Last time, I talked about how perks are different than culture. Free donuts, plus an in-office gym to work off those donuts are perks, not culture.
That said, perks can help grow your company culture; that's part of the reason they're there. They also encourage a sense of team. But when your team is spread out across multiple cities, or time zones, or continents, those kind of perks don't work. So what can you do?
Here's a list of 5 ways to promote corporate culture on distributed teams:
1. Humanize Your Communication
That money you were going to spend on donuts for the next year? Use it to buy everyone on the team a good webcam and headset.
I love Slack. Not only does it keep teams in constant contact, but it's great at separating conversations topically.
Relying on Slack for the bulk of your team communication can be dangerous, though. Text is a weak medium compared to audio and video. It's very easy in text for miscommunications to happen, and those lead to lost time and unnecessary arguments. We often read far more into text than is there, and what was intended as a friendly, off-hand comment can be construed as sarcastic, aggressive, or mean.
Make sure you have a daily video call, scheduled when everyone can attend. During that call, everyone has to have a chance to talk and give an update. If anyone is just trying to quietly observe, you need to make the effort to bring them into the conversation.
2. Eat Lunch Together
Once a week, get your team on a video call for lunch. Everyone eats together, and nobody talks about work.
The first few times you do this, it's going to be awkward. Your team won't be used to socializing together. That's ok! It takes time for a bunch of individual people to feel like a team.
For those initial lunches, you might need to come up with some gimmicks to break the ice. What works will depend on the people in your group. Have a few trivia questions handy, or maybe a game you can all play together. Even trite topics like "what do you have planned for the weekend?" can sometimes work. Pick something that will get you all interacting, having fun, and talking about things people care about outside of work.
3. #random Channels Matter
Whatever your team uses for offline communication - Slack, HipChat, whatever - make sure you have a channel or room dedicated to non-work stuff.
Without an office, there's no congregation space. People feel like they're part of a group when they can relax and be silly together. Make a space for that: somewhere people can post animated GIFs, links to weird articles, a Spotify track they just listened to, whatever.
4. Celebrate Important Events
Wouldn't it suck if you went to work on your birthday, and no one wished you a happy birthday? Don't let that happen.
Arrange to have a treat sent to an teammate on their birthday, like a small cookie basket or something. Have everyone sing "Happy Birthday" on the daily video call. Yeah, it's might be a little embarrassing and cheesy... but that's the point!
This isn't just about birthdays, it's anything that a teammate is willing to share that will help the team bond.
5. Introductions Go Both Ways
When someone new joins a team, the easy thing to do is to introduce the new person and have them tell a little about themselves to the team.
Don't do the easy thing.
The new hire has just shared, but it hasn't gone the other way. No one on the team has shared. Instead of pulling the new person into the team, you've just isolated them.
Instead, use that daily video call as a chance for everyone on the team to introduce themselves, say what they do at the company, and something about themselves that's not work-related (and that they haven't shared before!).
In the next part of this series, we'll talk about stuff to watch out for that can wreak havoc on your distributed team.
In the meantime, we'd love to hear about how you've helped your remote teams to gel. Let us know at @LimnuApp!