Beyond ping pong and free beer: How to instil startup culture in a distanced team


Mark is the CEO of Australian proptech startup Yabonza. Source: supplied.

For many startups, one of the biggest challenges as working from home continues and teams remain physically distanced, is the ability to remain agile.

Technology may keep the engine running, but being distanced has meant that many people have missed out on the spontaneous conversations, the dynamic of bouncing ideas around, and the energy of pushing initiatives further — all of which was fostered in a co-located environment.

As a result, many small businesses, ourselves included, have had to think of new ways to instil and sustain startup culture at a distance.

This is what we have learnt.

Less is more when it comes to communication tools

There is no shortage of digital communication tools on offer, and you have likely heard of most of them by now.

From messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Slack to videoconferencing tools including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Hangouts, as well as standard email, the volume of communication channels seems ever-expanding.

Learning which channels to use and when is key when working at a distance.

Many people find video meetings more draining than in-person meetings, as participants do not get the same energy circulating on screen as they do in a room. Therefore, keeping video to a minimum, and using it only when it is necessary, helps ensure productivity remains high and morale is not affected.

For others, messaging platforms such as Slack might be their favoured communication channel as it supports short, straightforward interactions, and allows people to find quick answers assisting them with what they are working on.

Remember, however, that what works for you, may not work for others.

Speak to your team about what works for them and look for tools that foster the best communication.

Sometimes you need to cater to individuals, rather than the masses

Over the years, startups marketed the work-hard, play-hard lifestyle to attract young talent, which often featured ping pong tables and free beer.

Over the past decade, it has become clear that not only does talent come from all ages, but it’s also less about the material perks, and more about how a business can support talent inside and outside of work.

Outside of work, there may be lifestyle factors, such as caring duties, that inhibit talent from taking on some roles, rather than lack of ability, so it’s up to a business to negate those factors as much as possible and build flexibility into the role.

Flexibility — true flexibility — is focusing more on outputs than hours of work and requires business leaders to look at individuals.

It recognises that team members are people who may have other priorities, but are still assets to the business who should be supported.

Always celebrate the wins, no matter how small

When working at a distance, it is even more important to celebrate the wins — even the ones that may be considered ‘small’.

It not only improves motivation, but research shows that it unites teams and brings them closer — even if they are not physically together.

When wins are celebrated, it instils a positive mindset which causes a ripple effect throughout the business and helps shift the mindset to one of optimism.

Teams stop seeing problems and start seeing opportunities when wins are celebrated, and as a result, work collectively to achieve the best outcomes for the business.

For us, good communication, true flexibility, and an opportunistic mindset are what has driven our success to date. It’s never just about social activities.

While working remotely has made team interactions less dynamic, it is possible to bridge gaps to help keep your culture alive.

NOW READ: Five tips for managing a remote workforce, from a CTO who works from a decked-out caravan while travelling Australia

NOW READ: “Take the foot off the pedal”: How these Melbourne startups are putting employee mental health first


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