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Culture Building in Remote Teams: Definition and Key Challenges

Culture building: yet another Silicon Valley buzzword?

As a management theory, ‘culture’ might sound like it came out of a Silicon Valley consultants playbook.

And it’s true that creating a positive working culture is a trend that happened partly in response to working environments that were all about “crushing it”, “the hustle” and“growth at all costs”.

For many, that all-encompassing, obsessive, working all hours culture is the definition of an unhealthy working environment.  

As concerns over employee mental health and wellbeing have come to the forefront, creating a positive culture has focused on a wide variety of holistic approaches, making sure that teams are better looked after, which in turn self-motivated staff to work harder and smarter.

Culture building in remote teams: does it make any sense?

When it comes to remote teams, many wonder whether they’re as productive as those who are working together in the same office. Research not only shows that they are, but in fact, they’re even more productive.

Professor Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford and co-director of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, conducted a nine-month project at the Chinese travel company, Ctrip, in Beijing.

Bloom’s research found that call center workers who worked from home were more productive than the same number of staff working in the office.

Over the nine months, the staff who wanted to work from home took13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them.

Compared to those in the office, remote home workers don’t “experience what we call the “cake in the break room” effect.” Remote workers also worked longer hours and saved the company $1,900 per employee over the nine-month experiment.


It goes to show that when you’ve got the right company culture and structure in place, and consequently recruit and retain the right people, remote workers can be productive, but only if you manage to grow positive culture within your team.

Challenges building a remote team culture

Building a company culture when everyone is in the same office is a lot easier than when your team is remote.

Whether fully or partly distributed, the model of working from the same office or place of work hasn’t changed for centuries because it is largely effective, for the majority of people.

Humans are social animals. We need structure. We need to be around one another.  

However, that does create at least 2 limitations.

  1. It limits the talent pool a company can draw upon.
  2. It limits the types of employees a company is going to attract.

For some knowledge economy workers, including developers and software engineers, remote working has become a way of life, with people traveling the world, working and living where they want, for whoever they want, while moving around for months at a time, even years.

People want the freedom to work from home, from a Starbucks, from a trendy co-working space, even from a beach.  

Thanks to the Internet, to Wi-Fi and 4G, social networks and cloud-based tools, we now have the freedom to work anywhere for anyone.

@calebminear — Unsplash

Nicole Wood, CEO & Co-founder at Ama la Vida believes:

The moments that shape culture are often the in-betweens: the elevator chats, the brainstorms around the whiteboard, the inside jokes. These are hard moments to recreate in a remote environment when interactions are so planned and intentional. That’s why it’s so important to be utilizing the right tools that provide the opportunity for these connections to still take place.

There are now numerous examples of startups and more established businesses who’ve managed to overcome these challenges, which we will look at next.

Although every company faces its own challenges, when building a culture for a remote team, they largely fall into these categories:

    • Geographical, timezone and in some cases cultural differences between team members and even clients;
    • Not enough synchronous communication, depending on where people are based;
  • Difficulty creating and maintaining a team spirit/teamwork and cohesion.

If you know how to turn these challenges into opportunities for growth – you have greater chances to succeed, no matter how many roadblocks you leave behind.

Head on over to the next part of this article to learn how Zapier, Litmus, and Buffer succeed at remote culture building.

Enjoy reading!

Written by
Mary Atamaniuk

Mary Atamaniuk is a digital content strategist, her areas of interest include digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship, and influencer blogging.

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