The Future of Work
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The Future of Work

Remote Culture Revisited

In late 2021, I posed a question about newly remote team culture. Many of us have found ourself forced into this transition very quickly and as such we have also found ourselves on new ground when our former company and team cultures often revolved around being together in the office.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

I received many responses to the story and suggestions of what different people were doing in this space. Indeed that was the point of the article in the first place. I am not posing as an expert here — just another leader from a formerly on-prem culture that is trying to find the way forward to recreate the spirit that I have loved about my pre-pandemic work environment within our new reality.

Though, perhaps the one element that makes me slightly ahead of the curve is that my team has gone through a large scale transformation since the pandemic sent us all home. Some of my peers have essentially the same team as they did when everyone left the office in early 2020. While I think everyone making the on-prem to remote transition has many of the same challenges, my team’s transition has been accelerated by the large number of new team members. This has simply lead me to think about this problem deeply because:

I need solutions in order to continue to have a great culture for my team.

The Basics

Sure you need to do water coolers / team syncs / coffee time. People need time to informally chat. Create a baseline of communication. Make sure everyone is introduced.

Basic things you should be doing:

  • Make sure to do team intros. I like pulling everyone together and going around with “What’s your favorite <enter theme>”. It is silly and simple. It worked to get my little league team members to bond a bit; it works for adults too.
  • Now setup intros across the org / customers for new hires. In the past you might walk a new person around the building and introduce them to people, now you have to do that virtually. It’s a bit awkward; it works.
  • Keep recurring informal discussions on the calendar. I predict there will be a lot of chatter for about a month, then participation will wane, and then you’ll break through to a new normal.
  • Of course, if you can — try to meet in person for a coffee, lunch, drink etc.

Some Tweaks to Try

Here are some of the more interesting tweaks you may want to try on the basics.

Different ideas:

  • Morning Coffee. This has been one the most successful variations for me. Start the day like you did before — grab a coffee, go to your desk, open your todos/email and see if anyone is around — only now it’s virtual. Schedule it as an optional meeting and see who shows up.
  • Meeting Early Birds. This was a great suggestion. Officially start meetings 5 minutes after the hour. In general, people will love this and appreciate the brief respite. However, if anyone does show up early then they have a couple minutes to talk to others that did the same. This is just like when you happened to arrive at a conference room early and had a few moments to catchup with that colleague you hadn’t seen in months.
  • Happy Hours. Consult your HR policies first but try virtual meeting at the end of the day and BYOB. I have had some of these that are more of duds and some that have lasted for hours. The spirits should help alleviate the awkwardness.
  • Team Trivia Party. We had a very fun end of year party last year and we embraced the fact that we were virtual to do a game that we couldn’t have easily done previously. Team members submitted their own trivia and the rest of us got to guess who posted. It was fun; it helped team building.
  • Fly-in Meetings. Another good suggestion here: In this new reality, plan for regular gatherings of staff in a single location. I know previously remote companies did this, but previously on-prem companies need to plan for this change.

There are No Gimmicks

There is no “just do this and you’ll have a great team / culture”. Ultimately people need to know their leaders care about them and they can trust their team members.

Put in the work:

  • Express the same personal concern for team members who are sick or grieving or celebrating. Even though you’re not together people will appreciate the humanity.
  • Give your time. Just pick up the phone and go for a walk together. Avail yourself and people will understand that you are there for them.
  • Have 1:1s. People want official one-on-one time with their manager. Being remote people will have less implicit feedback than before, over-index on explicit feedback. Make it positive. Focus on their growth.
  • Connect People. Beyond simply doing intros — make sure new team members have a “buddy” for the first week or two. They may not need to know the location of the bathrooms but they will have plenty of questions that may be more appropriate for a peer than a manager. After that — foster mentor/mentee relationships.
  • Work together. Nothing creates a team camaraderie and lore like a very long working session. We used to have pizza and war rooms. Now we have UberEats and video conf. Either way after a 10 hour session you will have new found trust and respect across the team.

I imagine I will continue to explore this topic and would love to continue the dialogue. Please send more comments / suggestions and let’s keep it going.

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Byron Saltysiak

Byron Saltysiak

Technologist. Leader. Passionate about growth and helping others.

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