8 Tactics for Building Culture in Remote Teams
Building culture on your remote team is often bucketed in the “important, but not urgent” category on our to-do list. Though fostering strong relationships on your team has obvious benefits, creating team cohesion remotely can feel like an ambiguous problem.
For us, building culture in remote teams is all about fostering 1:1 and small group, casual, non-work conversations. This thought is central to the culture (and product) we’re building at Remotion.
Non-work conversations build relationships and trust between teammates. They happen naturally in a physical office, but take more intentionality in a remote environment. So here are 8 easy-to-implement tactics to help your distributed team connect on a personal level more regularly:
1. Seed non-work conversations with thoughtful team bios
Casual conversations are key to helping your team bond—but can be awkward when your team isn’t sure where to start.
Internal bios or team spotlights help seed these conversations, so next time you find yourself chatting with someone, you’ll have some personal context to ask about. We find them to be great conversation starters at Remotion.
We got both of these ideas (and many of the questions) from Co-Founders Justin Goldman and Robert Shedd at RenoFi, so credit to them! They came up with the practice at their last company and found it so helpful that they’ve carried it forward to their current team.
The lightweight version: a teammate directory with 25 questions (plus two truths + a lie)
Create a face book or team directory in Notion, Google Docs, or in whatever internal knowledge base your team uses.
Have each team member answer these 25 questions (you can even copy our Notion template), and ask them to upload their photo and basic info (like location, role/team, contact info, etc). It’s a light lift for them, but serves as a snapshot of their personality and interests and goes a long way in helping teammates get to know one another.
The deep-dive: hire a freelancer to write 500-750 word teammate spotlights
This idea tends to raise eyebrows when we share it with founders and teams at other startups—it’s definitely unconventional, but we think it’s a worthwhile investment in our remote team culture. Here’s how it works:
- We hire a freelance content writer to conduct a 30-minute interview with new teammates. They ask this set of questions (feel free to copy our Notion template) to learn about the new hire.
- They write up a 500-750 word piece on our teammate, complete with photos and quotes. It feels a little bit like a magazine profile if you ask me.
- We share the spotlight with the team, everyone comments async, and we all get to know each other better.
Distribution: Give bios and spotlights a permanent home and share them internally in an interactive way
As with many things in startups and tech...creating something is just the first step—it’s all about distribution. The content will help teammates get to know one another, but you can get even more out of it by actively kickstarting the conversation for your team.
To maximize the culture-building value of your 25-question bios or spotlights, here are a few recommendations for internal sharing to avoid them just gathering dust in a company knowledge base.
- Have each team member link their 25 questions and/or internal spotlight in their Slack profile
- Link to your directory in your onboarding docs, so new teammates can check them out and get to know folks faster
- Take 10 minutes at the start of one of your standups or regularly scheduled meetings to play 2 truths and a lie from one of your teammate’s Q&A’s—and have the team read and comment on the rest of their answers or spotlights. If your team leans more async, you can also do this with a Slack thread.
2. Have a dedicated no-meeting day
It might be counter-intuitive that having fewer scheduled meetings would actually help you build a stronger remote team culture, but we’ve found it to be the case.
It works because it leads to more spontaneous conversation, coworking sessions, collaboration, and overall higher team satisfaction.
It’s all about giving your team time to work on their own terms and get things done, and being more thoughtful with how you use your synchronous time. Trust us, goal-oriented people—like the ones we’re sure you have on your team—love and are energized by no-meeting days.
This is one of the only culture initiatives that regularly inspires this kind of effusive message in our #random channel on slack:
Instead of setting up a bunch of meetings you don’t need, create a culture that supports focused work and fewer distractions.
3. Celebrate work anniversaries and birthdays
Fostering a culture of celebration can help your team get energized and build momentum. Show your team members you care by celebrating special days remotely. Whether it’s a simple happy birthday message or a full-on celebration gathering, little acknowledgments go a long way in building a culture of support.
The lightweight version: Slack celebrations
It’s important to acknowledge important dates as a group. Platforms like ChartHop Basic can automate birthday and work anniversary reminders over Slack so everyone remembers to celebrate. Team members can also share extra-curricular accomplishments (say, finishing a marathon or acting in a play) in a dedicated Slack channel to cheer each other on together.
The (a little bit extra) deep-dive: Collaborative slideshows
At Remotion, we celebrate each team member’s work anniversary by rallying the team to create a slideshow together. We mark one-year anniversaries with slideshows built by the whole team.
Everyone adds a slide with funny memories, photos, or notes of gratitude, which we present to the person we’re celebrating on their work anniversary.
It’s a personal way to acknowledge teammates contributions both work-wise and culture-wise. At Remotion, it usually also turns into a competition to see who can create the most absurd word art or best so-bad-it's-good photoshop job.
4. Check in on your team’s mental health and morale in lightweight ways
When our team has gone through periods of feeling burnt out, one of the solutions we’ve implemented is a team mood tracker—to try to connect personally, but also to be more proactive about seeing when teammates are struggling.
We used to do this alongside async status updates in Range, but we actually ended up building an internal team poll into our internal version of Remotion during a hack week. It asks teammates to measure their mood with emojis—which we then track in a dashboard over time, to help kickstart conversations around changes when things are looking a bit more 😞 than 😃.
An easier way to do these types of check-ins and help build a culture of psychological safety is to use Kona. It’s a “dog” that checks in on how your team is feeling, right in Slack, and gives you immediate, lightweight guidance on how you can take action to better support them as a manager. It’s super easy to set up.
5. Host rotating show-and-tells
Show-and-tells give your teams a break and encourage a culture of sharing outside-of-work interests. Give your team members space to talk about what they’re interested in unrelated to work, and again you’ll create fodder for those non-work conversations that are so crucial to building team cohesion.
We have a rotating schedule where each week, a different team member has the floor at Tuesday standup for a show-and-tell. We previously referred to these as lightning talks, but now we call them show-and-tells to emphasize that they’re casual opportunities to share about something you’re into, and should take minimal prep time.
Recent topics have included: whether or not aliens exist, the study of flags, breathwork, beekeeping, how to make the perfect cup of coffee, kitesurfing, the history of frozen food, and so many more eccentric interests of our teammates.
Keeping things super casual has helped us take any pressure to spend hours on a perfectly-crafted presentation off. Sometimes teammates will even just share photos from their most recent vacation and chat about their time off for a few minutes—whatever it is, it helps us connect on a personal level.
6. Nominate a rotating monthly social chair to choose virtual team-building events
Let your teammates put their own unique spin on culture building by giving them the opportunity to plan events themselves. Every month, nominate a new team member to choose a social activity for the team and give them a budget.
These activities can be simple group hangouts or more involved social get-togethers. If your team prefers a special event, your social chair of the month can schedule a virtual event, like a live origami class or a cooking class they can participate in from their kitchen. Of all the virtual events we’ve tried, our team enjoyed this space-themed virtual escape room and this at-home origami class the most.
If your teammate doesn’t have anything specific in mind, we recommend using Mystery to make things easy on yourselves—and to bring an element of surprise to your shared experience.
When things are busy at Remotion and folks don’t have time to plan anything, our social chair of the month will sometimes just schedule a lightweight 25 or 30-minute laid-back, virtual snack time. Everyone grabs a snack, coffee, or drink on the company, and then we gather to chit chat together on a Friday. It doesn't have to be elaborate to work.
7. Try coworking with a shared Spotify playlist
One of our favorite ways to make space for non-work conversations is by coworking to shared music. We’ll hop into a coworking room in Remotion and a teammate will play their favorite music while we work side by side with our cameras off and on mute.
Occasionally, someone will come off mute and make a comment that turns into a quick conversation they would not have had otherwise.
Music adds a lightweight way for teammates to show a little personality throughout the day. The shared music often serves as fodder for conversation, and also makes things feel more comfortable than if you were just sitting in an open Zoom or Slack call.
One of our favorite things about coworking? It doesn’t need to be scheduled. It's also opt-in, and feels more low stakes than a scheduled social event. This makes it feel more inclusive for introverted folks. It’s the closest thing we’ve found to feeling like we’re actually sharing space while working.
Interested in more music-related culture building ideas? Check out our post on remote team building with Spotify.
8. Replace a weekly meeting with an optional game day
Playing games with your remote team is one of our less original ideas, but worth including here because of how effective it is. When you set aside a dedicated time play games together as a team, you send a signal that taking breaks and time to have fun together is important—and build a culture that’s actively supportive of team bonding.
According to an Association for Information Systems study, teams that collaborated over video games also saw a 20% boost in productivity in tasks completed after the game compared to teams that participated in traditional team-building activities.
At Remotion, we replace our Friday standup with an optional game day. We’ll choose together what to play that day, but some favorites are drawbattle, skribbl.io, Gartic Phone, Jackbox Games, and Fishbowl.
Teammates who are in focus mode or not in the mood are always welcome to skip the game (we find making these kind of rituals opt-in makes them more impactful).
Remember that building culture in remote teams takes experimenting
There’s no exact science to building culture—so think of it as an ongoing collaborative experiment with your team, and don’t be afraid to iterate quickly. Check in with your teams a month or two after implementing ideas to get their feedback.
Enjoyed this post? Share your favorite remote culture-building idea or tool with us @remotionco so we can feature you next time!
The case for virtual coworking: build a connected remote culture.
Regularly coworking with your hybrid or remote team can help you build the social cohesion that makes work feel less like work.
Here are the biggest reasons we think virtual coworking is an effective way to create a close-knit remote culture:
1. It fosters casual conversations.
Building a connected remote culture is all about fostering 1:1 or small group organic conversations. Virtual coworking makes space for those conversations. When you spend time together outside of agenda-driven meetings, spontaneous chats naturally occur, as they would in a traditional office.
2. It's more inclusive than scheduled social events.
It can be draining for introverts to have to participate in scheduled, purely social conversations. Virtual coworking allows the team to spend time together and occasionally chat without having to constantly be "on," making it more inclusive for introverts and extroverts alike.
3. It's easy to say yes to.
Purely social events are important, but if your remote team is busy or on a tight deadline, it's tough to find the time for social chats without it feeling like an obligation. Coworking is much easier to get your distributed team onboard with because it doesn't take time away from getting work done.
4. It improves remote collaboration.
Coworking can lead to unblocking and shorter feedback loops and stronger remote collaboration. Quick questions get answered easily and in the moment, without a having to schedule a meeting or go back-and-forth in messages. Coworking also builds peer accountability.
5. It's scalable.
Coworking works for teams of all sizes and is a great way to scale your remote culture as your team grows. It's helpful to create opportunities for teammates from different functions to get to know one another.
6. It creates shared momentum.
Virtual coworking helps remote workers for the same reason you might get a membership at a traditional coworking space: the feeling of togetherness is motivating!
Get started with virtual coworking: choose the type most aligned with your priorities.
It takes intentionality to make virtual coworking feel natural and energizing enough to stick—it's not as simple as leaving a Zoom call open all day.
Here are a few of the ways we've set coworking up for our team. We recommend choosing one to start with. If it works, make it routine and experiment with other types from there.
Try independent coworking.
Try project-based coworking.
Best practices for virtual coworking.
Keep group sizes small.
Limit your work sessions to 4-6 people to minimize distraction and help make introverted teammates comfortable chatting.
Signal boost coworking.
Set a norm of letting the entire team know when you're hopping into a coworking room or session.
Make it routine.
Once you've figured out what kind of coworking works for your team, make it a regular, opt-in event. Set up a recurring calendar event to do it at the same time each week to maximize the impact.
Set expectations ahead of time.
When you're first introducing coworking to your remote team, share what you're imagining in your calendar invite and at the top of work sessions to get everyone on the same page. For example:
Let's try virtual coworking! We'll work independently on our own projects with our cameras off, but we'll share virtual space and listen to music together — like we might work side-by-side at a physical office.
Listen to music together.
Play music while you work in a virtual room to create a shared environment and add a little bit of personality to your virtual coworking session.
Set up Coworking Rooms in Remotion.
Most of the above is doable with any video chat app or virtual office, but much easier with Remotion—which we designed with a lightweight, smooth coworking experience in mind. Remotion is the perfect virtual coworking platform—easily set up virtual rooms that your teammates can hop into for different styles of coworking.
While Remotion's virtual workspace is free to use with your remote team, if you're curious about joining a virtual coworking community built on our platform—check out Swift Remote Studio for iOS, Mac, and Swift developers.