Cultivating a Thriving Remote Work Culture


In today's fast-paced business world, creating a thriving remote work culture is a challenge many leaders face. Part one of this series, “Keeping Employees Engaged in a Fully Remote Company”, discusses that the key to fostering a relationship-friendly environment starts with the leaders. Empowering employees to jump into culture-improving initiatives creates a positive ripple effect, enhancing the overall work atmosphere. By taking these simple yet effective steps, leaders can cultivate a remote work culture that thrives on genuine human connections, ultimately boosting employee engagement and productivity.

As a leader in my company, how do I create a relationship-friendly environment?

A company’s culture will be a direct reflection of the leaders’ personalities, whether you like it or not. As a leader in the company, your first move to ensure you’re setting up your company culture for success is to simply spend time nurturing your own professional relationships within the company. Show employees that it’s encouraged to talk about non-work-related topics to get to know each other better as humans.

One easy approach you can start tomorrow is what’s known as:

The “Connect First” Approach

During one-on-one meetings throughout the week, make it a point to start the meeting by informally talking about life. Talk about your kids and ask your coworker about parts of their life that genuinely intrigue you. There’s no faking this.

Taking even 5 minutes of a 30-minute conversation to talk about anything that can connect two people as humans rather than coworkers is always time well spent. (This approach also tends to make the resulting meeting go much more smoothly.)

Note: We get out of relationships exactly what we put into them. As a leader, you should expect the rest of your employees to put the same effort into their relationships with their coworkers as you do with them. That can be a great opportunity, but can also result in a company full of lackluster, surface-level relationships if you approach them with any level of inauthenticity. 

Facilitate conversations around common interests

…and encourage others in the company to do the same!

Yet again, such a simple change can make a profound impact on the company over time.

At Artisan, we noticed that people tended to bring up music and exercise during meetings occasionally, so we started #music and #fitness channels in Slack and promoted them to the company, encouraging people to use those channels as much as they’d like.

One of the most popular culture initiatives we have now takes place in the #music channel, called Music League. Each participant shares songs within a different category each week. Once songs have been submitted, everyone gets a playlist and can listen all week (and continue to have discussions in #music about what they’re listening to). At the end of the week, everyone votes for their favorite songs from the playlist. Scores are tallied over several weeks - it’s a hit!

We also encourage people to create their own channels based on other topics they want to discuss with colleagues. To date, other channels like #gamers (video games, board games, and everything in between), #homesteading, and #leadership-book-club are a few that have surfaced organically.

For the sports fans in your company, channels like #march-madness or #fantasy-football never fail. These sorts of channels begin as Slack channels but can turn into larger leagues, using the Slack channel as a central communication hub.

Empowering people within the company to help own culture initiatives starts a positive ripple of change.

Company-wide engaging questions

Another small yet effective habit that we have gotten into is posting a ‘Random Friday Question’ in Slack each week. The questions range from personal to work-related, serious to quirky.

Posting a simple question for the entire company to consider, answer, and discuss serves as an organic way for people who don’t typically cross paths to communicate and get to know each other.

Here are some examples of Random Friday Questions you could post in your company’s Slack space that have worked well at Artisan:

  • If you could have the ability to run 100 mph or fly 10mph, which would you choose and why?
  • What is your biggest failure/trainwreck story, work or otherwise?
  • Is cheesecake cake or pie? (This one is surprisingly controversial)
  • What is your favorite household chore?
  • Describe the worst haircut you have ever had. Pictures encouraged!
  • What book are you currently reading or what is a memorable book that you have read? Why do you feel drawn to it?
  • If you could only drink one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? (Fine print: Whatever you choose, you can flip it to contain caffeine, it will hydrate you, and will not negatively affect your blood sugar levels or health)
  • Do you have any pets? Pictures encouraged!

Though these questions seem simple on the surface, over time, employees discussing these topics once per week, every week, allows them to understand how each other’s minds work and builds lasting relationships.

Of course, not everybody in the company responds each week; and that’s okay. But those who do, chime in with unique perspectives, quirky interactions, and lighthearted banter, all from the comfort of their own homes.

In terms of company culture and experience, employees get out of it exactly what they put into it.

Weekend update threads

On Monday mornings in a remote environment, most people are in a similar boat: they just experienced something over the weekend and want to share it with others. In an in-office environment where everyone is funneling into the same building around the same time each morning, these types of outlets for sharing come naturally.

In a remote environment, it’s our job as leaders to enable those interactions by making it as easy as possible for people to have these conversations.

Thus, the ‘Weekend Update thread’ was born.

On Monday morning, we may post a fun fact followed by the words “Weekend Update thread!” At this point, people know that that means it’s time to share their highlights from the past weekend and that pictures are encouraged.

We’re noticing that Artisans are deliberately taking pictures over the weekend to share them with their colleagues on Monday morning.

In a remote culture, the potentially routine task of talking about the past weekend becomes more engaging because we can carefully take the time to decide what questions we want to ask each other. We can also keep the discussion going asynchronously throughout the rest of the day/week!

The Weekend Update thread has proven to be an excellent transition from weekend mode to work mode, as it allows people to mentally distill the past weekend into shareable pieces and informally discuss with their colleagues in the work environment. As weekend update discussions are happening, work for the day is also beginning, so we’re able to share focus between some personal topics and some work topics to transition back into work mode for the week.

Quick Takeaways

To recap, here is a simple list of things you can begin implementing today to begin nurturing a remote culture of engagement and inclusivity:

  1. Implement the Connect First approach during each of your individual 1:1 meetings.
    • No need to officially explain company-wide expectations of the Connect First mentality - simply lead by example.

  2. Informally send a company-wide question, asking people what non-work topics they would appreciate in a forum to discuss amongst coworkers. Include examples such as #gaming, #music, #fitness, or #foodies
    • Once people have responded, create the channels!
    • Then, immediately share links to the channels and encourage people to join and get to know their coworkers on topics other than work.

  3. Next Friday, around mid-morning, choose one of the Random Friday Questions from the list above and simply post it in your company’s #random or #general channel.
    • When people respond, react to their responses using emoji reactions, showing further engagement. Also, probe - ask more questions, and keep the conversation going.

  4. Next Monday morning, post a ‘Weekend Update Thread’ in your company’s #general or #random Slack channel.
    • Make sure to encourage everyone to post pictures!

A thriving remote work culture is not just a goal but an achievable reality. When leaders invest in nurturing relationships, providing spaces for genuine interactions, and encouraging personal connections among team members, organizations can enjoy a more connected, engaged, and harmonious remote work culture that reaps the rewards of improved productivity, stronger team bonds, and a happier workforce!

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Skylar Hinrichs

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