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A lot of managers are struggling with remote onboarding and team cohesion during the COVID-19 shutdowns. 

The 3Q creative team has been distributed across five cities long before, so we had a leg up on the situation. We had already established many tools and traditions to keep our team culture tight-knit, connected, and thriving. 

These strategies and processes have helped us grow even stronger over the past four months of being fully remote, so I want to share them here to inspire others. Some of these are more foundational tips that apply for team building in general, but they all play a big role in building a culture of trust and connection for a remote team setting. 

Thorough, intentional hiring processes

Our interview process is extremely thorough. Video calls with camera on are basically required, in these times where you can’t meet anyone in person. 

Most of our candidates talk to anywhere between six to 10 people before we make a decision. We have role-specific interview questionnaires to ensure we cover all necessary areas of expertise, and there’s a strategic order to the questions asked in the interviews so we don’t “teach” the “right” answers. We also want this process to be a true two-way street. We are not just interviewing the candidates; we make it clear to them that this is also their time to interview us

We also strive to keep it diverse. Oh, and then there’s the Predictive Index, which we also take into consideration to get a healthy mix of personalities. It’s not always a determining factor during the hiring process, but it does provide additional insight about people’s needs—and that can make remote management easier. 

This process is very time-consuming, yes, but it ensures we find not just the right person for the job, but the right person for our team, and also a person who can’t wait to be part of our team. The magical feeling of being excited to see your coworkers (almost) every day more than makes up for the time investment.

Onboarding, trust, and expectation setting

If you’ve been thorough in your hiring process, you can start with trust. I know trust is something that may be hard to achieve for many remote managers, but it is an incredibly powerful motivator—especially for creative problem- solvers. So I highly recommend you give it a try! 

On our team, you basically have to lose that trust, vs. earning it. And to prevent that from happening, to provide guard rails, we have really fine-tuned our onboarding processes and documentation. 

We have heard from every single newly hired member to our team in 2020 that they have never before experienced such thorough onboarding, and how much they appreciate it. Taking all the learnings from the past three years as a rapidly growing team, we have compiled everything one needs to know into an extensive compendium. 

Along with a wealth of information about our team, it contains a training plan per role that involves many different team members conducting video calls to walk the new hire through different rules and processes. It includes 30-, 60-, and 90-day roadmaps that set up the new hire with clear expectations and the materials needed to succeed. 

Our compendium is a document that is updated constantly with the goal of compiling and providing links for a central repository of all the most important information one needs to function on our team.

Empathy and work-life balance

Happy employees do better work; that’s a well-known fact. Creativity flows where you feel safe and supported to throw out disruptive ideas. Team cohesion flourishes where everyone feels encouraged to speak up and challenge the status quo, with the common goal to learn from each other and grow—as people, as a team, as a service provider.

Empathetic leadership within a company that strives to be a leader in diversity and inclusion leads to employees feeling comfortable to show up at work as their true selves. 

All of this leads to better productivity, too! A team where everyone roots for one another means that there’s a culture of one-for-all dedication and whatever-it-takes camaraderie to do the best work, together.

Work-life balance plays an important role in this, too. We mean it when we say we want happy and healthy coworkers. We constantly encourage taking PTO, whether it is for vacation, or just a break for mental health. Need a two-hour hike to clear your head? We’ve got you covered. 

Within a team with a strong bond, the risk of people working too hard is bigger than the risk of people slacking off. Because we show up for each other. So every month, a spreadsheet is sent around to make sure we’re all taking PTO days!

All the Communication!

To encourage what we call “healthy dissent,” we also have invented a lot of ways to stay connected as a team in a newly remote world. 

Slack

Our internal team Slack channels are alive with jokes, personal experiences, and silliness, mixed with team shout-outs, shared learnings, workload-juggling, and resourcing. Team members are highly communicative about their availability, which strengthens the feeling of mutual trust. We all know where everyone is during the day, and what they are working on. 

Bi-weekly Team Check-ins

On Tuesday and Friday mornings, we get together as a team on video chat, and we don’t talk about work. We use this time to build relationships, welcome new people into the fold, and share stories, things we’ve learned, gratefulness,and  praise for coworkers for something they did well. We also discuss current goings-on. These meetings historically have been a safe place where people really open up. We’ve all been in tears over something someone shared. Yeah, we’re seriously allowing ourselves to be that vulnerable, sometimes. At work! And it’s amazing. 

Buddy System

During COVID, to mitigate feelings of loneliness and disconnect from the world, we have also started a buddy system on our team. Everyone is teamed up with one or two buddies, and we check in on each other. On Slack, or sometimes over a cup of coffee on Zoom.

Creative Team Show & Tell

Once a month, we meet as a team, and two or three people present something to the whole group. This can be a creative project they’ve been very proud of, a process someone has developed, a tutorial for the group … really any “creative” presentation, in the largest sense. 

These meetings have multiple benefits: 

  • Public speaking and presentation deck practice
  • Team cohesion
  • Confidence building
  • Shared learnings and creative inspiration

Weekly Wednesday Happy Hours

Also since COVID hit, and with everyone having a reduced social life, we started having a weekly Zoom Happy Hour after work. Attendance is entirely optional. Usually around 5-7 people join, and we hang out and just have fun. These get-togethers are also a great way to bring new hires into the group in a less formal setting.

Let’s not forget 1:1s!

And last but not at all least, of course, at 3Q we have weekly 1:1s where everyone gets a chance to talk to their manager, as well as monthly skip-level check-ins with everyone’s manager’s manager. These meetings are important to stay connected with your direct reports/your managers, to align on goals, aid performance, get advice, solve problems, etc. They are crucial in establishing trust and a support system that continues to evolve over time.

Summarizing: if… 

  • you are diligent about hiring and onboarding
  • you set clear expectations and provide the tools to meet those
  • you lead with empathy and mindfulness of people’s needs
  • you encourage a good work-life balance
  • you start with trust and keep communication alive

… then smooth remote teamwork is not only attainable, but can alter your whole experience, and actually increase team cohesion and productivity, as well as team health and happiness!