The move towards a remote-first workforce was accelerated during the pandemic lockdowns. Many people were forced into a situation they didn’t know how to navigate. Some organizations adapted well, while others became fragmented. Some time ago, I interviewed Dr. Troy Hall, the author of Cohesion Culture: Proven Principles to Retain Your Top Talent. He’s one of the contributing authors of my book on burnout recovery. The interview, book, and my experience having worked remotely on and off for the past two decades keeps organizational cohesion top of mind for me, and I wanted to know more. So, I asked 9 start-up founders, team builders, and senior-level decision-makers how to create a cohesive culture for remote workers. Their answers are below.
- Host Fun Gatherings
- Establish Clear Remote Work Guidelines
- Track Progress Together
- Promote Collaboration Through Activities
- Treat Your Employees Like Family
- Provide Guardrails and SOPs for Cohesion
- Be Open to Experimentation and Learn from Mistakes
- Embrace Gamification
- Connect and Communicate
Host Fun Gatherings
We have a fully remote team, which makes cultivating a cohesive culture more challenging—but it’s far from impossible. My co-founder and I started a placement agency and our workforce comprises personal assistants who are assigned to high-profile clients across Los Angeles and beyond. It’s a demanding job, and it shouldn’t feel to anyone on our team like they’re on an island whenever they need questions answered or advice on how to handle a problem.
We host a gathering every month. During the fall of last year, we attended a Dodgers game while the team was just a few games away from clinching the division. We had a blast and it not only let our workforce burn off a little steam, but you could also see how much the activity brought everyone closer.
We replicate that every month with a unique experience. Our team members know they can lean on each other and help each other whenever someone needs it.
Establish Clear Remote Work Guidelines
My company does a lot of outsourcing to remote talents to do tasks, for example in marketing or translation, so we create clear guidelines to make sure everyone agrees. We make sure our expectations are communicated clearly from the beginning and still give flexibility to them.
Our guidelines, for example, contain work hours per week, but the tasks can be done at any point during the day, so everyone can set their own schedule. We also agreed to track our talents’ performance through a weekly report or time tracking if needed. To assist and manage our team and task assignment, we use team and task organization software. They are extremely useful since we don’t have to tell everyone individually; everyone knows what everyone else is doing and how far the progress is.
Track Progress Together
Our organizational structure is fairly relaxed—everyone takes part in decision-making and we don’t have strict job roles or designations. One of the most important things I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that it’s really important to track our progress together.
We schedule regular meetings so that everyone can share updates on what they’ve been working on, as well as their ideas for future projects. This helps to ensure that everyone always knows what’s going on and encourages an open dialogue about potential improvements to processes and workflows.
We also often take breaks together—whether it’s for a game night online or group lunch over video chat—which helps us stay connected every day and reinforces our commitment to collaborate equally while working remotely.
Promote Collaboration Through Activities
Our organizational structure is an online functional org structure where workers are divided by skill set and primary function, and further divided into PT, FT, and seasonal roles. Planning regular virtual team socials help unite these different groups. A key factor in creating a cohesive culture for a remote/hybrid workforce is to focus on team bonding activities.
Promoting collaboration, creativity, and communication via online platforms can be an uncommon way to connect individuals within the organization. For example, hosting monthly virtual game nights such as Jackbox—where different employees can join and play games together in real-time—has been found to create strong relationships within remote teams.
By taking the time for these types of engagement sessions, employees can become more comfortable with each other and form friendships which encourages trust and open communication throughout the entire organization.
Treat Your Employees Like Family
We treat our employees like they are part of our extended family, which we like to call internally our “GhostBed Family.” This has helped to have greater collaboration, teamwork, and a shared sense of purpose, as everyone cares about the well-being of their colleagues.
As a fifth-generation family business, we hold regular multi-department weekly meetings to have an open line of communication and community among remote and hybrid employees. By bringing different departments together, these meetings can help to break down silos, encourage cross-functional collaboration, and foster a sense of community among employees who may not interact face-to-face as frequently. It’s kind of like sitting down for a family dinner to share important information, provide updates, and address any concerns or questions.
Provide Guardrails and SOPs
You need to set guardrails and SOPs for team communication. Without those standards, you’ll find that remote communication can quickly get messy. As an agency, we use email to communicate directly with clients, and we use Basecamp for project communication.
We also walk each team member through how to communicate effectively in Basecamp during onboarding. This keeps online communication organized so that things don’t fall through the cracks and minimizes miscommunication.
Be Open to Experimentation and Learn from Mistakes
One of our core values is that we “protect the pack.” This means we are each responsible for supporting and uplifting one another to ensure our collective success. This supportive environment makes everyone—no matter their role—comfortable asking for help, seeking and giving feedback, and lending a hand.
You could say we’re leaning into vulnerability to create the best environment and energy for the team to thrive, even when the path is winding. Because while failure and discomfort are necessary to achieve big things, having a win-or-learn mindset makes people less fearful of losing their jobs when experimenting and taking risks.
Gamification has worked well for us at SEOAnt in building a more cohesive hybrid workforce with in-office and work-from-home employees able to compete in fun multiplayer games on our company’s intranet.
The leaderboard is updated daily, with some challenges also being team-based such that several members of the same department pit themselves against members of another department. The structure of our company is networked, with C-level executives, including myself, also being team leaders with several team members below them.
The twist comes in when we also partner with several gig workers to outsource some of our projects, and they have to report first to the team members they were working with and later to team leaders.
Connect and Communicate
Creating a cohesive culture when employees are not co-located relies heavily on maximizing your opportunities to connect and communicate with all your teams. I advise using every method possible, direct messages, video, live video calls, and company updates, to stay connected to staff and share how company culture is playing out for your organization.
Quite often, company culture is best explained with actions. Show your workforce who you are, what you care about, and why what you all do matters, and they will feel engaged and motivated—no matter where they’re located. AnswerConnect has a fully remote, global workforce. We operate 24/7/365 and lean into human connection, often facilitated by great technology.
A Snackable Solution for Cohesive Culture
Here’s a clip from my interview with Dr. Hall:
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