If you ever played on a sports team in high school or college, you probably remember those three cherished minutes your coach gave you to grab some water in the middle of practice. You’d take off your helmet, wipe off the sweat, and jog to the water cooler. While crowding around the cooler you finally got a chance to briefly catch up with your buddies. You’d probably hear a few complaints about studying but also news about fun weekend happenings too. This big orange jug let you pause, chat, and re-energize before it was back to work!
Well, this is sort of what every remote team needs too. Maybe not a literal water cooler, but something similar that would virtually bring everyone together for a good laugh. Co-founders of Greenback Expat Tax Services, David and Carrie McKeegan, use mobile communication tools as their virtual cooler. Every Friday they post a Get to Know You question where all employees can respond to causal questions about weekend plans, photo submissions of their children, or what movie they just saw. “It helps build bridges that aren’t naturally there if you don’t work in the same office,” they say.
Building a company culture when you rarely see your colleagues may seem impossible, but there are ways around it as the McKeegans have shown us. A great company culture is crucial to branding and growth. It is what connects employers to each other and to the outside world. Aside from making your company’s own virtual cooler, here are some additional steps you can take to bridge the physical and psychological gap between your team members:
1. Go big or go home
First things first, you must be committed to building a virtual company culture. It’s not an easy thing to do, but with thorough consideration and planning, it can be very successful and worth your while. To begin, establish a handful of operating principles that all remote employees agree on. “In our operating principles, we reflect on how we want to grow, how we should treat each other and our customers and our business standards. We work hard to keep those operating principles top of mind,” say the McKeegans. Make sure you periodically reinforce these principles to remind employees of the company’s vision and goals. If you have an office-team in addition to a remote team, make sure that the company cultures align, and that the remote team is just as in the loop as the office team on all company matters. Holes of information make remote workers feel left out and unimportant.
2. Hire the right people
Being on a remote team requires a lot of self-discipline and accountability. The role is flexible, and employees can work on their own schedules. That being said, you want high-achieving self-starters with excellent time management skills on your team to ensure everything gets done. This covers task-completion, but the job is still far from done. The crux of a remote employee’s job is communication. “Remote employees will communicate mostly in writing (chat, email, documentation), and they need to be great,” says Inc. contributor Aaron O’Hearn. Make sure the people you hire can write clearly and concisely in an expedient manner. You may also want to take into consideration whether a candidate has worked on a remote team before or not. Experience is always a plus! Having a full team of people with similar values and working styles will help your team relate to each other and foster better connectivity and cohesion.
3. Keep it casual, keep it positive
Try to keep conversations both positive and casual. With no face to look at, text is just text and emotion or tone of voice is often difficult to judge. Encourage the use of emojis and exclamation marks or sharing funny posts and jokes to infuse a positive human aspect into mobile devices and online platforms. If possible, take advantage of any “face-to-face” opportunities such as video calls or photo sharing. David Northington, CEO of Cloud Sherpas, asked sales reps to post a photo of where they were in the world when they reached their 1000th customer. “During that day, employees were able to see what everyone was doing–and where in the world they were. This was a transnational bonding moment that had a lasting positive effect on the entire company,” says Forbes contributor Ryan Westwood.
Although you have a remote team, it’s likely that you will physically meet as a company a handful of times per year. Make those meetings count. Keep them informal and casual. These meetings should serve as a time and place for celebration of big accomplishments like meeting benchmarks. Then proceed to set new goals to continue your company’s growth.
Aya Tsuruta is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly where she covers sales and marketing content through a creative lens. In addition to writing for Repsly, she is a frequent contributor to the music blog, Indie Music Filter, and BC magazine, the Gavel.