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Culture shock - how to supercharge your remote teams into communities

Culture, it's challenging enough to keep it alive in the office - let alone remotely.

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And when there are no pool tables or pour-your-own-pints to hide behind - and The Great Resignation itself shows no sign of “quitting” - businesses are having to reassess what they thought they knew about culture.

But what is it, exactly?

Maybe it's easier to start with what it’s not.

“Free yoga lessons and sushi are nice. However, culture is much more than that,” says Gustavo Razzetti in Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace. Instead, “’s the environment that helps people do their best work,” he argues.

Sure, that makes sense.

But when there’s no traditional ‘environment’ to speak of, what then?


Creating culture - if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.

And when remote technologists are working in isolation, it's even more important to create a culture where they feel connected and supported.

But don’t take our word for it.

88% of jobseekers reckon a healthy culture at work is vital for success and almost as many (86%) avoid companies with a bad reputation.

But how do you prove your culture’s alive and well when there’s nothing physical to point them towards?

“If there are no offices in which to observe company culture, it needs to be documented,” says James Stanier, author of Effective Remote Work. For Yourself, Your Team, and Your Company. Much like the brand book physical teams live and die by, companies need to record things like their vision, mission and values. What's the structure of the organisation - how does it function?

“If nothing is written down, there’s nothing for remote staff to discover, learn and operate within,” Argues Stanier.

Doesn’t that sound suspiciously like strategy 
- not culture, though?

Yep, and that's the point.

Cultures that work for everyone come from strategic feedback

There’s been a lot of chatter online lately about the importance of finding the right cultural fit for your company - and rightfully so.

But when vacancies are at a record high, it's even more vital to get it right for applicants too; talented tech professionals who are absolutely spoilt for choice right now.

That’s why remote culture’s got to be based on more than a Slack channel for #FridayFunsies; it should be grounded in, and complemented by, strategy.

“Culture and strategy are not rivals; they’re two sides of the same coin. A strong culture amplifies a strong strategy, but it won’t do you any good without the right strategy. You need both, argues Razzetti.” Well, Razzetti argues that the right strategy is one that focuses on the system as opposed to the individual - and it all starts with feedback.

“If you want people to collaborate, to act as a team, shouldn’t they practice feedback as one?” he asks.

He recommends a couple of exercises that can help start to build a healthy culture of collective feedback.

Shared gifting

To try this one, start by holding a meeting where everyone can see each other in gallery mode.


  • Share a circle with everyone’s names in it and choose where to start.
  • The first person provides feedback to the individual to the left of them.
  • Then the person who was receiving feedback becomes the giver.
  • Each person provides short feedback using these two statements:
  • “I like that you…” - focusing on something that people should continue doing.
  • “I wish that you…” - focusing on something that people should start or stop doing.
  • Not sure if this is the right fit for your team? No problem. Try this one for size.

The Blameless Postmortem

This exercise shifts the conversation from pointing fingers to making things better. Here's a basic guide to doing it:

  • Assume good intentions - the idea that people usually act on the information they had at the time - nothing more sinister than that.
  • Don’t react emotionally - take a breath then calmly think about asking the right questions to get to the bottom of the error.
  • Focus on facts, not perceptions - what actually happened? What would they do differently next time?
  • Identify causes, not culprits - move from “who?” to “why?”. It's tougher to get to but will keep the culture from getting toxic and will also help prevent future mistakes.
  • Be consistent - remove fear and replace it with openness - but stick to it long-term.

“A blameless culture doesn’t mean a lack of accountability,” argues Razzetti. “On the contrary, when teams care more about solving the root cause of the problem rather than finding someone to blame, they become more responsible,” he says.

Sound a bit intense?

Sure, they can be. But this type of collective feedback replaces blame with accountability - and that’ll build a much healthier remote culture in the long run.

But facilitating an environment where teams can be more open and transparent with one another is just one of many ways to prop up your company culture - before turning it into a profitable community.


How to prop up your culture with seven pillars

Every company has some kind of culture. But to get the best out of it takes some tending to.

For Chris Dyer and Kim Shepherd, thought leaders in remote working and authors of The Power of Company Culture: How Any Business Can Build a Culture that Improves Productivity, Performance and Profits, one way to create a culture that works is to support it using the seven pillars:

1. Transparency - being as open as possible helps all employees feel invested and act like owners. The result is more people coming up with more great ideas. So what does this look like in practice?

  • Clarify roles and goals - it’s not just about employees knowing where to go for what; they should understand other people’s goals so they have a context for every interaction.
  • Adjust communication styles - do this to match each member of staff’s personality. A Slack huddle might be more appropriate for one developer whilst another may prefer a Hangout.
  • Ensure your staff feel comfortable to contribute - create forums or channels where teams can raise concerns and share ideas, e.g. via dedicated Slack channels.

2. Positivity - most companies have a problem-solving mindset. However, the leading ones promote positivity and frame internal challenges as opportunities. This is evidenced in a 2015 study by Knight and Eisenkraft who found positive and optimistic interactions elevated team effectiveness. So instead of focusing on fixing a problem within your remote teams, build upon their strengths and weaknesses instead.

3. Measurement - objective measurement improves performance, promotes accountability and avoids blame. Try using short weekly surveys or a project management system like Scrum to analyse your output and promote team cohesion.

4. Recognition - while tangible rewards are important, sometimes the simple act of acknowledgement can go a long way in promoting engagement and building cohesion. Even more important when trying to establish a culture that promotes self-esteem, trust and respect; especially when you’re working together from afar.

5. Uniqueness - this goes a long way in selling your brand to staff as well as customers. A good way to promote a unique culture is to develop your own terms and phrases. This simple approach promotes trust and fosters teamwork by empowering staff with a kind of ‘insider’ knowledge.

6. Listening - implement listening processes like a weekly question via SurveyMonkey (as opposed to any annual survey). Employees are more likely to respond to this as its less time-consuming. Just make sure you respond as well and use the feedback to continuously improve the culture.

7. Mistakes - one of the best ways to create a safe environment and a great remote culture is to celebrate mistakes. Dyer created the ‘Oops - my bad’ room on Slack. This is a stigma-free place for staff - and that’s in all positions - to point out things that have gone wrong. It’s lighthearted and also saves the company from uncovering anything that’ll cause a problem down the line.

We know what you’re thinking: this is all good in theory, but how do you make these types of habits last in the long run?


Creating habits that stick - turning workplace routines into rituals

Routines are just things we do at work. Rituals have an emotional attachment to them and can create something that some out-of-office environments lack: belonging.

This is fundamental to creating workplace culture from afar. In fact, recent studies from this year show that when employees experience a sense of belonging in the workplace, they are:

  • 9 times more likely to believe people are treated fairly - regardless of their race.
  • 3 times more likely to look forward to coming to work.
  • 3 times more likely to say their workplace is fun.

So how do you turn everyday routines into rituals your staff will swear by?

For Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, it’s about empathising with your team, before gently nudging them towards creativity.

“Rituals are most valuable around things that have an emotional component to them. Most are designed to create some emotional sense—more connection, a sense of completion and reflection. When designing a ritual think about what elements make it engaging and get people out of whatever mindset they’re in and into a new one,” he says. But don't worry if isn’t right the first time - just try again.

“Think about rituals as a design problem...“

prototype them first. When designing a ritual, don’t overthink it, just build the first thing you can, then move on to more sophisticated versions later,” says Brown.

So what are some real-life rituals you can implement remotely? Here are just some ideas:

Create a team playlist

A great way to get everyone involved, express themselves and share a vital part of their identities. From JQBX to Spotify Group Session, there are loads of great options available for remote teams. Speaking of the latter…

Celebrate failure

Spotify teams have regular ‘Fail-fikas’ where staff grab a coffee, jump online and share their mistakes together. But Spotify isn’t the only organisation to do something similar; these types of activities are actually becoming a normalised and healthy way to build cultures of learning.

Meet each other’s loved ones

Whether it's partners, pets or babies, we are our relationships. GitLab hosts ‘Juice Box’ chats where employees can introduce family members to each other remotely. as part of a documented ‘Informal Communication in an all-remote environment’ process. Sure, that sounds like a strange paradox but trust us, it works. This ritual can strengthen connections and build personal relationships - wherever you are. But just because your team is remote, it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to digital meetups.

Organise physical get-togethers

Community is at the core of everything we do at Remobi. That’s why we facilitate bi-annual meetups for our clients and their remote teams; it helps bring like-minded technologists together to collaborate and get to know each other, fostering that sense of community. And as part of our global community, your remote team will have access to more meetups, well-being exercises, competitions and more. Because remote doesn’t mean alone with Remobi.

Read more about one of our physical meetups in Bucharest

Read more

This is really just the beginning of what you can do, though. With at least 22% of the workforce working remotely in three years, it’s time to create cultures that work just as hard for online communities as physical ones. At this point, there really is no going back.

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