6 Ways Distributed Teams Can Build Culture
Distributed teams aren’t new. There are plenty of companies that either combine remote work with an office headquarters or have no office at all. Companies with varying levels of remote employees include Mozilla, GitHub, Automattic, Amazon, and Red Hat, among so many others.
At Bluespark, we’re a completely distributed team. Our employees are around the world — in places like Haiti, Spain, Italy, and the U.S. So, culture is something we talk about a lot — both for building our company and determining how we work with each other and with clients.
Here are six ideas for building culture among remote teams:
Hire the ‘Right’ People
By ‘right’, I mean the right people for your company. The best … but also the best fit. Today, I think companies and hiring managers are generally more aware of the costs associated with hiring the wrong person, but it’s especially important when there is a lot of employee autonomy. Having a good hiring process in place means the company agrees on needs, expectations, and goals and can communicate these issues clearly and transparently to candidates.
Create a Time When Everyone Is Online
Finding ways to connect and collaborate is important for any team. With a remote crew, it’s helpful to require overlapping work hours. For groups that are in really varied time zones, it may only be a few hours but that can be enough for employees to feel included and connected.
Plan Annual or Bi-Annual Retreats
For companies that aren’t paying for offices, desks, coffee, and team lunches, there may be money to fly staff to a chosen destination each year. Many companies do this as a stand-alone retreat or combine it with some other event, like attending DrupalCon (that’s what we sometimes do).
Schedule Regular Team and Department Meetings
Regular meetings create structure and provide an opportunity of employees to discuss ongoing projects and address problems. If these meetings are scheduled on video calls, everyone can see each other. This matters, especially for evolving nonverbal communication. Making sure standing meetings aren’t regularly canceled, determines accountability and forms company expectations (this is really true for any company, not just remote orgs).
Not all online correspondence has to be about work. If Slack and Hipchat are also used to discuss new babies, sick pets, sporting wins/losses, and weekend plans, employees begin building relationships with one another. The relationships may be digital and virtual, but they are still important personal connections to have.
Basically, be a team player. When you’re not sharing a cube or a kitchen with someone, a good way to build team culture is to make sure employees jump on board to help out … even (especially) if it’s not “my job”. An environment where employees say yes to helping a colleague or a client is an environment that also values both trust and loyalty … things you want in any company.
Here’s how we do it at Bluespark:
- We hire the right people for our team. With a multi-stage hiring process that includes team interviews and assignments, we know who we’re getting. And a candidate knows the kind of team he or she is joining.
- We all say good morning to each other online … everyday … and we tell each other when we’re taking a lunch break or stepping away from our computer
- We share news about activities, children, pets, food, etc.
- We have regularly scheduled video calls
- We don’t cancel these regularly scheduled meetings
- We talk about Copa America and the Euro Cup and it’s much more fun because we’re cheering for different countries
- We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and sporting events (Go Cavs)
- We poke fun at each … a lot (if you want to know more, ask Rick and Michael who’s better at foosball)
- We manage ourselves well using great technology like Jira, HipChat, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and Dropbox
- When we meet, it’s always on video
- Even though we live and work in very different time zones, we make sure to all be online together for three hours everyday
- We attend company retreats at least once a year
Photo Captions: Top — Bluespark team interview with Brant, Ashleigh, Kyle, Michael, Rick, and me. Bottom Left — Pablo and I chat about Drupal. Bottom Right — Sparkers start their day!