How an all-remote team of 30 manages to create a vibrant culture


qKen is the CEO and co-founder of Tango. Before making his mission to help people perform at their best at work, he spent more than 4 years at Uber on the roller coaster of a generational company. After learning about entrepreneurship at Atomic VC, he went to Harvard Business School, where he met his co-founders.

While remote working is now a staple of the modern workplace, meeting in person at work has its benefits. Time spent together builds trust, and every casual conversation or impromptu brainstorming session shared in the office naturally forges stronger relationships. These are the moments that allow the corporate culture to grow and develop organically. But for remote teams, these opportunities must be carefully planned and organized to materialize.

As CEO of Tango, the browser and desktop app that automatically generates how-to guides, I lead a fully remote team of 30 people in 15 states, with two overseas employees. As a result, we’ve had to get creative with how we build relationships and trust across time zones. We’re excited to share what we’ve learned and how we’re approaching running a fully remote business in Tango’s Remote Playbook. Here are nine of our favorite strategies for building connections, communication and culture.

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Create a connection quickly

The first few weeks of a new employee’s onboarding experience are critical for providing context, building relationships, and setting expectations. For remote companies, it’s even harder to set up an onboarding process that does all of this (and does it well). But it’s crucial that they do because the right onboarding can increase employee retention by 82%.

When onboarding new team members, our priority is for them to feel connected to their team members, to our product, and to the tools and resources they need to perform at their best. Here are three practices we have in place to create a connection quickly:

Team-wide user manuals. Each new employee completes and shares their personal user manual to help their teammates understand how best to work with them. Questions such as “How do you like receiving feedback?” and “What is commonly misunderstood about you?” allow people to share additional information about themselves and work more collaboratively.

Image: Quartz at work (home art)

Dog food. We believe in eating our own dog food or using our own product so that we can continue to improve it for our users. Every new hire begins by sharing 10 reviews of the current product. Not only does this give our team a fresh perspective, but it helps new team members get to grips with our platform by putting themselves in our customers’ shoes from the get-go.

Shared knowledge. Keeping remote teams connected also means ensuring that internal knowledge is easy to create, share and discover. For our team, Notion, a project management and note-taking software platform, also serves as a digital office and knowledge library for all things Tango. This is where we house our internal resources, take meeting notes, track tasks, and brainstorm. If a team member needs an answer, they’ll find it in Notion, usually accompanied by a Tango workflow for more context!

Communication brings clarity and capacity

Because we can’t stop by each other’s desks or have a “working lunch” together, working remotely requires a higher level of intentionality, consistency, and discipline around communication. Since we are all far apart, we also focus on setting clear boundaries. Here are three ways to use communication to build clarity and capacity.

Loose standards. We rely on standards such as:

  • “Assuming weak context” to help others who are not as proficient in the subject.

  • We encourage our employees to make their messages “public by default” to ensure full and visible communication for anyone who needs it.

  • “Thread, don’t spread” encourages employees to chat in a thread to include the right people and keep channels organized.

  • “Take a Break” encourages pauses and relieves the pressure to respond the fastest or keep your green light on the longest.

Start, stop, continue. This popular retrospective exercise was crucial for our engineering, product and design team. Asking questions that facilitate conversation and reflection establishes a framework for communication:

  • What can we start doing to improve our process in the future?

  • What should we stop doing that really limited us in this last sprint?

  • What should we keep doing because it worked well?

This collective checkpoint ensures that we come out of one development sprint even stronger for the next.

Image: Quartz at work (home art)

Image: Quartz at work (home art)

Days without meeting. As helpful as frequent and intentional communication can be, it also leads to zoom fatigue and reduced focus time. Choosing one day a week when meetings are prohibited gives team members a day dedicated to focused work. For example, we chose Thursdays so that team members could catch up on their goals before the end of the week.

Intentional construction of culture

Company culture can easily get lost in the mix of remote teams, resulting in a lack of belonging or, worse, a culture that is not aligned with company values. So, companies need to be proactive about the culture they want to create. For Tango, we’ve worked hard to create a culture of ongoing support, feedback, and fun.

Hands-on meetings. This weekly all-team meeting is the best way for everyone to align on company goals, customer feedback, and any issues we need to address. Since fun is a key aspect of Tango’s culture, we kick off every meeting with a show of hands with Zoom breakout rooms and a few of our team-building icebreaker questions.

Weekend thoughts. Every Friday, the team receives an automated Slack message reminding them to share their thoughts on the week. With a TypeForm survey, team members can recognize and celebrate each other, share customer love, and gain insight into something happening in their lives that they want to share.

Image: Quartz at work (home art)

Image: Quartz at work (home art)

Team-wide offsite. We may be remote first, but we know that in-person time is very valuable. So we aim to bring the whole team together three times a year for an offsite, where we focus more on building trusting relationships rather than just coworking in person.

Accept work in progress

As our distributed team grows, everything will be a constant work in progress, from our day-to-day processes to the broader company culture. And even though we don’t share an office space, we each share the power and responsibility to shape the Tango experience. Of course, this requires an extra level of intentionality, discipline, and thoughtful planning, but it’s worth building a team that’s both totally aloof and fully engaged.

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