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How to Build a Rock Solid (and Totally Rocking!) Culture Within Your Remote Development Team

We’ve all been there—in a club with watery drinks, not-dim-enough lights, music with no bass, and that funky smell behind the bar. When you wait in line to get in, and that’s what you’re met with when you finally cross the threshold, you leave before that first glass is even empty—and you don’t go back.

Your company might not need glow sticks, but you do need enough bells and whistles that your team members (yes, even the remote ones) not only feel the love, they stick around because they want more.

Here’s what remote work culture is, why it matters, and how TurnKey can help you create one that locks your team in for the long term:

  1. What is remote work culture and why should I care?
  2. What is a big (fatal) error to avoid when building a healthy culture for a remote development team?
  3. What specific tactics can create a winning culture for remote development teams?
  4. How can TurnKey help you create and maintain a world-class culture?
  5. Some final thoughts
  6. FAQs

READY TO ROCK STEADY? WE ARE, TOO. CALL TURNKEY AND LET’S GET THIS CULTURE PARTY STARTED.

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1. What is remote work culture and why should I care?

Culture is one of those things that is easy to spot but hard to measure. It might include personalized sticky notes and a rubber ducky with your company name on it, but those aren’t your actual company culture. It’s more of an idea than a tangible item that you can methodically create. But whatever form it takes, it’s incredibly important, especially when it comes to remote work culture where colleagues are often hundreds—if not thousands—of miles away from each other.

Your culture is the North Star that keeps all your developers pointed in the same direction regardless of where they may physically live and work.

Thanks to the widespread use of collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom, culture has become something you can build, maintain, and manage across a globally distributed workforce. Get creative and get busy concocting your special sauce, then get ready to spread it globally.

There are also two enormous benefits that are derived from having a strong culture:

  • It’s easier to attract top talent: Top-level talent will be drawn to the expressed values of the company. A-level engineers want to develop software that is innovative but they also want to work in an environment where they feel energized and empowered.
  • It’s easier to retain top talent: When they get what they need and want from you, they are less apt to go looking for it elsewhere. You know many of them are likely bombarded with recruiting calls so make your culture something they want to stick around for.
In other words, when you create world-class culture, you attract and retain world-class staff that is meaningfully aligned around a common purpose and collective goals.

 

What is a big (fatal) error to avoid when building a healthy culture for a remote development team?

2. What is a big (fatal) error to avoid when building a healthy culture for a remote development team?

Fun fact, there are not one, but two ways companies walk into this buzzsaw. One, they either fail to extend the culture beyond the four walls of headquarters, or two, they try to create a separate and distinct culture for their offshore teams.

Both of these approaches end up making the remote team members feel isolated, like they aren’t part of the fabric of the company. The result is exactly what you’d expect, and—no surprise here—exactly what you don’t want. Low talent attraction, high talent attrition, and weaker productivity since there’s no shared mission over which to work, achieve, and bond.

So how do you put the treacherous power tools away and keep everyone safe and happy? You need to have your management team focus on two key strategic imperatives:

  • Build and maintain your company culture the same way that you build and maintain software. Which is to say: intentionally, consistently, and with clear purpose. Lay the roadmap down and drive, baby, drive.
  • Integrate your remote team members into the overall company culture. Your remote developer in Kiev or Sao Paulo should feel as much a part of the team as the engineer in Denver or Austin. Different cultures + different time zones = all kinds of misalignment.

Pro tip: Put these principles front and center during company leadership meetings and hold executives accountable for ensuring that this strategy is reliably implemented across the firm on a continual basis.

WANT A BUNCH MORE PRO TIPS? CALL TURNKEY. WE’VE GOT THE BUZZSAWS LOCKED UP AND THE KEYS TO THE CULTURE CLUB YOU WANT TO BUILD.

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3. What specific tactics can create a winning company culture for remote development teams?

This is the part of the blog where you go get a fresh oat milk latte and open up your notes app, i.e. pay attention to this and you’ll be a big baller AND a shot caller.

Words without actions are meaningless, so here are key action items you can use to deliver against the high-level strategy above. Don’t talk about it, BE about it:

Create a “Surprise & Delight” onboarding process

Create a “Surprise & Delight” onboarding process

We’ve all seen those onboarding posts on LinkedIn: A new employee gets a box in the mail with a new laptop, the aforementioned rubber duckie with the company logo on it, and a branded fleece jacket. We are hard and we roll our eyes at these photos—right? Okay, Rambo. Just wait until you get a care package like this yourself. You’ll be drawing a bath, pronto.

This type of stuff really does make your remote workforce feel like they’re an important part of your team. Especially when they’re personalized. After you hire TurnKey 😉 ask us about local treats that the remote hires would enjoy. We know the local joints and artisanal goodies.

Equally important to the onboarding box is the onboarding process. Make it clear and seamless so there are no technical hiccups or missed meetings on Day One. Ensure your new remote team member already has accounts set up in your company’s key tools (such as email, Slack, Zoom, etc.) and a Week One agenda—including a contact they can turn to with questions.

Define your company’s mission, values, and goals

You couldn’t build your product without a plan, right? Well, you can’t develop your culture without one, either. Keep in mind you’re probably hiring the glance and swipe generation who have been taught to communicate in 140 characters or less. So curate the heck out of your on-point descriptions. It’s easier to drink from a Dixie cup than it is from a fire hose.

This shared cultural blueprint also acts as a touchstone for decision-making among those who are newer to your organization. For example, if a developer on your team needs to make a decision and their manager is not accessible, they can look to the mission and values to guide their choice. Of course, these pillars of your business are even more important when it comes to your remote workforce, since managers are never physically present. So define your culture, then make it work for you!

Publish transparent, honest communications each week

At TurnKey, we’ve found our most successful clients publish weekly memos to the team reporting positive activities, detailing any challenges the business faces, and establishing clear expectations for what is expected from the team. And they always ask for input, feedback, and kudos to share. Communication truly is a two-way street.

These memos hold people accountable and ensure that communication is consistent and candid. Being honest with your remote team builds the foundation of trust not only between company and staff, but from colleague to colleague. Never be afraid to tell your team the truth and then work together to solve any problem.

Deploy easy-to-use communication tools.

Deploy easy-to-use communication tools

Building a strong remote team culture is much more efficient and attainable than ever before—the culture gods gave us Zoom, Slack, Jira, and more for a reason. The key, however, is requiring everyone on the team (from developers to product managers to QA and more) to employ these tools as the primary channels for communication. And then you need to track that these tools are actually being used!

Another company requirement to implement both at headquarters and with your global team: facetime. Ask that team members always keep their cameras on during remote meetings. We are all visual learners and we form deeper bonds, accountability, and respect with face-to-face interaction (even if it’s virtual).

Conduct virtual team building events

Zoom happy hours have lost their zing. But don’t swear off virtual team building events altogether—just get creative.

Split up into teams and go on a global scavenger hunt or get into a serious Wordle competition. Take a note from your kid’s elementary school and send a fuzzy, stuffed team mascot to your team members, then ask them each to post photos of the little guy’s weekly adventures in a #Where’s_____ (enter your curious little mascot’s name here) Slack channel before they send it onto the next teammate.

Whatever you choose, know that these virtual get-togethers and bonding exercises are important rituals. Your team will appreciate the effort and everyone will feel the love.

Celebrate a diversity of ideas

The best remote team cultures are those that encompass a melting pot of ideas, not a kitchen full of one-ingredient wonders. One way to get your culture bubbling is to formally celebrate different ideas and perspectives. This may mean holding innovation competitions, inviting guest lecturers who are experts in fields outside of your company, or hosting informal “brown bag” webinars from internal members of the team who can describe over a PB&J what they are working on.

Maybe you devote a section of your weekly memo to a “highlight reel” that specifically calls out unique ideas that come from the team itself. It can be anything related to product, productivity, or asking that dragon fruit be added to the fruit basket in the kitchen. Global recipe exchange or book club recommendations? Anything goes. TurnKey has one client that includes “The Off-the-Wall Idea of the Week” in their weekly communication to their remote team members.

Financially support the charitable giving of your remote team members

Since most team members want to have a sense of purpose both at work and in their personal lives, underscore that emotion. Nothing encourages charitable outreach more than support from your employer.

Give them a day off or match any donations they raise or give. By supporting who they support, you’re telling your entire team that what is important to them, is important to you, too.

Over-index on one-on-one meetings

Over-index on one-on-one meetings

Remote development teams lack those in-person chance encounters in the hallways—think of those old-school “water cooler” moments or the compliments shared while walking out of the meeting room. Those meaningful moments in passing create a greater sense of trust and connection.

Hold consistent one-on-one meetings with your key reports. Trickle it down, too (your key reports have one-on-ones with theirs, and so on). Those tiny fibers will strengthen and support the larger relationship between the local and remote teams.

This investment becomes especially important during times of crises or poor company performance; if you’ve put the time in prior, you can rely on your team members to be in the foxhole with you.

Collect feedback from the team

The best company cultures include those who openly receive constructive criticism. (We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—we should listen twice as much as we talk.) This freedom is how stronger bonds are built and work product is improved.

Don’t just collect and toss though. Information without action will make your staff feel disempowered; information with action will make your employees feel motivated and engaged.

Offer mentorship and training programs for upskilling your employees

Top talent is always looking for ways to improve, and there are a few ways you can help them do just that. Provide staff with internal mentors to help guide their careers. Hold training sessions on a range of popular, emerging topics (from marketing to sales to new technologies and more).

Providing such career growth opportunities shows staff that you care about empowering them to be better and that you are willing to invest in them personally. This serves to amplify your overall culture and creates an environment where staff both collaborate naturally and help each other proactively.

FUN FACT: AT TURNKEY WE OFFER ALL OF THE ABOVE PLUS FREE ADVANCED ENGLISH LESSONS FOR THOSE DEVELOPERS WHO WANT TO CONSTANTLY IMPROVE THEIR LANGUAGE SKILLS. WANT SOME? GET SOME.

CALL TURNKEY.

Send physical gifts to show appreciation and bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds

When your communication is consistently online (even with cameras on as mentioned prior), sending something physical here and there makes the world feel a little smaller. It also boosts morale among remote team members and fosters a strong culture.

The gifts you send can be for anything you deem worth celebrating. Bonus points if you plan ahead—hold a team building event or fun getting-to-know-you questionnaire that asks everyone to share what their favorite thing to have on their work desk is—then send something super personalized and meaningful to them! Every time they look at that Nerf basketball net or smell that ylang ylang candle they’ll remember their company values them.

Some gifts don’t need to be physical. We have several customers here at TurnKey who provide free subscriptions to top mental health apps like Calm or Headspace. This is a simple way to show your remote team that you prioritize their wellbeing—while also magnifying the core values of your culture.

How can TurnKey help you create and maintain a world-class culture?

4. How can TurnKey help you create and maintain a world-class culture?

TurnKey is famous for helping clients get and keep the best tech talent on the planet. Part of the special sauce behind our success is a heavy emphasis on remote team culture. We work closely with our customers to ensure that they have fully optimized the cultural “invisible glue” of their remote development team and provide specific recommendations on how to continually outperform competitors in this area.

In fact, we are so focused on culture that we stopped calling our services “offshoring.” That word implies that your remote team is “off” premise and separate. The sense of isolation that “offshore” portends is the opposite of what strong remote development team cultures are all about.

Instead, we call our services “Yourshoring.” This is YOUR team, tightly embedded within YOUR corporate culture, and guided by YOUR core mission and values. There is nothing “off” about our model—with TurnKey, it’s on like Donkey Kong. We fully integrate our remote development teams so that they become core parts of your overall product organization.

So don’t talk about it, be about it. And let TurnKey show you how to build a remote team culture that yields happier developers and boosts productivity. Your remote development team is too important not to strengthen every single element—and with a solid VIP Culture Club in place, you will all reap the rewards!

5. Some final thoughts

When you break it down, it’s simple. Yourshoring with TurnKey means your remote team is YOURS. And you need to treat them as such. Make them feel important beyond the work they do. Give them VIP access to your Culture Club and they’ll give you VIP access to every skill they have. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, it just has to mean something and make people feel valued. You can do that, right? We know you can. And we can help.

ALL DRESSED UP AND WAITING FOR THE BOUNCER TO LET YOU IN? WITH TURNKEY, YOU’RE A VIP, TOO. CALL US AND LET’S BUILD THIS ROCK SOLID THING TOGETHER.

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6. FAQs

How can we extend our internal culture to our remote development team?

Find ways to be inclusive. Build your culture strong and toss it over the pond(s). And put effort into getting to know your global team in the same way you get to know your local team. Just think about what would mean something to you, do it for them, and watch your global team—and your product—come alive.

How can we help our local and remote teams bond?

The same team building you do locally can be extended globally. Have one-on-one meetings to connect the fibers up and down the chain, then work to get to know what drives your global teams. Encourage charitable giving by matching donations. Send personalized gifts to celebrate birthdays or work achievements. Celebrate diverse ideas. Use technology to your advantage. So many more ideas (call us, we’ll help).

Can’t TurnKey just help us figure this all out?

Why yes, in fact, we can. This is what we do all day, every day. (For your competitors, by the way, just sayin’.) Come to TurnKey and get your culture rocking around the clock, and all around the world.

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Andrew Fisher

Technology and software development expert and author

I started creating content before it was mainstream. My expertise lies in software development, cloud computing, IoT solutions, data migration and offshore staffing. Let’s go!