Adventures North of the Border: Remote Culture Poutine
A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend the Running Remote Conference in Montreal, Canada and it was a memorable moment not only for the fact that it was my first in-person conference in almost 2 years (because of the covid-19 situation - I’m glad things are “getting back to normal”) but also for the opportunity to interact with other people and companies and see how they are dealing with this new (and for some, imposed) reality of remote work.
Before pointing out some personal insights and topics that were discussed at the conference, I would like to express how important I believe it is for us to understand and refine remote work, which may not be new to some of us, but it is increasingly the reality for many people around the world who had to migrate to this context, especially due to the pandemics.
With that in mind, one of the key-discussion points addressed at the conference was how to build a culture in a remote context, and if we stop for a minute and think about it, this is really a great question.
Working with multicultural teams composed of people with the most varied backgrounds, experiences, and different ways of doing things who often don’t even occupy the same timezone or at least know each other, how do we insert all this into a cohesive work culture?
This is one of those questions where, unfortunately, we don’t have a specific answer or silver bullet, as it depends on how each company inserts this in their daily routines. But what caught my attention among the approaches presented at the RR Conference is that we could identify pretty much two constants in every one of them: (1) some kind of documentation and (2) the practice of fostering interpersonal relationships.
Whether through prescriptive documentation such as the infamous Gitlab Handbook, a document on Docs/Notion, or even a video on Loom, documentation as a way of spreading organizational culture has proved its efficiency and is used by several companies - it also supports many aspects of asynchronous communication, which is precisely one of the difficulties imposed by the remote context.
Furthermore, it is capital to say that, especially in a context where over-communication is just communication, embedding documentation as part of the team’s work (as opposed to extra work) is extremely important to reduce, for instance, things like the BUS Factor and also because remote work comes with self-governance - Job still needs to be managed somehow - the main difference is that you have to manage yourself for the most part when others would do it for you in different in-office situations.
Another aspect I couldn’t help noticing is that, as early as the onboarding, companies are always concerned with establishing bonds and interpersonal connections, and they do so in the most diverse ways. Convertkit, for instance, chose to create an “Internal Team Stories Podcast” in which Team Members would tell a little about their life story, background, hobbies, some curiosities, and how they got to the point and position they currently occupy in the company.
We can also mention tools such as S’Up for Slack Teams that automatically form “random trios” periodically to talk about what they’re up to, what they’ve been working on, or even share a cool experience they’ve had outside of the work context - Like our own standups.
Whether by adopting tools that “spark connections”, systematized feedback methods or through an in-person meetup - like the one we had in Mexico the other day - the fact is that there are several ways to connect people and it’s exactly through this connection that we can build and form culture. It’s worth saying that especially in a remote context, strategic in-person moments are substantially important because, at the end of the day, shared experiences are what “glue” people together. And through this connection, we can establish a relationship of trust, whether in the execution of a given technical task, providing unsolicited feedback to a colleague, or even navigating and resolving conflicts.
This people-centered vision is so important that even in an event like RR, where companies could be bragging about their various tools and techs, their awesome processes and strategies to establish and run in a remote context, the overall topic kept revolving around PEOPLE.
So, without further ado, and in the wise words of the World’s Greatest Boss: