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How to build company culture and team connections remotely
Building community and connections in a remote company doesn’t have to be challenging. Here’s how Hotjar builds lasting connections and a well-loved company culture.
Last updated18 Aug 2022
Reading time9 min
Social isn’t the first word that comes to mind when working from home. But remote work doesn’t have to be lonely either. As a permanently remote company, Hotjar has always seen the need to focus on community building—we know it’s not going to grow the same way naturally as in an office environment.
This is by far the most sociable company I’ve ever worked at, despite being fully remote from the start. There doesn’t have to be any social downside to being a remote company. In fact, I’m closer with current and previous Hotjar team members than with anyone else I’ve worked with.
As social animals, it is known that social relationships are important in maintaining our health and happiness. And the importance of this does continue into the workplace. The trust and inclusion that can come from having strong relationships with your colleagues, translate into higher levels of engagement and workplace satisfaction.
Building connections with colleagues in any workplace can be a struggle—and all the more so for office-based companies that were forced to go remote during the pandemic. Luckily for us, we’ve had a little extra practice. Here’s how we do it.
How Hotjar builds community at work
Community is at the center of our company culture. From the very start, we’ve implemented activities, meetups, and virtual events to bring the team together.
10 Interesting Facts
In every new team member’s first week, they share a list of 10 interesting facts about themselves. We don’t have that first-day office tour or shared cups of coffee in the kitchen. Posting these lists is a fun way for us to get to know a bit about each other—and discover shared interests. It’s rare for a list not to be followed up with comments along the lines of ‘me too!’, ‘same here!’ and, ‘you should join our Slack channel about that…’.
Our Slack space is full of channels on all types of weird and wonderful topics. We encourage new team members to have a browse through and join the channels that sound interesting to them. Whether they like films, DIY, pizza, knitting, learning Spanish, or looking at photos of their coworkers' cute pets, we’ve probably got a channel to cover it. And if we don’t? Make one!
These channels are a great way to connect with people who share your hobbies or interests and give you an opportunity to connect with coworkers outside of your usual working sphere.
End the week on a fun note. Our Friday Chilljar calls bring us together for an optional chance to unwind and socialize at the end of the week. With both internal and externally focused events, these calls range from the surprising to the educational to the downright silly—Skribbl, anyone?
We often theme our Chilljars to align with current events. During Pride Month, for example, we’ve hosted panel discussions, Ask Me Anything roundtables with members of our own Team Rainbow group, Drag Bingo, and Pride-themed quizzes.
One of my personal favorites is our Culturejar call. For these, team members volunteer to give a presentation about their own culture and a chance for others to ask questions. With Hotjarians from 45 countries across 5 continents, this is a great opportunity to make the most of our fully distributed environment to learn about each other!
One-on-one mixers with the Donut app
The Donut app on Slack automatically pairs random team members together every two weeks for a virtual chat. It gives us a chance to meet people in the company whom we might never cross paths with through our work. This has become increasingly important as Hotjar has grown and helps us to avoid falling into social silos of only really connecting with our smaller teams or squads.
Chats around the water cooler are a tired cliché in the working world—or are they? In a way, they are crucial to building team connections. Whether finding out about a wedding engagement or catching up about a recent trip, these conversations build relationships, regardless of whether your company is in-person or remote.
While we all love working remotely, we also understand the benefits that come from having met each other in person. So, each year (pandemic-permitting!) we get together as a full company. Our latest meetup saw 220+ team members traveling from 43 countries for a week in the hills outside of Barcelona. As with all our company meetups, we had fun games, facilitated workshops, Hotjar-led talks, and a lot of beautiful memories to take away from our time meeting new colleagues and seeing old friends.
During the pandemic, we switched these up to virtual meetups. Minus the traveling, hugs, midnight karaoke, and impromptu concerts, the above applies equally well to our virtual gatherings!
When asked what makes a meetup special, our team said:
Meeting people who you don’t usually interact with during regular workdays
Seeing how people react to things in ways you couldn’t when working remotely
Squeezing a year of water-cooler talk, family updates, random jokes, and nostalgia into a week
The little moments with people you’ve never spoken to before
The company meetups are epic, but the sheer scale of them at our current size means that they have less of a focus on individual teams. In between, individual teams or squads from different areas of the company get together to work on specific projects, and often, to meet each other for the first time! The speed of our recent team growth has made these team meetups extra important to meet, bond, collaborate, and get a strong feel for each other’s communication and collaboration styles in person, strengthening our success when we continue this online.
Work together budget
Our distributed team lives in 45 countries around the world. Our Work Together budget of €2,000 each allows us to travel to where another team member works to experience how remote life is for them.
Hotjarians have hosted meetups in Spain, Canada, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa, Germany… and so many more locations! Work together trips are always open for anyone throughout the company who’d like to join.
For those who don’t want to travel, it’s an opportunity to invite people to come to their part of the world. We can also use these budgets for online activities together, whether that’s a weekly lunch or a one-off Airbnb experience.
5 Tips for building connections and community in the workplace
Community has been a core value at Hotjar since day one. We’ve had time to experiment and find ways to connect and bond with team members who are scattered across the globe.
Here are five tips to consider:
1. Be intentional
Building a community should be intentional—especially if your company is remote. We want to implement activities that will bring the team closer rather than just waiting to see what happens.
Our Biz Ops team is now in charge of organizing many of our events. It takes up a lot of their time, but that’s because we want to be intentional about providing a close-knit culture and a socially engaged atmosphere.
In an office environment, it’s not unusual for individuals who work together to build friendships. But if you want to make sure the entire company has the chance to be included, then you need to be intentional. Appoint someone to organize and host events for the whole company, working with ideas and suggestions from the team. This way, the entire culture can intermingle and grow.
2. Get creative within your budget
A budget means you can pay for trips, cover Airbnb experiences, and arrange in-person meetups, but it’s not mandatory for creating a community.
If you have a low budget—or no budget at all—get creative. Separate Zoom calls into breakout rooms with icebreaker questions, play games online, host quizzes, or arrange one-on-one virtual coffee chats.
Sometimes simplicity is key. Provide a space for team members to chat and get to know each other outside of work meetings and let them do the rest.
3. Schedule a mix of activities
Some events will be for everyone, but others will be for those with particular hobbies or interests. Survey your team and ask about their favorite activities. Then, using the survey answers, create a mix of activities based on the varying likes and dislikes of your team. This way, in addition to having big social events, you can sprinkle in smaller, more intimate meetups that will form tighter bonds between team members.
And importantly, be intentional about the diversity of your activities and their hosts (or vendors) reflecting the diversity of your team to aid in fostering inclusion and belonging for all of your team members.
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Remote companies around the world are succeeding at building strong working communities—learn from them. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, research what other companies are doing: read their blogs, speak to their employees, and check in on social media. We all have insights and experiences to share.
5. Make it optional
Preferences around social interaction should be respected, and activities outside of work should always be voluntary. Mandatory pop quizzes, Friday drinks, and ‘show and tells’ can have the opposite effect on team morale and community if people feel like they have to attend.
How things have changed
Hotjar has always been remote, with community activities and virtual events built in from the beginning. We were lucky not to have a sudden scramble to get online when the pandemic hit.
In fact, for some of us, work became the stable part of life during lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. At the start of the pandemic, we reminded our team about the different social activities they could get involved in. The uptick in attendance showed that people were craving human interaction.
But perks like the Work Together budget couldn’t be used in person--this is when we adapted and put that money toward virtual events instead. Now that restrictions are being lifted, we’re seeing keen attendance for the trips being organised.
Because of our growth, social activities that give us a chance to connect have become more important than ever. We want to make sure everyone at Hotjar feels like a part of the team--and we’ll continue to learn and iterate on the ways we can achieve this.
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