Founder of Four Sigmatic – a functional foods company making the world’s most nutrient-dense foods more delicious and easier to consume.
For the last 9.5 years, I’ve been running my functional food company as a fully remote team. Now in the new normal of remote (or at least hybrid work) for many industries amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re no longer the outlier.
It’s possible you’ve been leading a remote team for about 18 months now. You’re navigating daily how to ensure no one feels lonely or burned out. You’re probably coming up with new ways to make sure people are engaged in Zoom meetings.
I’ll let you in on a secret of remote work: getting together in person.
In-person time can become even more crucial as you scale.
When my company started working remotely, we had the great luxury that the founding team all knew each other from before starting the company, and we talked to each other almost daily. So despite not being in the same room (or even the same country), we could collaborate well. As we grew from four to eight, we wanted the same freedom with remote work. We no longer had the luxury of knowing each other for years, but we were able to talk almost daily in smaller groups and meet quarterly for various trade shows, consumer events and team weeks.
Starting out, you may find that something similar to this works for your team. But as you scale, you may find (as I did) that this ad hoc time together doesn’t always work as well with growing numbers. I think it’s important to be more mindful of both your remote and in-person time as your company expands.
Put a date on your calendar.
For remote teams, I suggest to still look for ways to be together in-person occasionally (and as it is safe to do so). For example, my company started doing two in-person team summits every year. These are optional if anyone can’t travel due to their own personal situations, and we pick the dates out at least one year in advance so people can plan around them.
When meeting with your team, make the agenda a mix of fun activities (like karaoke, card games and themed dress-up dinners) and work priorities (setting road maps, reviewing objectives and key results and evaluating performance reviews). When holding in-person team meetings, make sure employees feel safe and follow local safety guidelines, and offer the option to dial in.
You may also want to establish a “real” office for your team members who are in the area. We encourage our L.A. employees to come in at least once a week (and provide lunch anytime they do), and we were even able to gather the whole company together in L.A. last month. While attendance is not back to normal yet, people seem to appreciate the time we get to spend together. In my view, there’s really no replacement for in-person bonding.
What can you do to (safely) bond in-person?
Every company is different — by size, geography, culture and the list goes on. But I strongly believe that all companies could benefit from taking these steps:
1. Plan ahead. Put a date in the calendar — even if it’s six months ahead. Nobody knows how the world will be then, but it’s valuable to have a date you all get to meet. You can evaluate local safety guidelines and recommendations from the CDC and make any necessary adjustments as the time gets closer.
2. Be inclusive. Not everyone may be able to make it because of kids, family or other personal reasons. Bring them in to the meeting somehow. Is it perfect? No. But it’s important to get everyone engaged in a level they are comfortable with.
3. Prioritize safety. People have different risk profiles with travel and Covid-19, so I suggest following CDC recommendations on testing. You can also consider meeting outdoors. For example, my company has gone on hikes and even practiced acro yoga.
4. Make it fun. Skip (or limit) the computer time and presentations. Use icebreakers, play games and sing karaoke to get to know each other. I think this is the most valuable thing you can do in-person and the hardest to do remotely.
Remember, we’re all navigating the “new normal” together. Share what’s working (and what’s not) for your company with your peers. Together we can all get this tour back on the road.