How to Create an Engaging Culture in a Remote-first Team
As a remote first company, we @Apyhub have faced all possible challenges related to operating in a remote team. In this blog we will talk about some of our findings.
Last updated on May 24, 2023
Working at a remote first company sure is a lot of fun. The advantages are countless, and the impact to a good work life balance has been proven. However, being able to keep up the pace is not a walk in the park. Especially when the team leaders of the company have not made sure that the remote culture is based on strong foundations, from the hiring process, ensuring that every new employee is onboarded properly. A strong remote work/company culture is the glue of every successful virtual team.
Introduction to remote company culture
As a remote first company, we @Apyhub have faced all possible challenges related to operating in a remote setting. In this blog we will talk about some of our findings and perhaps some best practices.
The trend towards remote work has been gaining momentum over the past few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this shift dramatically. Many companies and startups have found themselves operating with a remote-first mindset, relying on digital communication (or slack channels 🙂 ) and collaboration tools to keep their teams connected and productive. However, while remote work provides many benefits, it also presents some unique challenges, particularly when it comes to creating a company culture that focuses on employee engagement, mental health and open communication.
A new way of working
First, it is important to understand that there are people who have never experienced working from an office. For these folks things can perhaps be easier than the ones, like me, who are old enough to remember having to commute 1 hour every day to reach the office, back in Athens, Greece. In any case, for both categories, we do our best to offer support. For example we have curated a course that aims to introduce everyone to the ins and outs of the remote-working culture and setting. The course covers important topics such as setting up a productive workspace, effective practices for virtual meetings, optimizing morning routines for increased productivity, prioritizing self-care to avoid burnout and even throwing some enjoyable home workouts! It’s like a virtual handbook that provides the tools and guidance our team might need to navigate the remote work environment with ease and confidence.Here are some of the resources we found interesting:
- How to set up your workspace: Working from Home: How to Set Up Your Workspace
- Virtual meeting etiquette tips: 21 Virtual Meeting Etiquette Tips - Dos and Don’ts | Notta
- Build your own morning routine: Build Your Own Morning Routine Working from Home That You Love
- How to combat poor at-home work posture: How to combat poor at-home work posture | CNN
When we’re working remotely with team members spread across the globe, keeping track of everyone’s availability across different time zones can be quite the challenge. So we came up with a solution where we’ve created a special channel on Slack where we can display our status and availability. It’s like our own virtual hub where we can easily see who’s online, who’s busy, who’s away for lunch and out for a walk. This helps us to stay in sync and ensures smooth communication, no matter where we are in the world! We also value flexibility and strive to find overlapping timings that accommodate everyone’s needs. It’s all about teamwork and making sure every member’s voice is heard.(if you’re looking to work at a startup, we’ve put together this guide on what startups like ours look for when hiring developers)
Bringing people together
One of the things we miss the most about working in an office though, is the social interactions and spontaneous conversations that can take place in an office environment. Not having this possibility can lead to a feeling of isolation or disconnection, particularly for the ones that are not used to working from home (or better said - for the ones that have experienced working from an office). Startups need to find ways to bring remote teams together and foster a sense of community, even when they're not physically in the same place. At Apyhub we have folks spread literally across the globe, working in different timezones, operating in different teams. How can you do that in such a setting? One of the (obvious) key things that we do and that startups can use to strengthen engagement is team-building activities. Such activities can help build trust, encourage collaboration, and create a sense of belonging amongst everyone in a remote environment. The good thing: they are not right or wrong. It's just a matter of what works best for you and the team. Here are some team building activities that we are playing with at ApyHub:
Friday Drinks and Virtual Games
We use these events as an opportunity for us to unwind after a long week of work and connect with each other in a more informal set up. There is no predefined agenda for these sessions: We can talk about our weekend plans or about movies. We could talk about music that we love. Some other times, we play virtual games. Below are some of ApyHub's favorite games that can be played online! More pictionary please🙂...
One of our favorite virtual games to play is Skribbl! We had a blast playing Skribbl, it’s a game that shows our team’s drawing skills and leaves us guessing what on earth they’ve doodled! It’s all about unraveling the mystery behind their creations and having a good laugh along the way 🙂
Another virtual game that we like to play is Typeracer, where we engage in friendly competition to showcase our speed and accuracy in typing. This seems easy but it's a thrilling and challenging experience that keeps us on our toes! While it may be a bit of nerve-wracking, we find it incredibly fun and a great way to push our limits and gauge our typing skills. Type on!
When it comes to wordplay, our team knows how to bring the heat with online Scrabble battles! We dive into the world of letters, strategically piecing them together to create words and rack up points. It’s a battle of wits and we aim to make as many words as possible, all while keeping an eye on the scoreboard to see who’s leading the pack. This exciting game not only tests our vocabulary and creativity but brings our competitive spirit!
There is no shortage of online games. The only thing required is some energy and pure curiosity. You can find games for all the tastes and make sure you dedicate some time to each one of them so you can find the team's favorite.
Group and 1:1 Discussions and employee feedback
Regular group and one-on-one discussions are essential for maintaining effective communication and building relationships within remote teams. These sessions are also important as they allow to discuss employee feedback, team and personal goals and any other issues that may arise. These discussions help ensure that everyone is on the same page and can help to identify and address any potential issues early on. After all, a strong discussion is all about communication.
Real-time collaboration is essential for remote teams to work together effectively, especially when different time zones are included. In our case, we have a remote workforce spread in 4 different timezones! The use of online tools and communication channels can help foster a strong sense of teamwork and make remote work feel more like a team effort and make it more natural. At ApyHub we use slack and Asana for most of the day to day communication and collaboration. These tools also allow for asynchronous communication, enabling people to exchange notes and make progress in a self organizing way. Yes, a lot of the work related to maintaining a good remote company culture has to do with simple project management.
Meet in Person at real events and open communication
Ultimately, we have to make sure we don't fool ourselves, so repeat after me: There's still no substitute for face-to-face interactions. You can work all that you want in creating a great remote environment but nothing will substitute real life interactions. Do i have to explain this further? Don't we all prefer human contact as opposed to virtual meetings? Don't we all connect better to people when we are able to see, feel them in the real world? In the end of the day, a company is all about connections and communication between people. When this communication is happening face to face, it stops being asynchronous, it becomes real, it becomes more than a sum of words. It becomes alive. The people become real. This is why It's a very good idea for startups to organize real events at least once a year (or at whatever frequency works best for you) , where the team can come together in person. These events can be anything from a team retreat to a conference or a hackathon (for dev startups like us). You cant imagine the benefits that arise when remote companies become physical, even for a brief period of time. This is when great relationships are formed, remote team members become real people and asynchronous communication becomes real, deep, relatable connection. Plus you can post pictures of these events in your social media 🙂
Conclusion - Remote work is here to stay
Well, I do hope some of this info on building a remote culture is useful - and please do remember the following: Building and maintaining a great remote work culture is not a walk in the park. It is a never ending journey, involving an obsession to company values, open communication and setting clear expectations among everyone in the team: From all new employees to all managers and C levels. All of them are what we call the remote workforce and all of them need that safe space to create, grow and evolve. This is complicated. Therefore, continuous innovation, investment in new communication channels that fit the needs of the company and coming up with new things to keep everyone engaged is always crucial. Yes, virtual happy hour, games and other things like that can certainly help a lot but what comes first, or above is the healthy remote work culture that can separate great remote working companies from companies that simply have remote employees.
Some final thoughts - message to remote leaders
Remote working is about creating a strong remote working culture. This should always start from the leadership. Remote work policies and remote work best practices can all sound great on paper but it's all about the culture. It's all about the leadership who can make these policies lead to a successful remote team or to a group of individuals that are simply working from home.
(P.S: Looking to work for an inspiring role in a remote-first company? Check out our open roles here)