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Keeping Culture in a Remote World

Virtual Teams will be social if you let them

The shift in paradigm from working in offices to working from home is not without its casualties. Namely, the company culture. When you're in the same office with your colleagues, you interact with them all day long — but it’s the kind of thing you don't realize until it's not there anymore. We're passing by each other's desks, or at the water cooler, and chatting. That doesn't happen as naturally or as organically when we're all online, because you have to actually click on Zoom and call somebody deliberately. This has actually been good for productivity, because you don't get distracted all the time. As humans, I think we all need that interaction with each other.

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It’s up to the leader of a company to be deliberate about making sure that the culture doesn't get stale or lost or forgotten. If we don't deliberately create opportunities or channels for being social, culture tends to fall to the wayside. That’s why we implemented some ways to keep culture.You don't see people by the water cooler or the coffee maker anymore, so we created a water cooler channel in our chat system. People add funny things or videos we think are interesting, or funny gifs. I used to think sending these things was just causing people to avoid work, but now I realize that it is necessary to do a bit of that in moderation. That's a passive way of keeping the culture.

We have an active culture-building event about once a month when we get together for Family Game Time. We usually play a video game together like Among Us, or a virtual escape room. Drawful is a cute, Pictionary-type game. Family Game Time encourages people to get together — and if you want to drink a beer, that's fine too because they’re always towards the end of the day.  

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The mornings have a different vibe, starting with a meeting and what we call the fun share. We all talk about something that happened yesterday or what we're going to do over the weekend or what we did for the weekend. Sometimes it's what somebody cooked last night for dinner, or a movie they saw. These morning meetings are supposed to be 15 minutes long, but sometimes we find an hour later, we're still chatting about some stuff.

When I put my owner-of-the-business hat on, I'm tempted to think, "Wow, we just wasted an hour here of everybody's time." But, realizing how it pulls us all together as a team is very necessary, and that we would have used up that hour easily around the office.  

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Another thing we do a few times a week is co-working time. We all just turn on our cameras, and we created a virtual co-working space. We'll just work knowing other people are there. Sometimes somebody will say something or make a joke and everybody laughs and then we go back to work. I think in the future, we might work like that a lot more.

All these little steps have helped to keep everybody close. Since the beginning of remote work two years ago, about half of the staff is new. Even though they're in the New York area, I've actually never met them in person. But I feel like I know them very well. I think that culture is an important human need that we've been able to address. But we had to be intentional about it, because it wasn't happening naturally with the remote tools that we've all been using over the last two years.

Originally published: 05/20/2022

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