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Building community and culture for a distributed team

Posted by Alok Chowdhury on May 19, 2016 10:00:19 AM

4 minute read

Building community and culture for a distributed team

At Vanilla, our headquarters is located in the beautiful city of Montreal. We also have a sales office in Ottawa and a few development offices around the U.S.

We’ve taken the leap in distributed teams to ensure we don’t miss out on great talent and the exchange of spontaneous knowledge simply because of geographical barriers. Luckily for us, technology has allowed us to reap the benefits of a remote workforce that is capable of reaching across barriers that once was considered impossible.

For other companies, the reason may be based on economic factors…having a remote team can help reduce overhead that would be spent on office space. In other cases, it may be to increase flexibility in the working environment.

Consider the following statistics:

Regardless of the reason that an organization embraces this trend, there’s no denying that the distribution of workforce has increased efficiency within companies. However, the major trade-off is the loss of valuable face time with remote employees. You may be able to chat on video every single day with a remote colleague. But they still may not be a part of the company culture, which plays a major role in shaping the employee’s engagement to the organization.

It’s important for an organization to instill a sense of belonging to remote workers who may at times feel left all alone in a virtual world. However, if you can adopt effective engagement strategies by taking advantage of technology, building community and culture for your remote team will be just as easy as email.

Sharing Information to a Large Team over Multiple Locations Simultaneously

Remote workers, especially those in a different time zone, can easily feel like they are working in a little capsule. While it’s unrealistic to expect all your employees to be available 24-7, knowing that they can use digitized communication tools to reach their colleagues will help your entire team feel more connected.

Using a community platform is an effective way of promoting positive behaviors like collaboration and healthy competition between workers. You can include gamification to improve engagement and loyalty in a fun way. Your remote employees need to feel that they are an important part of your team. Competitions and team-based goals generate a great sense of cooperation and inclusion.

A great advantage that community platforms have over social media is that you can control the design made to build and grow community. Also, you get more visibility on posted content as opposed to restrictions imposed by social media platforms.

Patagonia has taken advantage of the power of community platforms in their ideation process. As an outdoors gear company, their dedication to quality requires a comprehensive and rigorous field testing program with dozens of testers and designers. However, they came across challenges which slowed down the process of product feedback from a distributed team.

And attempting to run a collaboration program using email caused enormous logistical concerns. When they implemented a Vanilla Forum as an internal community, it allowed Patagonia to eliminate logistical strain and focus on what matters to them: creating the world’s best outdoor clothing.

Setting Sights on Global Culture

In a typical office environment, there are more opportunities to bond with fellow workers, including lunches and drinks after work with fellow co-workers. Having team members dispersed across the globe can be a challenge when it comes to making members feel included in office culture, but it can also be a rewarding experience learning from others around the world.

While arranging an annual team get-together may not be within your budget, there are many alternative methods you can implement to build on your global culture, including:

  • Executive and peer buy-in. You cannot start building a corporate culture without executive buy-in. Not only does this mean talking about creating culture, but also have the C-level suite actively engaging in the platforms and tools. The leaders who invest in building the community structure for their employees and teams, will see the culture thrive. This means building accountability and transparency.
  • Building collaboration through team rooms. Collaboration over distances happen when there is a common ground. Using team rooms where everyone can recognize accomplishments, engage in casual conversations and sharing project ideas help build that cultural connection.
  • Keep everyone aligned on the same vision. Communicate your goals on a regular basis, and tie them to key metrics and results. By sharing and communicating the value of these metrics, your team will be invested in the success of the platform.

At the end of the day, you can’t force community and culture down your employees’ throats. It starts with how you hire your team - those who have the personality for working in a remote environment. Seek employees who are committed to working magic together.

Community and social media will follow suit by complementing and improving how you work.

Topics: Community, News

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