By Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike
There are a lot of reasons a company has a remote workforce. I believe one of the best reasons is access to the best talent in the world, no matter where they live. When the creative director you’re dying to work with lives in Amsterdam and you’re based in Colorado, it only becomes a realistic option to make the hire if you’ve got the infrastructure and culture not to just tolerate distance, but thrive in it.
Since my early days as a founder I’ve been relying on, and part of, remote teams. During this time I’ve seen how the shared spirit of collaboration helps create a strong culture in all locations, and watched life-long friendships blossom between colleagues who worked together for years before ever meeting in person. I believe companies can build vibrant remote cultures as long as there is commitment on both the company and employee side to make it a priority.
My first piece of advice is to share as much as possible – not just work-related sharing, but also birthdays, life updates, and hobbies. Teams that share an office have water cooler talk. Remote workers need to put a little extra effort into casual bonding. In one instance I remember, some of our remote workers in Europe joined their Silicon Valley counterparts in becoming obsessed San Francisco Giants fans during the baseball playoffs. This gave the whole company something to rally behind together. These things may seem small, but I’ve seen and felt how far they can go in building a sense of community in a team, and help fight the sense of isolation for those working remotely.
Speaking of fighting isolation, another key to building a strong cross-company culture is to use webcams often. Instead of a voice conference call, turn on the cameras. It helps to build a stronger connection when you can see the face and expressions of your colleagues. You get to know them better, feel more connected, and that helps turn a professional connection into a more personal one. Another benefit is that it gives people an incentive to wake up, shower, and avoid the “still working in pajamas at 3 p.m.” syndrome that anyone working from home can fall into.
In addition to the team-oriented tips above, we also need to make time to spread the culture with the whole organization. At Wrike, we have an always-on “all-hands” chat, where we can share press mentions, celebrate personal wins from individuals, or announce that a team has hit its goal. Really, anything goes in the all-hands chat, as long as it’s something that can make us all celebrate or laugh together.
The chat is just one of the ways we stay on top of the news from various offices. We also have a monthly all-hands meeting, complete with video presentations from leaders from all locations, and we share results as well as funny stories that give our offices a peek into inside jokes from other locations.
From a technology standpoint, make sure your stack reflects your values. We already mentioned webcams and a platform to support them. You also need to make sure technology supports sharing and transparency. For that, we need to be able to see and share documents, deadlines, and progress in a way that is conducive to remote teams members finding the information they need when they need it.
Finally, make sure that face-to-face collaboration is a part of your strategy. Fly to spend time together when possible. Even if it’s as rarely as once or twice a year, gathering the team and creating some real-life memories is going to help you work better together and enjoy the journey. We take our staff to Mexico every year for our annual kick off, and the memories from those great times are a huge benefit to company culture.
If you find yourself with a growing pool of remote talent, make sure you’re putting focus on the culture and not just the work. Technology is amazing for aiding in creating an amazing cross-company culture for remote teams, and it’s up to leaders to set the example of positivity and collaboration to keep teams happy, unified, and driving great results.