How to “Go Remote” While Keeping Team Members Connected

As a fully-remote organization, Gradient Learning has seamlessly transitioned to the “new normal” created by COVID-19. As offices across the world adjusted their ways of working and interacting, we were able to maintain and strengthen our organizational culture due to the efficient and collaborative structures already in place. Leaning into practices of intentional team culture, consistent connection, and meeting norms, we as an organization are living our values of staying and the forefront of our work and putting people first. 

Here are some of the ways we’re keeping our colleagues engaged and thriving as a remote organization.

Prioritize Connection & Build Team Culture

Cohesive team culture is important for any organization, remote or not. In order to create and maintain a collaborative environment that fosters teamwork, the organization must be both inclusive and engaging. Beyond quarterly organization-wide gatherings and monthly internal professional development meetings, Gradient Learning produces weekly culture-building activities for staff that are facilitated via Slack. 

These frequent team-building activities include: 

  • Randomly-paired Donut Chats between colleagues on different teams through Slack.
  • Creating shared weekly Spotify playlists. This activity has a new theme and prompt each Monday (for example: “Share a song that makes you feel empowered” during Women’s History Month). Team members add their song selections and listen to the playlist throughout the week. 
  • On Water Cooler Wednesdays, team members share their responses to the Question of the Week (example: If you were granted three wishes, what would they be?).  
  • To wrap up the week, we share Friday Shout-outs to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and work towards living our organizational values.

Develop Meeting Norms & Set Clear Expectations 

Especially in a remote work setting, it is key to establishing norms that provide consistency and accountability among team members. Over time, Gradient Learning has developed a set of practices to maximize engagement during video calls, such as:

  • Setting the norm that team members have their video settings turned on as often as possible in order to fully react and respond to one another’s ideas. To encourage full connection during meetings, we rarely share our screens in favor of seeing one another’s faces. 
  • We often use breakout groups in Zoom that are either pre-planned or randomized, which smooths transition times during meetings and allows us to build relationships among heterogeneous groups. These small and diverse groups emphasize the norms of collaboration across teams and prioritizing equity of voice, ensuring that team members hear from other teams and are encouraged to actively participate in all meetings. 

Support Colleagues as Whole People 

Now more than ever, organizations have the opportunity to support team members as they juggle the demands of work, home, family, and well-being. Though working remotely alleviates the stress of a commute, employees still need encouragement, flexibility, and understanding from their colleagues. Open communication about productivity, time management, scheduling conflicts, and workloads is crucial when helping remote employees fully engage. Different people need different supports and accommodations to do their best work and a strong team culture can help encourage everyone to succeed in a remote environment. 

  • Our transparent scheduling model allows all team members to access each other’s calendars to understand their availability. 
  • Flexible work times alleviate the pressure of the strict 9-5 workday. For example, team members who are parents might be offline in the afternoon to provide childcare but will resume work in the evening after dinner.  

These expressed understanding of out-of-work responsibilities are just a few of the ways we empower our Gradient Learning colleagues whole people, in and outside of work.

We’ve learned a lot as a fully-remote organization, and we welcome you to explore our Guiding Principles for a Remote Organization. This resource shares our learnings and key reflection questions to consider as you aim to build a cohesive, enthusiastic, and productive environment for your own team.

About the author

Catrice Reese
Dr. Catrice Reese is the Managing Director of Operations at Gradient Learning.
Nicholas Kim
Nicholas is the Director of Strategic Accounts, School and District Success with Gradient Learning.