How To Build Remote Team Culture And Boost Morale

Stella Garber
Mar 27, 2020 · 3 min read
Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

Team culture can be equally strong (or equally weak) on remote teams as colocated teams. How do I know? I’ve done both, and I’ve seen both executed with spectacular success and spectacular failure.

The good news is that many of the tools you use to build team culture when you’re in an office can be adapted for remote teams. It just takes a bit of intention, planning, and consistency. Here are my tips:

Prioritize empathy and social connection

The foundation to any great relationship is trust. The foundation for trust is empathy. The way to build empathy is through connection. The way to build connection is through interaction.

Phew. Did you get any of that? What I’m saying is that when you’re a remote team, it can be very easy for interactions to become transactional. That’s because people are just tiny dots on a screen that you can choose to respond to or ignore. They’re not living, breathing human beings that can come to your desk anytime. To build team culture, you need to cultivate the building of relationships outside of the transactional nature. The good news is that by being strategic and using digital tools, it’s pretty easy to do so.

Adapt in person to remote

If you love team happy hours, lunches or brunches: you can do them all remotely over Zoom. Before the last couple of weeks, this was a radical idea. How do you have a happy hour over Zoom? Now, it seems like my Instagram is filled with people being social over Zoom.

We’ve been doing it for years on my remotely distributed teams. Whether it’s a weekly team happy hour, tea time, brunch, birthday party or just plain hangout, you can build rapport and relationships through Zoom.

Some other teams like to have dance parties, play virtual games, or even do fitness activities over Zoom. See what your team is into and try scheduling it regularly in the calendar. If you have a larger team, you might consider a few optional activities that folks can choose to do given different interest.

Develop remote rituals

Anyone who knows me knows I love birthdays. What’s more, I love to make people feel special and seen on their birthdays. With my team, we have a ritual of sending every person on the team a personalized birthday gift. A different person is responsible for organizing the gift, but everyone brainstorms something fabulous. Over the years we’ve gotten:

  • Photography classes
  • Fancy coffee sets
  • Spa treatments
  • Animal bowties to wear during a wedding
  • Many subscription boxes- coffee, Korean face masks, fitness boxes

The list goes on and on. When Trello was a startup, we also sent remote employees a birthday cake from a local bakery for their birthdays. It’s amazing how small rituals like that can build team culture and connection.

Where do you get the money for these activities and gifts? Well, considering how much a company is saving by not paying for expensive rent, office supplies, and food, there should always be money allocated towards building remote culture.

Let the humans be human

Humans love to talk about the latest TV shows, celebrity gossip, complain about their kids, etc. Remote humans are no different than office humans except there is no physical water cooler. So, create a digital one! In Slack, we have dozens of different social channels that people can join based on their preferences. Love Music? Join the #music-beats channel! Want to see cute cats? We’ve got #cat-o-clock. We even used to share photos of cute outfits in an #OOTD (outfit of the day) channel.

The point is, if you want to boost morale, you have to encourage people to bring their whole selves to work…even if it’s just their digital self.

Conclusion: Adapt Physical To Digital

For newly remote teams, it may not seem obvious that managers should pay attention to morale and culture digitally. Things seem to happen more organically in an office. However, I’d argue that everything from office layouts to workplace experience teams to offsites are all planned, so remote teams are no different. Taking care to plan, be flexible and make sure the whole team is involved will help build team culture and boost morale with remote teams.

Remotely Managing

Learn from over a decade of remote working experience. As the manager of Trello’s remotely distributed marketing team, I’ll share insights into remote work from a management as well as individual standpoint.

Stella Garber

Written by

Head of Marketing, Trello. Entrepreneur, Investor, Chicagoan, Mama. Writer of Remotely Managing, a remote work blog.

Remotely Managing

Learn from over a decade of remote working experience. As the manager of Trello’s remotely distributed marketing team, I’ll share insights into remote work from a management as well as individual standpoint.