Bringing people together in-person creates a foundation that will stand the trials of remote work.
My view on remote team culture dates back to my previous career. To preface, it will probably sound like a nightmare job compared to today’s standards, but so many of my peers and I genuinely loved it despite the unhealthy, and truly non-existent, work-life balance. It’s a big part of my biased opinion on workplace culture. Just to set the scene, we absolutely grinded out 18 hour work days, powered through late nights, drove for hours on icy Chicago roads for 5:30 AM meetings, crafted last minute presentations on Christmas day, took conference calls on vacations, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. We were tested and pushed to the limits. We had to prove our value and continuously execute, but there was just something different about this team.
It was a small circle of the most talented, educated, and well-respected specialists in their respective disciplines. All of my colleagues worked just as hard as I did, with just as much passion, pride and determination. The work ethic was infectious and the environment constantly challenged me to level up in multiple aspects of my life. To be clear, I am not glorifying “rise and grind,” but instead, focusing on the real relationships and community that was built during that time. There was sincerity in the way we interacted, depth in our connections, and immense respect for each other’s wisdom in their field. All things that I hadn’t quite ever experienced in a professional working environment.
We followed our leader, almost blindly, because we were confident he would execute. We trusted his direction fully. We shared in his vision, he set a high bar for principles and work ethic, and took the time to recognize us for our efforts. We were all inspired to match that energy, and that unspoken enthusiasm became our culture. For me, the experiences endured and the education obtained in those years were an experience of a lifetime – and those connections are still rock solid today.
Nearly two decades have come and gone, and we are still very much connected. I have stood by their sides on their wedding days, we have built successful businesses together, vacationed with each other’s families, and offered our shoulders to cry on and ears to listen during hard times. It’s a team culture that transcended our jobs and became embedded into our lives. The bonds forged during that time in my professional life were certainly a rarity.
Creating a niche remote work culture takes time and effort.
I have discovered first hand that building up a remote work culture is not as easy as one may think. These Future of Work concepts are relatively new and have transformed in such a short time that we are still finding our footing and learning difficult lessons along the way. As hard as it may be to admit, it has been a rough journey of discovery, trials, and failures, but I know it’s a worthy adversary.
I have asked so many CEOs what they’ve done to inspire a remote team culture, to no avail. I think so many leaders are faking it until they make it and just trying to do the next right thing with each decision made.
Maybe that’s because remote team culture really isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s something that has to be fostered by a dedicated group of talented individuals who are aligned on principles while working towards a mission that has a purpose bigger than just themselves individually.
In the beginning, like many startups with bootstrap budgets, we had to be pretty conservative with how we made team fun happen. Add in the remote work culture of the past few years, and things got really challenging. We started with online games and remote team building events like Zoom calls with funny backgrounds, best tin foil hat contest, and played Skribbl.io drawing games to win Amazon gift cards (which gets pretty competitive with a bunch of design and art professionals!). Around the holidays, we played a movie quote trivia game on Slack, which eventually turned into an employee-owned card game called Quotable (with an amazing Kickstarter story). We even sent out kits to build and design personal Ukeles, which was a big hit. Yes, we have had our share of fun, but I, personally, still felt like we were missing something.
I have been craving the camaraderie and quality time spent in-person in an office space, like I recall from two decades ago – the connections you create breaking bread together, having an after work drink, or stopping for a water cooler chat, they build bonds little by little for people. We lose out on that small talk and the happenstance experiences when we only interact virtually. There is something about being able to stand shoulder to shoulder to solve problems, having a good ol’ white board session and get the depth in our communications by seeing body language and emotion. So much can get lost in chat sessions that it can kind of feel like a Key & Peele video (worth a watch for a quick laugh!).
Communicating our mission, vision, values, and shared goals is something that has not historically been well executed. Admittedly, the end result over the last couple of years has been a lot of turnover and a misunderstanding of where our hearts stand. To be clear now, we have never wavered in our dedication, passion, and love for this team we are building.
We are committed to building a rock solid team together.
After a couple of failed attempts and COVID challenges, we knew we had to make an in-person event a reality. And what better place to make that happen than in Miami Beach, FL in December? The goal was to inspire new creativity, let the team in on Designed.co’s entire vision, understand the real mission and find alignment in our values. We hosted a team summit in my backyard and from that, DC2MIA was born. This event afforded our team the chance to truly get to know one another. As a leader, I felt that I was able to show that I genuinely care about their success and well-being both individually and collectively, and recognize and celebrate an incredibly successful year (our team has more than doubled in size!). Together, we attended Art Basel, one of the world’s leading art fairs, which is a dream experience for a bunch of art and design enthusiasts.
We kicked off the weekend with informal talks and a presentation from a dynamic guest speaker, Emmy-award winning designer, director, CEO and Chief Strategist of Blind, and founder of The Futur, Chris Do. During his discussion and Q&A session, he made a comment that really stuck with me about remote work culture. He said, “It is a tricky space and time that we are living in – that we feel so connected yet so disconnected at the same time.” He hit the nail on the head because that sentence perfectly described the struggle I’ve felt of building a solid work culture over the last few years.
“Some of the magic of creativity is when you walk past someone’s monitor and you see something… those things really fill creative people,” Chris added. It was a comforting reassurance in my feelings and beliefs, and confirmed for me that this team building event was a step in the right direction for Designed.co. He continued on to say, “Whenever I spend an extended period of time with people, we break past the formalities of communication and we start to get to know each other for real. And we start to let our guard down, and we start to see that beyond that person in front of you is just a real human being with real human needs, and we can then empathize and identify with this person…. We start to reveal our true selves.”
I want that trust, intentional genuine care, and human connection to be an active part of the Designed.co culture.
We closed out that night with great food and drinks, even better company, and a really bad band. No, seriously, it was equivalent to something out of Adam Sandlers Wedding Singer (side note: don’t book bands last minute during Art Basel weekend). Despite the ear-piercing Disney tunes, it felt like everyone was clicking, and that culture that I had really been craving and striving for – for so many years – was coming to life right before my eyes.
Throughout the weekend, we packed in the fun. From walks around the art-lined walls of Wynwood, to the mouth watering tacos at Bakkan, to a thrilling private graffiti event, to an immersive experience at Pantone Color of the Year in Artechouse, the inspiration collected and memories made were above and beyond my expectations.
We went to a locals’ spot for dinner, and that’s when I really started to see our team bonds strengthen. Everyone seemed so comfortable together and the conversations flowed naturally, like we had known each other for decades. For a few moments, I took a step back to just soak it all in like a fly on the wall. The gratitude I felt inside at that very moment was overwhelming in the best kind of way.
As we waved our team goodbye, we vowed to continue to prioritize efforts to bring our team closer together. Inspiring creativity and pouring into our remote team culture is more important than ever, and we are excited to be building a team that can stand the trials of being remote.
During our time together and as we have all returned home to our remote work spaces, I have felt a revitalized sense of camaraderie and connection. We all share an agreement and understanding of working towards a common goal and have aligned in our values and principles.
Maybe I haven’t figured it all out yet, but this team experience brought the Designed.co team leaps and bounds closer. It is something I haven’t felt in years and I couldn’t think of a better group to partner with on this mission.
2023 we are coming for you – remotely, but together!