Distributed organizations can have a team culture every bit as vibrant as their collocated equivalent. All it takes is the conscious effort of the team members, and the willingness to take a little extra time.
In collocated teams, corporate culture tends to emerge organically and automacally. Through hallway conversations, Happy Hour outings, and lunchtime chatter friendships are made and the team’s unique spirit emerges.
Dispersed teams are not so fortunate. Corporate culture can grow slowly or not at all in the thin soil of remote work. And when culture does develop, it may not be of the healthiest variety: plenty of distributed team veterans can tell stories about distrust, resentment, and miscommunication.
What do do? Do we just leave the culture out of work, look at it as “just a job”, and get our camaraderie elsewhere? That’s a possibility. But I don’t think it’s the best option. Work isn’t as much fun when we don’t enjoy the company of our coworkers. And teams that lack a shared culture are less productive.
A better choice is to realize that in distributed teams, the team culture must be an intentional culture. Just as we set ourselves deliberately to the task of communicating and collaborating despite the miles that separate us, so we need to explicitly set about cultivating our team’s character.
The most important step is making sure everyone on the team owns the culture – they understand that it is up to them to create the kind of atmosphere that they want to work in. Once everyone understands this essential fact, their natural creativity should start suggesting ways to draw the team together. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Meet up. Nothing simulates physical proximity quite like the real thing. I believe virtual teams should make an effort to meet up in person several times a year. And when you do, make sure it isn’t all work. Take some time to kick back and have beers together.
- Halo matches. Modern online multiplayer games offer an amazingly rich virtual environment for building team collaboration – or for blowing the each other to virtual kingdom come. Both can be therapeutic. And you don’t have to play competitively. More and more, geographically separated friends are finding that, coupled with voice chat, games like Halo offer a great place to just hang out. :Like a poker game or a golf match, the vehicles, weapons, and other manipulables in the game give you something to do while you chat about whatever is on your mind.
- Have a beer. Schedule a date every now and then when everyone on the team takes their laptop onto the porch or wherever their preferred relaxation spot is, switches on the webcam, and joins each other for a virtual toast.
What are some ways you have gone about intentionally building your team’s sense of community?