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The Smarter Startup

From Isolation to Integration: Strengthening Team Culture at Your Remote Startup

Effective team and culture-building are keys to thriving in this new era of remote and hybrid work.

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the work landscape, bringing remote and hybrid models to the forefront. While the crisis may have faded, the changes in work style it brought about have left a lasting impact on how startups operate, with many startups continuing to embrace a remote-only or remote-first model for their workers.

Building a strong culture at startups with remote workforces is essential for fostering connection, engagement, and productivity among dispersed teams. In a remote setting, where physical distance can often lead to feelings of isolation, a strong culture serves as the foundation for building meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging. It promotes open communication, collaboration, and shared values, creating a cohesive work environment where employees are supported, valued, and aligned with the company’s mission and goals.

Here are some of my top best practices for building a strong team and culture at startups with remote workers:

  1. Establish Clear Communication Channels: Utilize multiple communication channels such as video conferencing, Slack or other instant messaging tools, and email to facilitate open and transparent communication within remote teams.
  2. Create Virtual Team Norms: Collaboratively establish team norms and guidelines for remote work, such as response times for emails and messages, meeting availability, and communication preferences to ensure clarity and alignment among team members. Designate a “priority” communication channel so important messages don’t get missed—for example, at Burkland our priority channel is Slack.
  3. Regular Check-Ins and One-on-Ones: Schedule regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings between remote managers and team members to share feedback, discuss goals and priorities, address any challenges or concerns, and offer support and guidance.
  4. Encourage Social Interaction: Create virtual spaces for informal social interaction, such as chat channels or virtual water coolers, where remote employees can engage in casual conversations and build relationships beyond work-related discussions.
  5. Virtual Team Building Activities: Organize regular virtual team building activities like donut time, online games, happy hours, karaoke, pet meet-and-greets, virtual walking tours, book clubs, cooking classes, scavenger hunts, and team challenges. There are endless ways to foster camaraderie and strengthen relationships among remote team members. Get creative and have fun!
  6. Recognize and Celebrate Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate individual and team achievements through virtual recognition ceremonies, shoutouts in team meetings, or sending personalized thank-you notes to remote employees, fostering a culture of appreciation and recognition.
  7. Promote Work-Life Balance: Encourage remote employees to establish boundaries between work and personal life by setting clear expectations around working hours, taking breaks, and unplugging after work. A healthy work-life balance helps promote overall well-being and prevent burnout among your team members.
  8. Invest in Virtual Training and Development: Provide remote employees with access to virtual training and development opportunities, such as online courses, webinars, and skill-building workshops to support their professional growth and career advancement.
  9. Promote Diversity and Inclusion: Foster a culture of diversity and inclusion within remote teams by actively seeking diverse perspectives, creating inclusive spaces for all employees to contribute, and addressing any instances of bias or discrimination promptly and effectively. Embrace and celebrate the cultural diversity within your team by recognizing and honoring different traditions, holidays, and customs and creating inclusive initiatives and events that reflect team members’ diverse backgrounds and experiences. Consider creating a DEIB committee among your employees to plan activities and initiate programs.
  10. Encourage Peer Mentoring and Support: Facilitate peer mentoring and support networks among remote employees, where more experienced team members can mentor newer hires, share knowledge and best practices, and provide guidance and support as needed.
  11. Encourage Cross-Functional Collaboration: Foster unity, collaboration, and knowledge sharing across different teams and departments by creating opportunities for cross-functional projects, joint initiatives, and interdepartmental meetings.
  12. Lead by Example: Set a positive example as a remote leader by demonstrating empathy, transparency, and accountability in your communication and actions and actively fostering a culture of trust, respect, and collaboration within your remote team.
  13. Solicit Feedback and Input: Regularly solicit feedback and input from remote employees on team dynamics, communication practices, and areas for improvement, and take proactive steps to address any issues or concerns raised. Requesting and responding to feedback from remote team members demonstrates your company’s commitment to ongoing improvement and employee satisfaction.

Intentionally fostering a strong company culture helps your startup attract top talent while enhancing employee engagement and retention. Moreover, it provides a framework for adaptability, resilience, and consistency, enabling remote teams to navigate challenges, maintain productivity, and drive success in an increasingly decentralized work landscape.