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Five ways to build a thriving culture in a remote team

Brad Vogel

CTO at Mixmax

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Problem

At Mixmax, a quarter of our engineering team is remote. When I became CTO, it was the first time I had managed remote engineers, so we went through some "growing pains" figuring it all out. The remote employees weren't as engaged as the onsite employees and our company's progress suffered as a result.

Actions taken

The most important key to an effective, distributed team is hiring the right people for remote work. When looking for the right remote hire, you must raise your hiring bar for the candidate's experience, their professionalism, and most importantly, their communication skills. Think of it as setting these expectations to 150 percent of what you'd normally need for an on-site candidate.

"Replicate the proverbial 'water cooler'."

We have company stand-up twice a week and "engineering co-working" once a week. These meetings are held in front of a video conference enabled TV where we can include the remote team. We usually open these meetings with "small talk" to encourage team bonding - just as the onsite team would do around the proverbial "water cooler" in the employee break room. This is a great way to facilitate office banter and share product ideas. The "water cooler" is often the birthplace for many new product ideas.

"Escalate" conversations when chat doesn't suffice.

There's nothing more frustrating than having to type a long message over chat just because you can't walk over and speak to them live. This leads to frustration on both sides. Be very quick to say "Hey, let's chat live" and get on a video chat or call their phone.

Set core company hours. It's important that you maximize the overlap with your remote team as much as possible, while still being flexible enough to provide for different time zones. For example, we set our "core company hours" at 2-4pm so our US East Coast remote engineer can overlap with our Australian remote engineer. Be explicit with the team about maintaining these core hours.

Bring all of your team together at least once a year. We've had some amazing off-sites at Mixmax and a whole lot of fun!

Lessons learned

It was through these actions - encouraging small talk, improving communication channels (e.g. video chat), and setting core company hours - that we created an awesome remote team culture. Our remote team is no different to us than our onsite team, and just as productive.


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Brad Vogel

CTO at Mixmax


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