What is a Remote Team?
A remote team, by definition is a team that works location independently.
Team members don't need each others' (physical) presence to be able to deliver work, therefore 'remote team' often times refers to a group of people who work from their homes or their choice of office space, distributed across geographies and timezones. The concept is associated with flexibility, productivity and happiness and is the rising trend of our times, for sure.
It essentially differs from a conventional team by how the members connect with each other: they simply don't meet in a central office space on a daily basis, but connect with each other through digital tools.
Where does Culture come in?
Culture is the reason people stay at a company, excludıng the passıon they have for theır work.
Culture is a combination of everything else except the work outcome or professional goal the people have. It is their motivation, performance, their way of communicating with clients and each other. It is the set of values they share and the reason they stay as a team and at your company.
With co-located teams, culture is expected to develop naturally through the physical connections people have, and facilitated through team building activities, gaming consoles and happy hours. Due to the dispersed nature of remote teams, building a company culture seems more complicated. It is often on the table as one of the biggest challenges for companies who either want to start as a remote team or those who want to transition into this format.
It would be false to expect that culture will magically happen; it will be difficult (but very rewarding when you have it figured). You will have members with completely different habits, characters and you will have them working all over the globe. In order to build a strong culture as you integrate remote work or build a remote team, you will have to give deep thought about it and have a plan. It's necessary to learn from successes and failures of others and keep this on the top of your agenda at all times.
Having experience of working remotely for several years now, I've learnt some tricks of my own and embraced the principles that we apply regularly at my current company, Wings4U. Here's my ultimate summary of building culture in remote teams:
welcome on board! - orıentatıon
When someone is newly hired to a company, they are likely given a guided tour of the office, introduced to people, company rules and given some education on how everything works. Why not do the same for your new employees digitally?
A proper introduction to the rest of the team will ensure learning the details about their timezones, roles and how they prefer to be communicated. These meetings are highly important to build a connection among the team, since they won't get a chance to meet over lunch and have a face-to-face chat. Also, a proper orientation presentation or e-course on all tools used internally and active projects is a critical step to welcome and onboard your new member. This will likely give a good impression from day 1 and fast forward the adaptation time that would otherwise be spent digging for information. AKA: efficiency! 👍🏻
trust ıs the foundatıon
Since there are very few rules in remote teams in comparison to co-located teams, trust has to be the foundation. Fullstop. The whole system is based on outcomes created, rather than the number of hours you sit at your desk. Unique challenge: you do not get to see anyone physically while working! You simply have to believe in them, their potential and that they will deliver a good outcome. What is more, trust has to be mutual. To secure that trust, it's a good idea to share with your team what you have done during that week and how you plan to move forward from those results. Regular check-in's also help to ensure that everything is going alright and that team can help each other out if need be.
vırtual Team building actıvıtıes
Team building activities such as sports games or bowling tournaments are fairly common in conventional companies. Why not carry this tradition into the remote structure? At Wings4U, we have online coaching sessions from a business consultant from Canada, who meets us through GoToMeeting at regular intervals. We also have Knowledge Sharing Sessions each week this quarter, where one team member gives a presentation about a topic they are passionate and experienced in. It could be anything from a virtual music lesson to 'how to use Instagram to build a personal brand' type of mini course.
These activities create opportunity for the team to connect on topics that are not work related and get to know and interact with each other on a different level. Not to mention how great it is that skills can be taught virtually no matter where the team is and it's a great opportunity to socialise.
collaboratıon & communıcatıon tools
This point needs additional emphasis: After trust, efficient collaboration and communication tools is the next hyper important thing to establish a fully functioning remote team. The day-to-day tool set that you use determines the way tour team can interact, learn and work. Daily conversations, jokes, brainstorming and client calls will all happen through these tools and you have to pick those that define and serve your company in the best possible way.
The tools keep the team members accountable to one another by keeping regular track of notes, updates, meeting recordings and project logs. At the same time, it is where the team shares successes, learnings, news and inspirations with each other.
At Wings4U, we use Podio for project and finance management, Hubspot for sales, marketing and lead nurturing, Skype for internal chats, huddles, meetings, Skype for Business and GoToMeeting for client calls and GSuite for creating and archiving our work. Make sure to research well and pick tools that really facilitate working together and are easy to use. It will be where all the fun happens!
Remote teams can operate fairly strongly if there is a good digital communication suite in place. Skype, Slack and alike make work a lot easier and enable to get more done at the comfort of your own home or nearby coffee shop. Having daily huddle sessions or regular weekly meetings help to ensure that everyone is up to date about each others' projects and challenges and also lend a hand if needed. These have been great in making sure the team bonds and is aware of the company direction in general.
However, my experience tells me that face-to-face meetings can add a whole new level of connection to the team and company. We've had some unplanned and often work related get togethers over the past year and I'll admit that those really helped me to maintain my bond with the team and to blend in with the culture. It also helped to see my team not only as colleagues any more, but friends. Super important point in my opinion!
Establishing Shared Values
Culture, essentially is a set of shared values and from what we've discussed so far, it seems that the ultimate goal of your remote team is to deliver successful results and get things done. I wouldn't say that's all there is. To achieve success, you have to build a structure where you share responsibility for achieving defined objectives and tackle it through putting together everyone's superpowers on the table.
At Wings4U, is has helped us to create new themes for each quarter and set priorities that align with that theme: ie. 'Extreme Ownership', 'Fellowship of the Wing'. We build a story and goal around the theme, understand the approach behind it and apply it to our daily tasks and projects. This approach helps us to go one step further from just 'getting things done'. We strive to deliver results as we grow those values within the company culture.
An increasing number of companies are transitioning into remote teams and there's a global rise in the number of freelancers and remote professionals. Result? The trend will soon become the norm and companies will need to consider how to maintain or build culture within remote organisations.
Good news is that it doesn't require to invest in super expensive technologies or consultations to overcome the unique challenges of working remotely. Having an open eye and adopting the principles that have enabled companies to succeed in this field already will take you a long way.