How to work effectively remotely:: Part II Community and Culture

I began this blog post after attending a great talk at Denver Startup Week where four leaders in the remote industry shared helpful tips and answered questions from the audience about working remotely. We left off in Part One of this blog discussing solutions to some challenges of environment and productivity when working remotely. We will continue our discussion with some ways to establish good communication and positive culture remotely. Creating a company culture is a challenging prospect regardless of the team’s distribution. The positive that occurs when fostering culture in a remote setting is that it is never assumed that culture will occur magically. People enter the situation with the knowledge that building a remote culture is challenging and are aware of the importance of cultivating it within their team.

Culture

Find your tools! Find tools you use on a daily basis that aid in communication and establish your virtual community. Slack is our jumping off point when it comes to communication and culture. It’s where work discussions happen but also where inside jokes, witty banter and giphys roam. It is important to stay involved. Don’t think of yourself as being on an island, there is always someone to chat with and get feedback from. Pair with your team mates! Screenhero, Google Hangouts, Speak are just a few examples of ways you can pair remotely.

While most of the culture shaping occurs from afar it is so important to get together. Use company retreats to help foster culture through team building, dinners and other group events. These events help you learn about each other and grow closer as a team.

Allow your team opportunities to get involved and give back to your community. Go to meetups, talks, conferences, get excited about what you’re doing. Donate your time to non profits, volunteer to help people learn to code. Being involved in the community allows you to grow as a developer and in turn become a better co worker. Twenty percent time is a great way to incorporate these opportunities in a work week. Allow developers to have an optional day to self study, mentor, volunteer, blog ect. It is a great way to improve and explore together and individually.

My favorite thing about remote culture is trust. When working remotely you have to trust your teammates. We aren’t bound by office rules, hours or schedules. We have freedom to work when we like and our team mates have to trust in us to deliver. We want to do a good job and we accomplish that with what we deliver at the end of every week. Our trust in each other is the platform the rest of our culture built upon.

When discussing culture in co-located and remote teams concerns about subcultures were discussed. While they are inevitable it is important to remind co-located and remote teams alike to be inclusive and focus on maintaining the “big culture”. One speaker encouraged people to “Think of your company as a human being. It has an opinion and characteristics.” When subcultures begin to branch out work harder to make people feel like they are a part of something higher. “Also spend some money. Get them together.” Break up the subculture by focusing on the company as a whole. Try taking the work element out and do stuff remotely together. Like playing a video game online. Stream the same music on everyone’s computer, allow team members to add their music to a queue. Listing to the same music is a great and simple way to share something throughout the day. Think outside the box when it comes to maintaining the big culture.

Communication

Use your tools! Determine a primary form of communication that can provide your team with streamline and open communication. Slack as I mentioned before allows for quick and easy communication and is the remote worker’s virtual office. Informal chatting in group channels allows for inclusion regardless of location and keeps team members involved.

While written communication is pivotal, video conferencing is an invaluable tool for remote teams. For teams with a co-located office, group calls help include remote workers in company wide meetings and keep the team in sync. Smaller team video calls are of equal importance. Discussions such as this work best when a team member is selected to drive the meeting and a record of feedback is produced. The real time record prevents missed information and is a useful reference in the future.

A daily stand up hangout is a great way to keep everyone in sync and has been extremely helpful for our team. It ensures the team is informed and communicating on a daily basis. Use this time to ask questions, open discussions and ensure you are up to speed with the rest of your team. It is important to have a presence when working remotely. One great way to accomplish this is to put a face to your name. While I’m sure most remote workers can admit their guilt of shutting off their camera on a hangout due to lack of sleep, make up or pants. It is important to show your face during meetings. It allows the speaker to be more aware of their audience and allows you to have a presence from hundreds of miles away. Weekly Retros are a great tool as well. Use this time to compliment hard work, vent about what you struggled with, basically use it as a team therapy session.

Screen sharing enables us to pair remotely and seek help when stuck on a problem. When you reach out for help in a case like this make sure you are prepared. Ensure you understand your problem and can adequately explain and show your dilemma. Give the person helping you the tools they need to guide you to a solution.

It is important to inform your team of any changes and the reasoning behind changes. Regardless of how small the information is good communication means everyone is being notified. “Play it safe and over communicate.”

I hope that this information helps remote workers and co-location workers alike, to better understand remote work and have insight into some great ways to improve productivity, develop good communication, establish the right environment and foster culture.

Read Part One here