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How We’ve Built a Remote Company Culture to Be Grateful For

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This Thanksgiving, I’m thinking about our team and how far we’ve come. Here’s what we’ve learned.

I don’t get choked up often.

But a few weeks ago, sitting at the dinner table with my wife, I couldn’t help myself.

That morning, I had missed our team’s daily video check-in because of a doctor’s appointment.

It was the day after halloween, and Jared, one of our developers, had done the call in full costume.

He pulled off a pitch-perfect Donald Trump, and while I missed it, Serg, another one of our developers, managed to capture part of Jared’s impression on video.

No, it wasn’t the impression that made me emotional.

The video showed just how much fun our team was having together, despite being strewn about all four corners of the globe.

And later that night, when I was showing the video to my wife, I began to think about just how special that is, and just how amazing our team is, and just how lucky I am to have them with me.

Building a strong culture is a challenge in any company. It’s even more challenging on a remote team, where you can’t schedule weekly happy hours or team lunches for people to connect with one another.

So today, as we approach Thanksgiving, I wanted to share some of the things that have worked for us in building that strong remote culture, and publicly express my gratitude for the incredible team that we have.

3 Key Ways We’ve Built a Strong Remote Culture

I love how Rand Fishkin described culture in his interview with us:

Culture is the user experience of the company itself.

We’ve had a lot of stops and starts over the years building the user experience of our company, and there are a few key things that have stood the test of time as massive contributors to a positive culture:

1) Recreating the Water Cooler

In a traditional office, the water cooler is the place where people talk about their personal lives. Where they “shoot the shit” and build relationships with the rest of the team.

Water coolers matter.

A lot.

And if you want your remote team to have any semblance of camaraderie, you’d better provide a water cooler for them, too.

For us, that water cooler is Slack.

Rather than discouraging non-Groove discussion, we embrace it as a huge part of letting our team members show off their “real” selves, and of getting to know one another as more than just “our [developer/designer/marketer/CEO/support agent/etc…].”

2) Regular Meeting Rhythm

We all talk to each other, on video, every single day.

It might seem like a waste of time or a distraction to some, but it actually makes us more productive (more on that here), and it also strengthens the bonds among our employees in a really meaningful way.

This is an important point that I want to stress: we don’t have meetings for the sake of having meetings, which is one of the most wasteful practices that far too many companies take part in.

We have short, very deliberately structured meetings each day that help our team understand exactly what to expect from each other that day.

This helps us save far more time—in distracting “tap on the shoulder” requests for updates, projects stalling while waiting for someone else’s contributions, and the need for one-on-one sync-up meetings—than the meetings take.

Here’s what our daily standups look like:

Someone needs to be in charge of keeping meetings in check, and bringing the team back on course if we begin to stray. Lesley owns meetings for our team, and handles scheduling and moderating.

Monday Recap Meeting — 30 Minutes

20 Minutes — Chat about weekends, personal things, anything that the group wants to discuss. This is culture time.

2 Minutes — Good news. Anybody that has good news (Groove-related or otherwise) shares it now, giving the team the chance to celebrate victories each day.

7 Minutes — Standups. Each team member shares what they accomplished the previous week, what they’re planning to work on in the coming week, and what blockers stand in their way. No more than 60 seconds per person, often less. This takes practice to be able to do well, but now that we’ve all gotten good at it, it’s an incredibly powerful way to distill the most important things that the team needs to know about.

30 Seconds — Numbers. I share the previous week’s metrics with the team.

30 Seconds — Word of the day. A fun way to put an exclamation point at the end of each meeting. Lately our word of the day has come from a random Cards Against Humanity card that Lesley pulls each day.

Tuesday–Thursday Daily Standup — 10 Minutes

2 Minutes — Good news.

7 Minutes — Standups.

30 Seconds — Numbers.

30 Seconds — Word of the day.

Friday Update — 20 Minutes

2 Minutes — Good news.

7 Minutes — Standups.

30 Seconds — Numbers.

30 Seconds — Word of the day.

10 Minutes — Lesley shares customer feedback from the week, both good and bad. This is enormously helpful in putting our customers front and center for every member of the team, and making sure that we’re all thinking about why our customers do business with us, and what we can do better.

3. Hiring Great Remote People

A great worker isn’t necessarily a great remote worker. There are plenty of exceptionally talented people who work far better in an office environment.

Remote working is a skill like any other, and sometimes an employee who isn’t at their best simply hasn’t focused on working on that skill yet.

But sometimes, it’s simply a case of temperament or preference. In these cases, those folks are better off not working remotely.

A lot of people don’t make the distinction between good workers and good remote workers, but it’s such an important one, and it’s the only way to pull off a successful distributed team.

In addition to the standard “fit” questions—are they capable of the role, do they believe in and reflect our core values, are they someone we’d like to hang out with?—we look for a few key factors when it comes to assessing whether someone is a good fit for our remote team:

A Special Thank You to the Entire Groove Team

As all of us here in the States think about what we’re grateful for this Thanksgiving, I can’t help but get emotional about how proud I am of the team we’ve built at Groove.

So this year’s Thanksgiving shout-outs go to them.

Thank you…

To Jared, for always tackling your work with a sense of humor that makes all of our days better.

To Lesley, for never being afraid of the often-messy work of customer support, and for being a champion for both our customers and our team.

To Jordan, for leading the troops and always challenging our processes to make them better and more efficient.

To Matt, for your Terminator-like ability to work through anything and everything to get things done, and for your endless visa runs being an endless source of entertainment for the team.

To Marcin, for your passion, grit and attitude that inspire me on the days I need it most.

To Serg, for rolling up your sleeves and making an impact in every corner of the company on a daily basis.

To Len, for crushing it week in and week out on the content front for the last four years.

To Glenn, for seamlessly gelling with a new team in record time, and for bringing your Aussie accent to our daily standups at 1AM Melbourne time.

To Stefan, for always knowing what to do to give our content a game-changing visual makeover.

To David, for encouraging us, asking smart, difficult questions, and continuing to point us in the right direction with your expertise and experience.

To Kris, for always pushing us to be better and helping us channel the energy of a growing team to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Have a Great Thanksgiving!

And a huge thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, sharing and engaging with us every day.

I have a lot to be thankful for today, and I hope you do, too.

To those of you celebrating, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

And to everyone, thank you.

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About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

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