Product Q&A: Creating an inclusive culture for a remote team

Giff Constable product management

First Round Capital has a wonderful online network, basically a white-labelled quora, for people at their portfolio companies. While I was with their portfolio company Axial, I answered a number of questions. I’m sharing some of the Q’s I have answered over the last year or two:

How does your company create an inclusive culture for those that work remote?

Tools and discipline. A lot of this can be handled at the team level, but it helps to have executive buy-in and support. There’s a nice rule I once heard which was that if one person is remote, you should act like everyone is remote. Hard to live by, but worthwhile to aspire to meet.  This requires real diligence. Either do remote and take it seriously, or don’t do it at all. For example, my engineering team at my current company had only one remote engineer. That wasn’t healthy. I needed to decide whether have more than one, or none. I went with “more than one”.

Some things to stay disciplined on:

  • If you are in a big room, make sure everyone is speaking loud enough to be heard.
  • If you are in a big meeting, make sure you explicitly call on the remote folks to speak (it’s very hard to break in while remote)
  • Get teams to externalize more using an internal blog or something similar – what are their goals and challenges? how are they doing? where are they going?
  • Have your teams try to minimize in-person water-cooler conversations about the work and make sure to invite the remote teammate to the chat
  • Try to bring remote people together (i.e. fly them in) with the team once a quarter
  • Invest the time and money to make the audio/video easy and effective
  • Use video more, audio-only less (i.e. conference calls)
  • Choose your tools wisely. For example, when we do in-person agile retros, we use sticky notes and whiteboards. When we have one or more person remote, we switch to a shared google spreadsheet.

Tools I like:

  • Zoom for video (although Google Meet seems to be getting better)
  • Chat 170 speaker/mics if you don’t have fancy A/V systems
  • Slack for chat (and now Screenhero)
  • Google docs/spreadsheets
  • Jotto for private, internal blog (disclosure: a pet project of mine)

Don’t underestimate the importance of in-person bonding. It keeps teams functional and helps whole startups through the ups and downs. I totally agree with the previous comments above having a clear mission / north start, but even with that, you need in-person reinforcement. I once was in an 85-person that was almost entirely remote, and it was necessary for us to bring the entire company together 3 times a year to keep everyone aligned with the mission and knitted together.