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How to create a remote team culture

How to build a thriving team across many time zones

One of the biggest concerns when considering remote-friendly work is the perceived culture hit. Workplaces have relied on co-location to build corporate culture for so long that it seems bleak to think of a December without the requisite tinsel-and-punch office holiday party.

The key to building great remote relationships is intention. You need to try harder to find common interests, have meaningful meetings, and truly understand each person's perspective. The result can be a lasting network of true friends that you can depend on, no matter where your travels might take you.

Creating a strong remote team culture depends on two things:

  • A clear set of "rules to live by" that have 100% buy-in across the company.
  • A healthy system of meetings, events, and habits that keep people communicating.

Oh, and don't forget to use a lot of 😄 and 👍

5 remote culture rules to live by

When you think of a vibrant, self-sustaining culture, you might not think of rules. But in this case, rules are social norms that provide participants with an expected experience when they enter the proverbial office. The special thing about norms is that they are collectively agreed upon. With 100% buy-in, these rules build trust, understanding, and support.

Doesn’t that sound like a great place to work?

  1. Empathy Is Everything. Always assume positive intent. Tone and nuance can get lost over chat, so assuming your colleague is coming from a positive place helps with any potential misunderstandings.
  2. Treat Others With Transparency. Keep important information accessible for everyone: log side chat decisions, record video meetings, and always take notes to share in public spaces.
  3. Asynchronous Is A-OK. Embrace communication across distributed time zone work schedules. Plan ahead: No decisions are made last minute. It may seem like extra work, but it’s actually more organized.
  4. Expect Structure. Establish a process, structure, and agenda around meetings and updates so everyone can follow along no matter their location. Assign a meeting lead and scribe to ensure key decisions are captured in writing
  5. Different Yet Equal. Accept this fundamental reality: All remote team members are equal, but their experiences differ. It’s OK for co-located teammates to get together in person. The key is be considerate. If it is a company-sponsored event, provide an alternate perk for remote folks.
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For more insight on balancing co-located and remote teams, see Trello’s six commandments of culture between office and remote team members here.

Adding ‘embrace remote’ to our list of team values was easy because it reflects the larger effort we are putting into Trello every day: We want to improve the way people work. There are many great theories about why remote work is worth it, but even more exciting are the outcomes we’ve experienced:

  1. Our product is better. By dogfooding Trello as a remote team, we bring a ton of different perspectives to the table and push the limits of its collaborative features.
  2. Our talent is stronger. We've been able to source and accommodate some of the best people in the industry because we can support them in more than one location.
  3. Our purpose is clearer. We have a distinct brand because we have a close team. By pursuing the best standards of communication and collaboration, we keep our silos down and our creative efforts shared across the organization. Oh, and we all get to eat cake. Everyone gets a cake delivered to their place on their birthday.

- Michael Pryor, co-founder of Trello

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Build a system for intentional socializing

Give both extroverts and introverts alike the chance to chat with their co-workers in meaningful ways.

Here are three types of social interactions that you can easily set up for your remote team:

Company-wide town hall

Throw out any notions of the traditional quarterly update speech. This should be an open forum for questions, discussions, and (short) team presentations occuring at least once a month. Each Trello Town Hall opens with a review of the company’s values, priorities, and employee anniversaries. Then new hires get to introduce themselves. The rest of the hour is filled with agenda items crowdsourced from the company in advance.

Why does the Town Hall work? It’s curated, plus it’s energized, as well as democratic. It’s on a set schedule, and you get to see each person’s face in their own video screen. Try doing that in a room of 100 people!

Learn more

Oh hey there, Mr. Rogers

As companies grow, you can’t guarantee everyone knows or talks to everyone else. Enter “Mr. Rogers,” a 15-minute weekly random grouping of team members who connect on a video chat to, well, just chat.

Post-session, a screen capture of the members and highlights are logged. How else could you learn that Bobby would rather fight 1 torch-wielding mob-sized lobster than 700 lobster-sized torch-wielding mobs?

Why does Mr. Rogers work? It reveals common interests and sparks conversations that can be picked up at the annual offsite. It provides a break from work talk and builds personal relationships at a reliable cadence.

Learn more

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Remote team "offsites"

Flying everyone to an exotic location and having a big company bonding session is amazing, but also expensive. It shouldn't be your company's only solution for getting together.

You can also share experiences as a remote team with a "choose-your-own" company adventure. At Trello, this translates into a summer day off for the whole company during which co-located office members head to the beach, and remotes receive a stipend to expense their own fun adventure.

Why does the Choose-Your-Own event work? We bring everyone together with a hashtag and shared Trello board filled with recaps and pictures that is reviewed at the next Town Hall.

Everyone has an equal (but different) opportunity to have some fun, and then bond over those stories afterward. Learn more

Remote work, and being able to structure life and live where and how you want is awesome! This flexibility is a strength of this unique workstyle.

It's also super important to get face-time with your team. If you have the opportunity, meet your team members in person, break bread together, and share memorable experiences.

- Stephen Olmstead, VP of Design Partnerships, InVision

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