Two years before COVID-19 forced organizations to conduct an unexpected remote work experiment, Brand Federation intentionally launched its business on virtual work's feasibility and flexibility. Now, two years after the pandemic’s darkest days, most organizations still struggle with one of the biggest challenges of a remote workforce: building and maintaining a cohesive team culture.
Brand Federation overcame it, and has built an incredible team of accomplished, independent strategists and creatives across two continents and three countries. Regardless of their physical location, our colleagues value the relationships they have with each other and the brand they represent.
Here’s how we built a strong culture remotely.
1. Start work meetings with anything but work.
When it’s time to convene a virtual meeting, whether internal or with outside parties, ease into the proceedings by celebrating a milestone reached by a team member, asking about colleagues’ families, commenting on the latest trending Netflix series, or even talking about the weather. It’s simple, but requires intentionality. Over time, intentionally creating small connection points with colleagues boosts morale, strengthens working relationships, and builds camaraderie central to strong, productive teams.
2. Get your crew together for strictly not work reasons.
In an office, it’s easy to schedule a monthly team lunch or other regular get-together. It’s easy on Zoom, too, with the same intentionality. The tools are just different.
At Brand Federation, our internal team logs into a standing Zoom lunch each month for an hour of conversation. We talk about living abroad and our growing toddlers, new recipes we’ve tried, movies we’ve seen, books we’ve read, and plans we’ve made. I also schedule virtual coffees with colleagues regularly, just to catch up. Though thousands of miles apart in some cases, these conversations bring us, and keep us, closer together as a team.
3. Install a virtual water cooler.
The literal and figurative water cooler is the physical office’s town square, the place where paths, ideas, and gossip cross paths. Slack, Teams, and other online chat services serve this purpose in the digital world. We have a Slack channel, for example, labeled #Breakroom where we post photos, wish colleagues happy birthdays, welcome Fridays, share silly gifs, and take a break. These services offer other avenues for convivial chit chat. We encourage it because it’s another way to strengthen bonds between remote colleagues.
4. Define and share what makes your company different.
At Brand Federation, we value the skills and experience our network of independent specialists brings to our client work. We show how much that value means to us by giving everyone on our team the freedom to live their best lives.
That means they have the flexibility to move, like I did, to Mexico with their families, or structure their workday around obligations outside of work, or otherwise make their “work” work for them. We’re all adults. We know what our jobs entail, what our clients expect, and we trust our colleagues to do and meet them. For many, that’s not 9-to-5 hours, Monday through Friday, at the office. Each team member decides what it means for themselves.
And it works. Four years after launching our business on a remote work model we are exceeding our growth expectations, powered by caring people who support, trust, and encourage each other.
It’s a “corporate culture” unlike any I’ve ever been part of. Intentionally using digital tools to strengthen human connections among a remote workforce has created a foundation for success in a new era of work that, like it or not, is here to stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rian Chandler-Dovis is managing partner, brand strategy and research, at Brand Federation. She blends strong business acumen with creative thinking to uncover deep, actionable insights, and has developed strategies for dozens of the world’s best known brands, including General Motors, American Express, Samsung, PepsiCo, Colgate, Macy’s, MIT, World Wildlife Fund, and others.
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