Remote team connection is a goal that most of us acknowledge is important, but aren't sure how to encourage in a way that feels good. Virtual team bonding via happy hours or social events just doesn't quite do it.
Building strong remote work culture is all about fostering 1:1 or small group unstructured conversations.
The problem is, non-work conversations don't often naturally occur in a remote work environment (especially with the rise of asynchronous communication). Offices create these conversations naturally, but remote teams need to make space for them intentionally.
We're building Remotion to help remote teams do that, but we're also a fully-distributed team and are always iterating on rituals that build connection into our work days.
Here are four easy-to-emulate ways we make space for our team to connect each week:
1. Tack no-agenda 1:1s or breakout conversations onto a recurring team meeting.
Every Tuesday after standup, we all call someone on the team we haven't spoken to in a while to catch up for 15 or 20 minutes. No agenda, and no directions beyond that—and we love it! It's quickly become a highlight of our week, and feels a lot better than opt-in Donut 1:1s that require finding time in your schedule or keep setting you up with the same handful of people.
As a member of our marketing team, I often find myself catching up with engineers I don't normally interact with for work, which helps me feel more connected with the team at large.
How to Implement: Add a 20-minute calendar block to the end of a recurring weekly meeting for your team. Ask your team to call someone they haven't spoken to in a while to chat. Click here to schedule no-agenda 1:1 time.
2. Book 5 minutes for optional small talk before the start of meetings.
Until recently, we had 5 minutes of mandatory small talk at the top of our daily standup. It was a great way for us to be collectively intentional about connecting. We'd chat about everyone's personal lives and have those unstructured, non-work conversations we keep talking about.
When our team grew larger than ~10 people, the mandatory small talk time started to feel a bit more awkward, with the same handful of well-meaning extroverts piping up to fill the time. So we brainstormed with the team on how to adjust, and decided to make it an opt-in chit-chat time before the meeting. We have a separate calendar event to remind us to join. Teammates hop in as they're ready, and it usually makes room for social conversation in a smaller group, without feeling forced.
How to Implement: Invite your team to a 5-minute optional recurring calendar event before the start of a recurring meeting. Click here to schedule optional small talk. Or, just make a practice of hopping into a call with whoever's free 5 minutes before your agenda is set to start.
3. Schedule coworking sessions.
Coworking is one of our favorite ways to make space for chats that wouldn't happen otherwise. It's easy for the team to opt into because it doesn't get in the way of work, and it's inclusive for introverts and extroverts alike.
We schedule recurring 1-hour blocks for groups of 4-6 teammates to independently work in a call with their video and microphone off. We'll hop into a Remotion room and listen to music together while we cowork, and most of us will add tracks to the queue as a session goes on.
We find that people will unmute occasionally to make quick comments, and end up having conversations they wouldn't schedule a meeting for.
Our favorite kinds of coworking:
- Project-based: teammates who are working on the same project hang out in a Remotion room together on mute and pipe up whenever they have a question or idea. We find this gives us a sense of shared momentum.
- Mixer: teammates who don't normally work together cowork on independent projects.
- Deep work: intentional hour-long blocks to get in flow and get sh*t done. We take 5 minutes at the start for each person to share what they plan to get done, 50 minutes to work silently, and 5 minutes at the end to celebrate what everyone accomplished. This fosters productivity and creates a shared experience, even though we're not chatting most of the hour.
How to Implement: Put a recurring 1-hour block on the calendar for the style of coworking of your choice. Click here to schedule coworking.
4. Play a game together every Friday.
Every Friday, we replace our daily standup with a 20-30 minute game day. It's a fun shared experience that helps us collectively bond and de-stress. The friendly competition is often the source of inside jokes that live on and bring us all closer together.
Here are some of our favorite games that are guaranteed to make you laugh and are easy to play remotely
- Codenames. Players come up with clever clues to help their teammates guess specific words. It's fun, quick to learn, and not super competitive.
- Skribbl.io. A free online version of Pictionary. You get points for guessing what your teammate is drawing or, when you're drawing, getting all of your teammates to guess correctly. It's a lot of fun and you can play as many or few rounds as you'd like.
- Gartic Phone. Another drawing game that combines aspects of telephone and our mediocre drawing skills to genuinely hilarious results. Case in point:
Get buy-in from your team and ask for feedback regularly.
These are some of the ideas for building remote culture that work for us at Remotion, but a huge part of the reason they work is because we implemented them with the buy-in of our entire team. A prerequisite to improving your remote work culture is to get buy in from your team to do so. A few ways we suggest you do that:
- Run a team culture survey and share the results with the team
- Have a remote culture brainstorming session
- Ask for feedback on a regular basis
We do a quarterly remote culture survey to hear how everyone's feeling. Sometimes we'll do a quick retro on one of our rituals. That's how we decided small talk would no longer be mandatory (see #2 above).
When you're getting started with new ideas, a short feedback loop can be really helpful in finding the small ways to tweak your rituals to make them resonate with the team.
Regular feedback is especially crucial if your remote team is scaling quickly and adding new team members. What works for a team of 10 could be totally awkward for a team of 20—and you might not know if you don't ask.
Create the remote culture rituals that work for you.
There are an infinite number of unique ways to build remote work culture. In our view, the key is creating lightweight ways to connect that don't feel forced—and making them regular, opt-in events. How your team does that is totally up to you!
We'll be continuing to share our experiments with building remote culture at Remotion, and spotlighting some of our favorite remote and hybrid team's rituals for building culture too.
Does your team have an amazing idea for building strong remote work culture? Submit it here so we can feature you as part of this series.
P.S. Remotion helps make a lot of these remote culture rituals easier. You can sign up to get free access.