Nastya Shapovalova | Project Manager at Coherent Solutions Lithuania
Despite productivity, it has become increasingly challenging to maintain the unity and bonding of teams. In an office environment, informal conversations and bonding happen naturally, whether it’s while getting coffee, having lunch, walking together after a meeting, or discussing weekend plans with colleagues. On the contrary, remote work limits interaction with coworkers to mainly work-related calls and projects, with little room for casual conversations.
Let’s discuss the methods and tools that can be used to build and maintain a team culture in a remote environment.
Understand what you expect and share with the team
Before starting to build and promote the team culture, the first step is defining what you want to achieve. Define your team’s values and principles. Figure out which qualities and behaviors you want to promote and which ones are not part of your culture. You can create a draft alone or with your core team members but be sure to get feedback from the whole team. It’s important that each team member feels included in creating the team culture principles; that way, they are much more willing to accept them and act accordingly.
Prioritize communication and transparency
Establishing communication channels is critical for ensuring high productivity as well as a strong team culture. Focus your efforts on creating the meeting structure and cadence that fit the team’s needs. Ensure the team has time and a place to bring up their technical questions as well as general challenges and concerns, and that they have a dedicated space to bond and get to know each other better. In my opinion, the Scrum framework is efficient when working remotely due to its structured routine and high meeting cadence. If using a different development framework, ensure the team still has the critical communication points such as daily meetings to discuss statuses and cross-dependencies, retrospectives to raise concerns and share improvement ideas, and separate meetings to discuss business requirements, implementation details and technical questions.
It’s equally important to promote a proactive communication culture. Empower your team to arrange ad hoc calls to clarify immediate questions and dependencies. Bring lengthy discussions from team chats to online meetings. Lead by example, showing proactivity and readiness to talk when it’s needed.
Perform regular one-on-ones
One-on-ones are a critical tool for building team culture. They become even more crucial in a remote environment. Ensure that each of your team members has regular one-on-ones with their direct manager. If necessary, adapt the team structure and define additional leadership roles responsible for managing groups of people. Practical experience shows that the optimal team size for a team lead is 4-8 people.
One-on-ones are a perfect tool for managing employee motivation and retention. They also create a safe space to share not only work-related but also personal details and issues. Such meetings provide a great opportunity to establish closer, more personal relationships with your employees, get to know them better, and coach them toward the desired team culture.
It’s a common scenario that team members don’t initially understand the value of one-on-ones. Educate, coach, and encourage them. Keep going. At some point, they will get practical proof that the tool works and is useful.
Work with your newcomers
Your remote team may include members who were there before the transition to remote work and have a strong bond, as well as newcomers who joined the virtual environment right away. Ensure that you work closely with them, not only in terms of business and technical onboarding but also in terms of cultural onboarding. The best scenario is to assign a mentor to each newcomer so that they always have someone to turn to in case of issues. Ensure that the mentor is the right fit and can share and coach on your cultural values and principles.
Promote trust and collaboration
Trust is crucial for any team, whether co-located or remote. Promote a culture where your team members feel empowered to speak up and feel safe sharing their thoughts and opinions. Make the most of tools that facilitate collaboration and teamwork. Conduct regular retrospectives, process reviews, and communication reviews. Encourage active participation in those meetings, as well as honest and unbiased communication of team issues and concerns. Utilize collaborative processes such as pair programming or brainstorming sessions. Ensure that your team members understand the value of different opinions and use them for the team’s benefit.
Foster a sense of belonging
When working from home and primarily interacting with others based on business needs, it can be challenging to feel like a part of the team. Ensure that all of your team members feel included and valued, regardless of their location or background. The following tools may help:
Gather the team regularly to discuss important news, updates, and plans.
Regularly recognize and celebrate team and individual achievements.
Promote informal interactions between team members through virtual coffee breaks, non-work-related social channels, and chit-chats at the beginning of meetings.
Organize virtual team-building activities.
Focus on bonding with co-located team members wherever possible; get together for a drink or participate in some activities; organize smaller-scale offline team building events.
Promote non-work-related gatherings and social groupings; you don’t have to have everyone join. Focus on groups with common interests, like playing online games, studying English together, discussing movies, books, travel, etc.
Recognize and celebrate achievements
Similar to the previous points, it can be much more challenging to recognize the achievements of your teammates in a virtual environment. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge and celebrate both individual and team accomplishments. Doing so will foster a sense of belonging among team members and boost their motivation and morale.
Introduce an open and transparent system of feedback, performance evaluation, and achievement acknowledgment. Empower your team members to recognize and reward the achievements of their peers by introducing peer recognition systems and tools. Acknowledge and celebrate the team’s accomplishments in your team chats, live calls, or during team-building events.
Encourage continuous learning and development
Collective learning is another valuable tool that contributes to team bonding. Encourage continuous learning by providing the necessary resources. Promote and reward knowledge-sharing activities. Organize collaborative learning whenever possible and applicable.
Lead by example
Be the pioneer and promoter of all the values, strategies, and tools mentioned above. Lead by example, demonstrating the desired culture and behaviors. Set realistic expectations. Be accessible, transparent, and open to new ideas. Provide regular feedback and recognition. Continuously work with your team members, coach them on the principles and tools of team culture, help them address their concerns, and ensure they have development opportunities. Stress the importance of trust, teamwork, and collaboration. Recognize and celebrate team achievements. Be a role model that your team members will be eager to follow.
A strong team culture is vital for any team. Virtual teams require an additional dedicated effort to promote the culture and sense of belonging that naturally form in on-site teams. Remember that building a team culture is an ongoing activity where you continuously strive for improvement and adaptation of what you already have. All this effort pays off by creating a great team that is highly productive and enjoyable to work with.