Engagement and Culture

Distributed team culture: How to build culture with no central office

Strategies to improve communication and collaboration.
May 13, 2022
Oyster Team
Distributed team culture: How to build culture with no central office

As many companies have shifted to remote work in the last few years, it’s become clear that in-person company culture doesn’t directly translate to a virtual world. Coffee breaks and happy hours were once seen as top-tier team bonding activities, but as remote workers’ priorities have shifted, so too have the ways they choose to connect with their teammates.

The reality is that many companies have found that their teams work just as well (if not better!) in a remote environment—culture transcends office spaces. 

With some intentionality, creativity, and thoughtful planning, fully remote teams can feel united and connected by a common purpose. In fact, distributed companies with a strong remote culture can experience all of the same benefits that in-person companies do, from lower turnover to higher profits.

In one study, 46% of job seekers reported that good work culture is a significant factor when deciding where to work. With the increased interest in remote work, the companies that attract the best talent understand the significance of evolving their culture to support virtual communications and relationships. 

In this article, you’ll learn about the best strategies to build a strong remote culture —no office required. 

Understand the various components of culture

Remote culture should be considered an extension of your overall company culture, including company values, communication expectations, and other work behaviors. Company culture is multifaceted and dynamic, which can make it hard to nail down. 

Understanding what the different elements are and how they connect will help you develop a thorough plan to implement. 

Consider how language impacts the company culture—are there common phrases or emojis that are characteristic of your team’s internal communications? Sharing a common language with a unique vocabulary creates cohesion and a sense of belonging. For distributed teams, communication is the most important element to get right. 

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Rituals can also create a sense of unity. In the workplace, rituals could be based around rewards for milestones or accomplishments, they could be a way to recognize important dates (such as workaverarys and birthdays), or they could be regular group events and meetups that provide a sense of camaraderie. 

Finally, think about how you want your company’s values to be implemented in employee interactions,  both internally and with clients. Alignment around values can create an emotional sense of teamwork and belonging. 

These components are all constantly evolving and should be representative of everyone on the team.   

Document policies 

For distributed teams, the value of communication cannot be overstated. When in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of overcommunicating. Remember to document policies and expectations so everyone is on the same page. In a remote environment, policies do not exist without written documentation. 

The first step is to review your existing policies. Are they all stored in a centralized, easily-accessible location? Is there anything that’s missing or outdated? For example, a lot of companies have become more conscious of the importance of mental health and have added new mental health benefits to reflect this. 

As you create these policies, keep in mind that the nuances of remote culture can be hard to grasp, especially for new employees who have never met their colleagues in person. Documentation can help clarify how the company puts their culture into practice. Written policies also allow your employees to hold each other accountable for implementing them. 

The onboarding process should provide these details upfront. Expect new employees to have questions, and consider assigning a mentor or work buddy to help them navigate their first few days on the job. 

Once you’ve reviewed and updated your policies, develop a plan to make sure everyone in the company reads them and knows where to find them. Be proactive and create a schedule for updating your company policies periodically so that they remain accurate and useful as your company evolves and adapts to new work trends.  

Work with team leaders to engage the entire company

Everyone is responsible for creating and implementing a company’s culture—from the CEO to the office assistant. However,  building a strong company culture can get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day business, unless it’s prioritized. Engage managers to help implement and demonstrate the company’s culture. It is important to make it clear that the company culture is a priority from leadership, and to offer managers support to implement and foster company culture. 

While team leaders and managers play a critical role in the everyday implementation of company culture, leadership should also be held accountable. The company’s leadersplay an important role in demonstrating culture through their words and actions. Healthy management practices can trickle down from the C-suite to middle managers, and companies should remain mindful that the reverse is also true. 

Some companies have committees dedicated to developing and implementing the company culture. This is a great way to engage employees across all levels of the company. Bringing employees together from different departments facilitates new connections and ensures that everyone’s ideas are included. The sense of belonging that this creates can becritica to company culturel.   

Listen

Company culture cannot and should not be created by one person or department. It’s strongest when everyone contributes and feels heard. 

Include everyone in the process

Team members should be engaged in all stages of the culture development process, from policy creation to implementation. These are decisions that will impact everyone, and it’ll be easiest to implement these policies if everyone feels like they have an equal opportunity to contribute to them. 

Transparency is key. Employees should understand how decisions were made and what the process was to arrive at the outcome. Big decisions should undergo a standardized process that multiple employees weigh in on. If you have a hybrid work environment, it is important to create equal opportunities for all employees. Make sure that both in-office and remote employees are represented in these decision-making processes. 

Ask for feedback frequently

Company leadership should actively seek input from other team members, which can be collected through surveys and interviews. Once the feedback is collected, it is essential to act on it. 

Keep in mind that different personalities have different communication style preferences. Shy or quiet employees may prefer to contribute through surveys, while outspoken employees will have no issue speaking up at a meeting. It is important that the feedback you gather and respond to is representative of the company as a whole, and not just the loudest voices in the room. 

Conduct feedback sessions frequently. The company culture is always evolving as employees come and go, and new workplace norms arise. The best remote culture and policies are quickly adaptable. Once you’ve gathered feedback, clearly communicate how the feedback will be implemented tocreate a positive feedback loop that encourages employees to help improve processes. 

Bring people together

There are many ways to bring people together outside of regular business meetings. Annual or quarterly retreats continue to be a popular option for remote teams to meet in person and build relationships with coworkers outside of work. 

Virtual and online events are great supplements to in-person gatherings. Many companies have adopted virtual happy hours to provide a casual setting for colleagues to connect after work, which improves collaboration and working relationships. Virtual lunches and coffee hours are other common alternatives. 

Feel free to get creative with coming up with ideas for remote teams. Competitions, games, and trivia events are foolproof ways to engage and entertain employees. These events and activities should be designed to break the ice and foster teamwork. 

Invest in more opportunities for employees to spend time together, and you’ll discover how company culture can foster deeper connections. 

Use technology to reinforce culture

There are a million tools that make it easier than ever for remote teams to stay connected. 

The tools that your company uses should be introduced during the onboarding process, and all employees should receive training so they know how to apply the different tools for different scenarios. 

Some companies even choose to advertise the tools they use in job descriptions to help identify applicants who are comfortable with their method of communication. While it can be helpful for new employees to be familiar with the tools your company uses, it shouldn’t be a requirement for employment. 

Communication tools—like Slack and Zoom—provide synchronous and asynchronous communication methods. Companies can create a “virtual office” with Slack by creating specific channels for projects or interest groups. Slack can be used to collaborate on work, and  also to bond with coworkers over cute pet photos. Transparent communication is foundational for building trust, and video chats are generally best for 1:1s and sensitive or complex topics. 

If you have a remote team that’s distributed across time zones, consider what the company expectations are for synchronous and asynchronous methods of communication. Live communication isn’t necessary for collaboration, and developing flexible expectations around responding to emails and messages can foster a healthier work environment for everyone.  

Feedback and acknowledgement tools—like Nectar and Fond—foster a culture that recognizes and rewards teammate’s work. When employees are celebrated for their accomplishments, they are more likely to feel connected to the company.

Project management tools—like Jotform, JIRA, and Asana—promote an organized and collaborative team culture where everyone can keep track of their tasks and see what others are working on. These tools make it easier to understand what your team’s workflow looks like. 

Downtime enhancement tools—like The Go Game—facilitate virtual events. Fun virtual events encourage employees to get to know each other outside of a work context. Work friendships can contribute to employee retention and satisfaction. 

It is important to leverage the right tools to coordinate workflow and promote teamwork. The communication tools that you choose to adopt should be easy to use. If you use multiple tools for different purposes, make sure to provide guidelines so employees understand how each tool is used. 

Build a remote culture 

In the absence of an office, company culture is shaped by the intangibles: styles of communication, rituals and meetings, and shared values. Culture, when undefined, can be blurry, impossible to understand and take control of. By taking the time to define policies, processes, and expectations, you can empower your employees to take ownership of the company culture and create a space where people feel connected. As distributed teams continue to expand across country lines, the need for an intentional and defined company culture grows.

Looking for a solution to help you get started with building your distributed team? Find out how Oyster helps teams grow faster across borders.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global hiring platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll as well as great local benefits and perks.

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