bianco studio

10 ideas for building great culture in a distributed team

Author

Moose

category

business strategy

1. create a private team stories podcast

Everyone has the same get to know you conversations starting from zero. Instead, interview them about their life story for a private, internal podcast. The whole team can listen and get a head start on building relationships.

2. build a culture of written, asynchronous communication

Even before the pandemic, I'm willing to bet that you rarely — if ever — went to a coworker's desk to discuss the details of an upcoming project. More than likely, if you did attempt to have the conversation in-person, your coworker would say something like: "Hey, I'm kind of busy right now. Mind Slacking me the information? Or emailing?"

This lack of real-time communication is becoming increasingly prominent in the workplace, making it easier for employees to work remotely without fear that they're missing out on critical conversations happening at the office. Enter asynchronuous communication.

Simply put, asynchronous communication is communication that doesn't happen in real-time (e.g. on the phone, in-person, or during a live video conferencing meeting).

Most companies made the mistake of overcompensating the lack of "in-person" interaction by scheduling more video conferences, implementing lunch and learns etc. This was misguided.

Building a culture of written, asynchronous communication, will save so many meetings, avoid people feeling left out if they weren't in the meeting, and protect focused work. Your team will also be forced to clearly articulate and refine their ideas.

3. shared "no meeting" days

Everyone has the same day for focused work each week. Team members can have days that they don’t need to get camera ready (e.g. hair, make-up, etc) if they don’t want to. At Bianco Studio, we do Tuesdays and Fridays, which are wildly productive.

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4. ask "What did you get into this weekend?"

This is not something we do, but the women and gentlemen over at ConvertKit do this with wild success. Every Monday morning they have a bot that posts to Slack asking people to share a photo (or a few) from the weekend. It's a great way to get to know co-workers on a personal level and see their families, interests, and lives.

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5. create an automated email sequence for new team members

Explain how you work, where to find important things (like the joke slack channels), fun facts about team members, explain inside jokes, & more. It's all automated so you can curate their first 30+ days at the company.

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6. host "unsolicited feedback" sessions

This is where a small team (usually 4-8 people) gathers to talk about someone in the hot seat as if they aren't there for 10 min. When it's your turn all you can do is sit & take notes, then you get 5 min to respond. Here are the prompts:

  • What does this person do that you find remarkable? What do you brag about them to other people?
  • If they were up for the promotion of their career in 6 months, what would you tell them now to give them the best chance of getting it?
  • Assume you're working with this person for the next 10 years. What behavior isn't a big deal now, but will get really annoying or frustrating over that time?
    — this results in the best compliments, the most constructive feedback, and a culture of direct, candid conversations.

7. mandatory fun days

With teams feeling burnt out force everyone to take the same day off. That means you don't have to come back to a mountain of slack messages and emails. Come back & share a photo. We did a 3-day weekend for the last 3 months of the year.

8. schedule S'Ups

We use a bot to pick 3 people at random each week for a 30 min catch up / get to know you call. A triad means you always get a dynamic group from a cross section of the team. This builds relationships and breaks silos across product, eng, ops, growth, etc.

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9. host retreats 2x a year

Regularly gathering your team in person is one of the most important things you can do. 2x a year ended up being the perfect cadence for us. We split our time: 33% work & strategy, 33% personal connection, and 33% downtime & fun.

Be careful with this one. The biggest mistake I see companies make is trying to get too much work done on a retreat. Connections get accelerated so much through great memories and shared experiences. You can have everyone record footage for a vlog to let the memories carry through to the next retreat.

10. donate money together

At a team retreat we divided our team into groups of 4 with one goal: give away $10,000 in $100 at a time. With 50 people on the team that meant each group had to find about 12 charities to support. Then we regrouped to share who we donated to & why.

What followed were the best stories that made for connection points:

  • Someone donated to education grants because they were first in their family to go to college.
  • Cancer research because they'd lost a loved one.
  • Pet rescue because that's where they'd found a best friend.

$100 isn't that much, so it would be fair to argue the money would be better donated to a single charity, but our main goal was life stories and points of connection.Give it a try with your team. You'll all get a peek into what your coworkers value & why.

final thoughts

Don't let anyone tell you company culture is defined by free lunches and ping pong tables. It's a culture of trust, clear feedback, focused work, meaningful connection, and a shared mission.

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