There is no such thing as a quick path to building company culture, and remote teams certainly are no exception. In order for your team to embrace the company culture, you must believe that their inclusion is vital and that culture is defined by the entire team.
We asked three of our Project Managers to tell us how they do it. Below, Silvia Vassolo, Ruben Lunda, and Martin Fantini share their top tips for building a great culture and helping remote team members feel included.
1. How do you build culture in a remote team? What’s your recommendation for someone thinking about creating a distributed team?
- Establish an infrastructure to enable successful communication. There are some “small” things that can make a big difference, such as video cams for video conferences.
- Build a team of people fluent in the chosen language, in our case English.
- Consider time zones when staffing team roles.
- Have a face-to-face team meeting early in the project so they can get to know each other.
- Learn the cultural differences associated with team member locations, and keep them in mind when facilitating team interactions. For instance, some cultures may be more soft-spoken than others, which may lead to difficulty sharing opinions.
- When hiring, consider the candidate’s background and past experience. People who are used to freelancing might not be used to working in teams.
- Emphasize the importance of communication and transparency.
- Set expectations early regarding availability and discuss work schedules especially if they are in different time zones.
- Promote mutual trust, speak openly and give them the autonomy to succeed.
- Provide the team with the right tools to better organize things and to keep everyone on the same page.
2. How do you get remote team members to feel included/engaged in your organization?
- Focus on a good onboarding experience.
- Monitor team morale, have periodical one-on-one meetings with each team member, identify team integration issues and take corrective action, taking into account things such as culture, age, and gender.
- Provide team members with a virtual open door to speak up about their concerns and suggestions.
- Facilitate communication until team members feel comfortable and integrated, ensuring everyone has a chance to participate.
- Foster peer activities such as peer reviews.
- Foster the sharing of personal interests such as hobbies.
- Use humor to lighten up communication and make the interaction easier and enjoyable.
- Increase communication, provide a direct channel and encourage remote team members to ask anything, no matter how obvious it may seem.
- Provide an off-topic channel where the team can discuss and share non-project related ideas.
- Set up periodical one-on-one meetings with a video camera to get to know each other a little bit more.
- Try to find the opportunity to personally meet everyone. It can be at the beginning of the project or for any special occasion. It may be for a client visit or an important release.
- Involve the whole team in client meetings that cover activities like backlog refining and planning.
- Find some time and space to talk about cultural matters. Even though members may live in the same country, people often have different traditions. Weather, sports, hobbies, movies, and games are some common topics that may work as “triggers” for informal conversations.
- Make new remote members feel welcome, comfortable and motivated from day one, for example by introducing them to people.
- Ask for and provide feedback often.
- Ensure remote members have access to the same information as co-located ones.
- Check in with them regularly to see how they are doing and how they feel regarding their work.
- Socialize and build camaraderie. Share interests so everyone feels connected.
- Make it easy for them to reach you. Be available for any random questions.
- Maintain remote team holidays.
3. What tools do you think help integrate a distributed team?
Provide tools such as:
- Video conferencing tools with recording capabilities and enough accounts to meet the team’s needs.
- Online tools for specific team functions such as for planning/estimating and retrospectives.
- Instant messaging with ability to create group chats (that allow guest users to participate).
- Document sharing platforms such as wikies and shared drives.
- Mobile versions of these tools.
- Provide a mobile number for remote teams to contact you. It is a good practice to have a Whatsapp channel open so they can warn you in case of a power or internet outage.
- Define which is the official communication tool, and try to stick to that one. Avoid the use of different tools on different cases. In a previous job we had 3 different tools and it was pretty common for members to miss a message in one of the tools…
- Ensure everyone has a strong internet connection, camera, and a good set of headphones.
- Ask them to keep the calendar updated, respond to meeting invites and add their out-of-office times.
- Create mail lists for internal team communication and communications with the client.
- Use tools such as GitHub for collaboration and discussion of the code, and InVision to keep the remote team in sync throughout the design process.
We realize that our leaders play a key role in building effective and integrated remote teams. Through experience and discipline, it’s the leader who creates an environment where people can trust one another, feel empowered, collaborate, and perform successfully. For all our teams, we are proud of their hard work and the outcomes they produce!