Digital Mums How to create an awesome remote team

How to create an awesome remote team

In the second of our blog series from Jo Dale, our Operations Manager, she talks about the different ways Digital Mums creates a fun and a supportive community culture within a predominantly remote team.

We’ve grown rapidly at Digital Mums and although we have a team of more than 40, only 14% of us are office-based. Most of our team work mainly from home, and live not only in London but all over the UK including Leeds, Bristol and Shoreham. We don't think geography should be a factor when you are recruiting the best fit for a job so have always embraced remote working.  Of course not always being in the same room means there might be a risk of a ‘tumbleweed’ situation, with an empty feel to the office (DMHQ) and no real sense of connection between team, but at Digital Mums it’s the opposite! We have such a strong sense of community, and whilst I don’t mean to sound ‘pollyanna-ish’ about it, when we get together it does feel like being with friends.

I think the way that we communicate has played a big role in fostering this sense of community.

So how do we do it?

It's all about Slack at Digital Mums. It was new to me when I started working here, but I couldn't be without it now! It’s much easier to manage than email, and most importantly, it connects us all as a team. We use it for important company updates and day to day business issues, but we also use it for ‘water cooler chats’ - the kind of conversations you’d have if you were working together in an office.

The aptly named #Random channel was created for this purpose and it is LIVELY. I recently posted about what our Christmas party dress code should be, walked away for 15 minutes and returned to a huge stream of banter, gifs and general hilarity about leopard print.

What works is that everyone is brought in and uses Slack prolifically - I’m not sure it would be so effective otherwise. I remember when I first started at Digital Mums wondering what I should share, and whether anyone else would find the ‘birds dancing to rave music’ YouTube video as hilarious as me but I started to share those things because having a laugh together, remotely or not, is a great way to build relationships and connect us and fun is an important part of our culture.  

A few months ago one of our Co-fos Kathryn set up a channel called ‘Need an Arm Rub’ with the purpose that anyone could post in there if they were having a rough time and needed a bit of a virtual hug. Initially I wondered whether people might feel too exposed to share personal things but I could not have been more wrong. It’s testament to the culture at Digital Mums that the team have felt able to be so courageous in sharing personal stories and challenges, and the way everyone rallies around them in response is amazing. We’ve had team posting about feeling guilty when they’ve been short-tempered on the school run, being broken into at home, and even dealing with loss and grief. I’ve never worked anywhere before where we have permission to share so openly. And why not? It’s real life, we all go through difficulties and it has enriched the strength of our community at Digital Mums that we all bring our full selves to the workplace.

Slack also needs careful managing though.  We are growing so fast that at one point we had new people appearing in Slack unannounced which was obviously quite disconcerting for existing team! We’ve now ironed this out by implementing an onboarding process that means everyone is properly introduced in Slack, with an opportunity for the team to welcome them.

Our other big communication tool is Touchcast videos, which our Co-fos record every Friday afternoon, to keep the wider team updated on company issues.  They are informal, relaxed, usually feature the Co-fos’ dogs Rolo and Cooper (not always intentionally) and are sent out with a disclaimer to indicate the number of F words and whether they are safe to watch in front of the kids. They’re brilliant for hearing what’s happening across the business, feeling connected with the Co-fos and acknowledging outstanding work in the team via a weekly award: ‘Smashing it of the Week’.

Digital Mums How to create an awesome remote team

The IRL meets are important too

All that said, my experience of working with a remote team has also validated what - deep down - we all already know: the experience of working together face to face, physically in the same room is still important no matter how good the technology!

We all do our best to have a physical presence in the office as frequently as possible, and even if we can’t, we each have a plant that gives us a connection to DMHQ. As I write this I can see ‘Carlos’, ‘Me Julie’ and ‘Spike’, the cactuses named and owned by members of the team who will ensure they are watered and cared for via office-based staff.

Many of our mainly remote Delivery and Development team will come into the office one day per week to meet colleagues. Everyone piles in and works together in our lower ground floor collaborative space and we know that Tuesdays at DMHQ are rowdy!

We have at least 3 all-team socials per year so we can kick back, relax and celebrate together. We had an all team meet up at DMHQ on a Saturday in March this year with free flowing prosecco and snacks - the hangovers after which spawned the hashtag #BlameTrev (a nod to Trevor who was refilling glasses).  

Having such a big part-time and remote team means that getting face-to-face meetings booked in can take herculean effort, but it’s always so worth it. We recently had an away day for Heads of Teams and it was so valuable in cementing working relationships, breaking down barriers and moving forward on strategic issues. We just wouldn’t have got to where we did via a Google Hangout.

Our model of working definitely brings it’s challenges - we do have to be more intentional and thoughtful about forging relationships and it’s not something we can ever be complacent about. However, with all the digital tools we now have at our disposal, balanced with a commitment to spend periodic time physically together, it’s possible not only to create WorkThatWorks for everyone, but also to build a company that thrives.

This is the second blog in my new series of blogs on the realities of flexible working - you can see the first one here.

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