Even before so many of us started working from home, companies were already mastering the art of distributed teams. Distributed teams are made up of team members working from different locations. Most commonly, distributed team members work in different cities and countries around the world.

Still, with the abrupt pivot to remote work, many leaders worry that, without in-person contact and on-site interactions, team members will struggle to learn and internalize organizational culture. Culture is the DNA of an organization. Consisting of core values, beliefs, and norms that shape everyday decisions and behavior, culture defines the shared values that shape community among staff.

For years we’ve put a lot of stock into designing physical space that promotes the informal dissemination of culture – ping pong tables, colorful murals, snack and coffee bars, and cushy living room areas. Without shared space, we must be more intentional, more skillful, and more proactive when it comes to conveying culture and building community. Here are some best practices for those who lead remote workers and distributed teams.

Over communicate purpose and values. Nothing unites people more than taking pride in a shared purpose. Tell stories and elicit stories from others about values in action to convey “why we exist,” “where we are going,” and “what values guide us.” You can even make heroes out of the people who embody specific values.

Lead with empathy. You set the tone on your team. When you take the time to acknowledge team members as real, thinking, feeling humans on the other side of the screen others will follow your example. Your tone, facial expression, and ability to provide context will be the difference between a team operating out of fear and cynicism or a vibe that is genuinely safe and motivating.

Create traditions for connection. To build community through connections, try including check-ins and check-outs during your weekly recurring meetings. You can find some interesting questions at Icebreaker which offers over 300 questions designed to build rapport, trust, and connection. Other ideas include virtual morning coffee breaks, weekly lunch together, and quarterly online board game tournaments.

Normalize feedback in all directions. Much can get lost or misinterpreted when working from a distance. So setting norms about asking for, giving, and receiving feedback is an essential step if you want your distributed team to be a high-performance and high-satisfaction team. There’s no better resource for learning how to normalize feedback than the book Feedback (and Other Dirty Words).

What are you doing to create a strong culture in a world where team members are increasingly working from a distance?

Image credit: Austin Distel on Unsplash

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