Radically remote: 4
Insights on navigating the challenges that come with change and thriving under a remote-first culture
From Toronto to Turin: How we unite our global team
With 60 employees stretched across 14 countries, our enterprise clients often ask me how we forge a bond amongst colleagues who may never meet. Creating a virtual community can be notoriously tricky, with loneliness, mental health worries and Zoom fatigue amongst the biggest concerns, but over the last two years, we’ve doubled down and discovered some invaluable tips and techniques.
Most importantly, despite having a global pandemic to contend with we have enjoyed exploring new ways to form friendships and unite our team. From company quizzes to virtual gaming sessions, coffees and of course remote office parties, here are some of the simple steps we’ve taken. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you too.
Brief moments spark brilliance
One of the biggest losses of remote working is the ‘water cooler moment,’ that fleeting interaction when you bump into a colleague by the kitchen or lift. For years frustrated bosses considered them a waste of time, before realising that of course those random encounters actually spark creativity, productivity and give flagging energy levels a boost.
The legendary Steve Jobs even designed the offices at Apple and Pixar to promote them, saying, “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Here at Buyapowa, we’ve tried hard to build those ‘watercooler moments’ into our new, radically remote world. With the majority of colleagues working from home we’ve realised that it’s often the little things that count, like dedicating the first few minutes of every Zoom meeting to shooting the breeze. Whether that’s chatting about the latest Netflix release or what we did at the weekend, it binds us together, no matter whether we’re joining the call from Vancouver or Berlin.
Keep it fun and fresh
We throw energy into making our more structured gatherings fun and fresh too. Every Thursday our company-wide ‘All Hands’ meeting kicks off the morning for our Vancouver-based team while rounding off the day in Europe. It’s a time for us to celebrate winning new clients, share results and welcome new starters – but we try to keep it entertaining too. Instead of simply introducing a new employee, we’ll challenge them to flummox the team with two truths and a lie. It gives everyone a laugh, plus it’s a great opportunity to learn something intriguing or unexpected about them.
We top off the session with our hotly-contested company quiz, when colleagues compete to win a £50 takeout order. Created by a different employee each week, it’s proven a great way to foster familiarity across continents. For example, our Toronto-based colleague joined forces with our graphic design intern to create her quiz. They hit the streets and created a photo-based competition, which showcased their city to the wider team.
Get the basics right
Going back to basics, we’ve discovered that it really pays to over-communicate too. We encourage every team leader to check in daily with their team, and Europe and North America run Monday virtual stand-ups, giving everyone an opportunity to share their news.
When working remotely, we’ve realised attitude also matters more than ever. If you’re using a medium like Slack, it’s all too easy to lapse into firing off hasty requests or demands, so we urge our team to behave how they would in person. Granted, writing chatty messages might take a few more seconds, but being polite reinforces the relationship. And ultimately that means deeper connections, a stronger sense of teamwork and better results.
The brilliant virtual coffee app Donut also helps our far-flung colleagues build relationships. It pairs random team members on Slack and encourages them to arrange a virtual coffee or chat, prompting them to get to know one another. It throws out random conversation starters too, which are great for sparking spontaneous chit-chat between distant colleagues. What’s your favourite form of potato? Mine’s a French fry.
It pays to invest
Of course, being radically remote doesn’t mean we can’t party. Our virtual socials have involved scavenger hunts and cocktail making, and at Christmas, we all join forces for some festive fun, with partners invited too. We give each employee £100 to spend on food, drinks and decorations, and then the remote revelry begins.
The only snag? Time zone troubles mean our Canadian colleagues kick things off with their breakfast cereal, while those of us in Europe are sipping mojitos and margaritas. Nevertheless, everyone gets stuck into the celebrations, whether that means showing off their acting skills in a game of ‘guess the Christmas movie’ or broadcasting their favourite cracker joke.
Of course, where possible we’ll always encourage colleagues to hang out in person too. If teammates arrange a social, we’ll happily make the budget available for dining out, and as a business, we’ve pledged to bring the entire company together once a year. And for anyone flying into the UK, our London office is also always open – we welcome colleagues with open arms and an offer of dinner and drinks.
Solutions for success
It hasn’t always been an easy ride but, as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, I’m increasingly confident that our team-building tactics are working. The distance between our European and North American colleagues spans some 9,000 kilometres, yet firm friendships have formed. Just ask our tech team, who enjoy virtual gaming sessions, or our Italian crew, who meet up in Milan.
A recent PWC survey of 4,000 businesses showed that remote working has boosted productivity, and that certainly echoes our own experience. Over the last couple of years, we’ve promoted multiple employees to senior roles and, despite our turbulent
times, I’m relieved to say our workforce is more engaged than ever. Strong team relationships are vital for productivity and morale, and with a bit of thought, we’ve found the glue that binds us together. What solutions have you discovered, when it comes to uniting your virtual team?
Gideon’s been leading digital brands for over 20 years. He’s proud to have built and businesses for the likes of Universal, HMV and LetsBuyIt.com, but right now he’s busy helping other brands acquire new customers in an altogether smarter way. He’s the Founder and CEO of Buyapowa (https://www.buyapowa.com/), and they’re the world leaders in reward marketing, and their platform powers customer acquisition for over 200 leading enterprise brands across 27 countries and in 21 languages.