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Building a cohesive remote culture

In interviews, I’m often asked how I would describe our remote culture — perhaps surprisingly, cohesive is the word that comes to mind. I understand that sounds like an oxymoron since cohesion literally means
 “the act or state of sticking together tightly,” and we’re all miles apart from one another, distributed across North America and Europe — but hear me out!

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In rapidly growing organizations, the tendency can be for teams and individuals to feel siloed and isolated — this is especially true of remote teams, where isolation and communication breakdown can be an all too common unfortunate occurrence. As we’ve built our team, we’ve also put in place some of these practices and processes to ensure that we’re deliberately promoting cohesiveness with our distributed team:

Foster inclusive communication

Our teams are most effective when everyone understands where and how their individual work fits in the overall context of helping us make progress towards our mission, so we do weekly (not monthly or quarterly!) all-hands meetings. During the call each functional team gives a visual update on their work in progress, to ensure we’re highlighting the connections and dependencies between team members’ work. This is the perfect cadence for us to ensure every single person on the team is kept on the same page about what we’re building, and how their contributions play a meaningful role in furthering our mission.

By inclusively sharing knowledge with the entire team on a regular basis, no one is left out of the loop or feels like a second-class citizen of the company.

We don’t want people to zone out when an update isn’t about their function, so we use visual demos, rather than mere bullet points. We also share metrics, results, and contextual information to make that data actionable and useful for good decision making. This has been a really successful way to help equip our team with the information they need to make good decisions for the company, and to hold themselves and their teammates accountable. By inclusively sharing knowledge with the entire team on a regular basis, no one is left out of the loop or feels like a second-class citizen of the company.

Praise publicly

Taking a cue from Kim Scott’s Radical Framework
, we use a tool called Bonusly
 to help make giving credit where credit is due a regular practice. The best part is that it’s fun and easy! When it comes to recognizing achievements and accomplishments, we want to be sure we avoid the slippery slope of letting meaningful contributions go without recognition; Bonusly integrates directly into our main Slack channel, so we’re able to showcase and applaud the valuable contributions our colleagues make on a regular basis. We also feature folks that go above and beyond at our weekly team call through shoutouts that are written and read by different members of the team — and sometimes by celebrities on Cameo 😎. All these interactions help ensure we’re fostering a culture of public recognition, appreciation, and feedback; they demonstrate how individual contributions impact our team, product, and company as a whole.

Make it face-to-face

We bring our whole team together in person twice a year at Hang Time, our bi-annual design conference. It’s a really valuable way for our team to make lasting connections. We also make sure that we still see plenty of one another face-to-face on a weekly basis, especially since the technology is readily available and better than ever. Zoom
 works great for us to make sure we’re not missing out on facetime together. And sometimes a video conversation can be much more effective than chatting over Slack — adhoc video calls are encouraged for those situations. Communicating this way helps combat loneliness and isolation, and it provides opportunities to foster cohesiveness by connecting on a more personal level.

Extracurriculars

Just because we’re remote doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t spend time together
! We have a few optional, extra-curricular activities that happen monthly including movie club, happy hour, and a virtual team building activity that changes each month (this month is yoga — namaste!) We also have several Slack channels dedicated to interests and activities we love (#music, #dogs, #hygge), and some channels where we just goof off, like #yelling, which is WHERE WE YELL IN ALL CAPS ABOUT THINGS THAT WE HAVE STRONG OPINIONS ABOUT. All of these events and Slack channels give us a chance to have fun together, get to know one another, and connect as a team.

Ultimately, working remotely shouldn’t have to mean sacrificing a sense of cohesion and connection. In fact, as we’ve been building our fully distributed team, we’ve seen first hand just how much the investments we’ve made in practices that foster cohesion have paid dividends in our company success. It’s amazing to see how much we’ve accomplished in 2018 alone! We may be miles apart from each other physically, but we are one team, working on one roadmap, with one vision: to build the best platform in the world for designers to gain inspiration, exposure, feedback, community, and job opportunities.

Interested in learning more about building remote teams? Read about our lessons learned from scaling a fully distributed team.

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