams together in fun and innate ways. At the same time, rituals that maintain company culture go beyond just fun games, quizzes, and happy hours. They reinforce values that lay at the core of the company's unique DNA and make employees feel more authentic and appreciated.
How rituals help remote teams
Rituals build team camaraderie and culture and create the “human element” that many remote workers long for. It’s helpful to remember, especially if working across various cultures, that a broad approach providing different forms of connection is beneficial as people need different things at different times to feel connected. Everyone has their preferred medium where they feel the most at home, and it’s important to take this into account.
Ritual is a repetitive action built into our routine, something that we are used to and expect. That’s why it’s so powerful for maintaining social connections and enhancing psychological safety.
A muti-ritual approach tends to work best, with remote organisations confirming that facilitating multiple rituals engage many people in different ways, allowing them the opportunity to connect in ways that feel most natural to them.
Recommend rituals for creating remote team culture
Creating specific channels for certain topics
A fun and easy way to start building remote team culture is to create specific ‘social-only’ channels or threads in slack or your preferred communications tool. Ask team members to share a photo from their weekend, home office spaces, dinner or lunch ideas, or the books, podcasts or tv series they are currently engaging with.
Social discussion threads and channels can be created for topics such as travel, parenting, food, articles to read, and more. Conversations tend to flow when a space has been created and someone starts the thread by contributing. Photos in particular are a great way to bring another element into the written online remote world, offering a glimpse into colleagues' lives, in and out of their remote work setting, helping people connect visually, which is often a missing link with remote teams.
Add extra time for socialising before or after meetings
Connecting with colleagues is generally a highlight of the workday, and there can be a misconception that every minute of work time in a remote team needs to be productively work-output focused. In an office environment, there are times during the day for coffee and tea and casual conversations to talk, which doesn’t tend to happen in remote working environments.
Adding on extra time before or after meetings for casual conversations, in both 1:1 and team meetings, provides a clear opportunity to connect in an unstructured way that isn’t simply agenda related. It’s a simple and effective way to connect with colleagues which are likely to become a weekly highlight.
Co-working streaming sessions
Co-working sessions are an effortless way to allow for small-talk conversations while working in ways that colleagues would usually connect if in person, fostering a virtual team environment of joint working. Using your technology of choice, colleagues simply sign in, with or without video, and can tap in and out of conversion during the streaming session. It’s also an excellent way to allow for collaboration, brainstorming and discussing opportunities as teams work either individually or together on projects during streaming.
Some remote teams have a rolling ongoing streaming session people can join and leave throughout the day, and others set aside time blocks of 1 hour for smaller groups to connect. Playlists can be created and shared, creating a real-time connection that’s natural, effortless and high-energy.
Virtual coffees and lunches
While Friday ‘happy hours’ tend to be a common ritual among remote teams, virtual coffees and lunches can be overlooked. In office environments, coffees and lunches tend to be the most common way that colleagues connect on a personal level. Virtual coffees can be scheduled into the calendar every morning at the start of the work day. They allow for informal conversation as well as discussing any work-related questions or topics in an easy way, rather than sending emails, messages or scheduling calls.
Remote teams have found a weekly virtual team lunch to be a fun way to chat similar to in-person connections. Better yet, team leaders could order and have lunch delivered to colleagues for this weekly ritual.
Challenges and quizzes
People enjoy different ways of connecting, and many are driven by challenges and quizzes to get competitive energy going. Quiz topics can be run similar to ‘pub’ quizzes, with team members taking a turn creating a topic and questions and facilitating the online event live via video. There are also platforms that are created specifically for quizzes, which are both challenging and entertaining. Challenges are fun and easy ways to connect teams and can be broad, from fitness challenges to reading, meditating or cooking. A weekly or monthly challenge could be shared in Slack, with daily updates and check-ins from participants.
‘Ask a Boss’ question sessions
Rituals are not simply team building activities, as company culture is based upon values, involving people in the decision-making process, connection with the organisation, and building trust. While it’s important to create informal social opportunities to connect, it’s also equally pivotal to develop more formal ones that are directly ‘work related’. Allow for opportunities where team members can ask questions and share feedback, such as scheduled meetings where people can speak directly with leadership and ‘Ask a Boss’ anything that’s important to them and the workplace.
Charity work together
Reinforce company values by providing social responsibility initiatives, such as charity work or sustainability challenges. Colleagues can pick a social cause to contribute to, and fundraise together, with running challenges, morning-tea fundraisers with friends, or online crowd-funding. Locally, employees could be offered a day to volunteer with a local organization, providing an in-person connection opportunity, and sharing photos and their experiences back with the team.
Experiment and create rituals that work for you
The core takeaway from team leaders is that the connection element is hugely important, but it must be intentionally created. Remote organisations that have had the most success have cultivated various rituals for different personality types. Rituals tend to work best with both mandatory and optional sessions and balance both informal and formal connections.
Many colleagues will have their own great ideas for connection and are often open and willing to be involved in creating a connection as much as leadership is. Ask for your team's input with a brainstorming session or a simple open question, and see what rituals excite and inspire others. With intention and experimentation, remote organizations will find their unique groove, and a vibrant culture can be created.
If you are interested in learning more practices that will reinforce your company’s remote or hybrid work culture, join the world’s largest remote work conference and community, Running Remote. As remote environments have become the new norm, many leaders are facing the challenge of redefining their company’s culture in these new conditions. Running Remote brings together world leaders in remote and hybrid work that will discuss successful employee onboarding, async communication, engaging immersive experiences for your employees, and much more.