Despite what people may tell you, you don't need an office to create an incredibly satisfied, fulfilled and, ultimately, happy team.
I know this because every week when I read the feedback we get from our remote team spread across 30 countries, it usually looks like this:
"Even though we are all remote, I never felt as close to a team as this one." - Henrique B.
I've been building happy teams remotely since I was 10-years-old using the family computer to manage a Heroes of Might and Magic III team across the world.
And I love what I do, so I want to share the three most important things I've learned over the years that can boost your remote team's atmosphere, engagement and satisfaction.
#1: Create asynchronous opportunities for people to connect.
One of the hardest lessons I've learned about trying to engage a remote team is that live, real-time experiences (like a Google Hangout or a live game night) simply don't work when your team is spread across multiple timezones.
People joined your remote team because they bought in to the idea of flexibility.
Once you start trying to coordinate meetings or events or anything that starts to dictate their schedule, they will get turned off and only attend if absolutely required or if it naturally fits into their schedule.
Not to mention it's hard to coordinate any sort of activity with people in London, New York and Sydney at the same time.
You have to instead think about:
"How can I get my team to hang out with each other more often ***asynchronously?***
Here are some examples of things we do asynchronously, entirely via Slack, that get far better participation than anything real-time:
Asynchronous idea 1: Games
This first example might be too geeky for your team, but hey, that's our style.
We've got a dice rolling bot, custom made artwork, and our team's biggest geeks (including me) helping tell our company's fictional, superhero-based origin story.
Again, it might not be your thing, but Slack has plenty of inspiration and bots that help your team have fun asychronously. Just get creative.
More game ideas:
One I've done many times is I'll grab a villain from Google Images, I'll become them using Slacker, and then have them take credit for introducing some of our project's recent bugs. In order to defeat the villain, we have to fix those bugs. Using Slacker, you can then taunt your developers as the villain, which motivates them in ways you never imagined.
Quizdom bot - for the teams with trivia buffs
Scorebot - for the teams that love being competitive
Autocompete - think Family Feud, but with Google queries...played via Slack.
Game Night - something we're going to be doing soon is an async game night where everyone buys a $20 game on Steam, gets reimbursed for it, plays it at some point during the 24-hr event, and then shares the experience in Slack so everyone can learn about new games to play.
Tournaments - We're currently holding a tournament in our community to promote learning, growing and sharing knowledge with others. We split the community into teams to also form new bonds with one another and motivate each other. The results have been great, and we keep them engaged each week by posting progress videos like this one:
Asynchronous idea 2: AMAs
I'm really not a fan of icebreaker games (then again, who is?).
A great alternative is by finding out what each of your team members is passionate about, and then hosting an AMA with them on that topic.
Another way of doing AMAs is doing them by channel topic. For example, we do AMAs in our #travel channel whenever someone gets back from a nomading trip to another country.
The AMA should last the entire 24 hours of the day, giving the host flexibility to answer whenever. Make sure to advertise it ahead of time so people show up with a question ready.
It allows people an opportunity to learn something new from someone with hands-on experience and/or a ton of passion around the topic.
Remember: You have a ton of knowledge and passion you can tap into every day on Slack. You just have to unlock it by creating the opportunities.
Asynchronous idea 3: Charity drives
Last December, we ran a charity drive via Slack where we gave everyone $50 to donate to a charity and we'd reimburse it.
The only catch was that they had to write in Slack about the charity they were donating to and why.
That catch created an incredible momentum and stream of posts in our main Slack channel, as each person inspired the next person to find a charity to donate to.
You can see all the charities they donated to here.
Consider doing something like this on a monthly (or even weekly) basis.
Each week can bring a different activity the team can do to add to the fundraising amount you contribute. Then choose activities (like posting photos or writing nice notes to send the charity) which will get more asynchronous action going in your channels.
Get creative and tap into the hearts of your team. The effects are incredibly meaningful.
#2: Create opportunities to learn and grow.
Have you ever asked yourself why you joined the company you work for now?
Usually the answer is, "To make more money."
Yet when you end up quitting, your reason usually starts with, "I found a better opportunity where I'll have a bigger impact, I'll learn more and I'll grow more."
As much as we are driven by money when getting a job, what really drives us on a daily basis and what keeps us motivated in our job is whether we're growing, whether we're gaining new skills, doing new things, achieving new goals.
If we're not, we're not getting that wonderful dopamine hit often and we're getting bored, depressed, unfulfilled and demotivated.
One of the greatest benefits when working remote is that you gain back so much time that you lose when commuting to an office or getting distracted by coworkers and endless meetings.
Use that time your team now has to help them learn and grow, every day.
These are all things you can do with them:
- Talk with them about their goals for the year. If they don't have any, help them come up with some. If they have too many, help them focus by narrowing it down into an achievable list. We create achievable "paths" in a custom app we built, but you can easily use Trello to track goals as well.
Help them find an online course/tutorial/etc. that will help them grow (and ultimately bring new value to the company) and pay for it if needed.
Sponsor them to go to a conference where they'll get to meet likeminded people, be inspired by talks and get to be in a fresh new environment.
Better yet -- inspire them to submit a talk to a conference, one of the most rewarding, inspiring and morale-boosting things you can do.
Also, once someone picks a conference, ask if others want to attend with them so you can create a great in-person team experience centered around a moment of growth, learning and inspiration.
Having fun with a drone at SmashingConf Barcelona
Most important of all: Celebrate achievements in Slack
Create a Slack channel (or use the main team channel) where you (or each team member) can post about the goals they're achieving from their list.
This way they celebrate together, motivate one another, and discover new goals they might want to achieve as well.
Ask them publicly about what they learned, how it went, and what's next for them.
This channel is all about inspiration and motivation for the whole team. It works amazingly well at pumping up the energy in Slack and is core to our culture today.
Never forget: The people on your team joined your company expecting to grow. Help them achieve that, and they'll be incredibly grateful and happy.
#3: Create opportunities for in-person meetups.
As much as we all love the flexibility of being remote, you have to sacrifice it at least once/year to build and maintain good, empathetic relationships with your teammates.
Like I mentioned earlier, conferences are a great way to get everyone together, be inspired together, and create that ever-important bonding time that will keep them motivated for months to come.
Others though will want even more interaction than once per year, and it's great to think of other ways to satisfy that need.
Our solution is called X-Outpost.
It's quite simple -- we rent out a massive Airbnb, anyone from our team can go live and work there together any time they want for up to 6 weeks, and then everyone leaves.
Here's a photo from our winter X-Outpost's backyard in Thailand:
We make sure to pick areas where they'll be able to do a variety of activities together, such as snorkeling, hiking, motorbiking, gaming, etc.
Rinse and repeat multiple times per year in multiple locations around the world and you have a roaming office that's always there for anyone who wants to cowork, explore and even live together.
Whether you like it or not, people need that in-person bonding and for those who need it more than others, you need to create these sorts of opportunities for them to engage with one another outside of Slack.
"If you're not having fun with it, neither are they."
I wish I could remember the first person to tell me that line, because it has guided so much of my career.
Engaging, motivating and inspiring a team entirely through a chat box is easier than we all think.
As long as you're having fun with it, there's a good chance they will, too.
(And in case you missed it: the perfect example is our fitness survival game, Fit-Quest.)
So if there's anything you take from skimming this article, it's this: have fun with everything you do with your remote team, always strive to find ways to inspire and motivate them, never hold back from trying new ideas, and watch as your team becomes incredibly grateful to work for you.
Ryan Chartrand is the CEO of X-Team and is dedicated to creating the most motivating remote environment that inspires developers to learn and grow.