Like many remote-first companies, scaling team culture was a huge challenge for us. One of the best decisions we’ve ever made was to find a culture leader within the company — someone to champion our values and keep our distributed team engaged. We found an awesome one in Pammy.
Initially in charge of HR, Pammy now heads our People and Culture Team and has played a vital part in keeping our entire organization engaged, motivated, and productive.
In this article, Pammy shares the benefits of team engagement and how we overcame challenges— plus proven tips on building remote workplace culture. If you’re struggling to scale team culture like we did in our early days, get comfy and read on:
First, a little background on Pammy:
She’s a seasoned pro with more than a decade of experience in corporate training. Before joining Shepherd, she conducted leadership and communications training for entry-level employees and executives alike.
As our main HR person, Pammy showed a lot of initiative in keeping our remote team engaged. She planned events, greeted everyone on their birthdays, and essentially took ownership of team engagement on Slack.
Today, Pammy is in charge of 3 main things at Shepherd:
If you see a team member showing initiative like Pammy, empower them. They might just be the culture leaders you’re looking for.
Pammy is passionate about building genuine relationships. For her, team engagement is more than just scheduling Zoom calls to keep people entertained — it’s one of the building blocks of a successful remote company.
She breaks down the importance of remote team engagement into three major points:
According to Pammy, getting your employees to emotionally invest in your company is a great way to boost retention.
"Working in corporate for more than a decade, I've realized that people eventually will stop working for the money and will start hanging on to what's making them come to work everyday," shares Pammy.
So what motivates people to come to work beyond monetary compensation?
Pammy says it’s all about the relationships that team members make along the way. “When there's nothing there for them in that company, it's easier to resign and go. But if you have a lot of emotional investment with the people that you work with, it becomes much more challenging to leave the company.”
Getting your first few employees to buy into your vision is a huge ask, especially if you’re still figuring things out. Pammy recalls how things were when Shepherd was just starting:
Despite all these growing pains, people stayed — and we were able to grow our team to more than 100 members in under two years. Pammy attributes this success to team engagement. By continuously depositing into our team’s emotional bank accounts, we got them to buy into our vision and stay, even when things were tough.
For Pammy, getting a team to that kind of level of engagement is critical to business success.
Lastly, team culture drives productivity. Pammy shares:
"If you have a company where you empower people and let them know that their hard work has a direct impact on the company's success, people will care more."
Engaged team members, according to Pammy, are more likely to show up and take ownership of their work. They carry their own weight and make sure that the project is successful.
Pammy admits that getting everyone to participate in engagement activities is a major challenge for remote teams. It’s easy when you’re on the same floor or building, but it’s a different ball game when everyone’s all over the globe.
To make sure that everyone has an opportunity to get to know each other, she and her team put in extra effort to plan fun and purposeful activities throughout the year. These activities range from simple Slack messages to big annual team-building trips — and they’ve been crucial in keeping engagement high across our organization.
Here’s a quick look at some of Pammy’s tried-and-tested engagement strategies:
Pammy and her team send out “engagement blasts” like tips, reminders, and check-in prompts all throughout the week. These messages are usually delivered with simple graphics via Slack and Gmail.
To keep things interesting, Pammy follows a different theme each day:
The People and Culture team also hosts a company-wide hangout session on Zoom called Fridays At Shepherd. It’s where people shoot the breeze and catch up before winding down for the weekend.
Pammy also prepares fun games, customized Zoom backgrounds, quizzes, and themed Friday nights for a more exciting experience. Prizes and perks await winning participants!
Give your team something to look forward to at the end of each week. Incentivize attendance to get everyone to participate.
Once a month, the People and Culture team sends out an internal newsletter that recaps the month’s highlights. This newsletter usually includes:
Just like the daily engagement blasts, the team follows a fun theme each month. For example, all December activities are holiday-themed: Christmas Zoom backgrounds, sharing Christmas wishlists, a company-wide Secret Santa event, and a virtual caroling contest.
Once a year, the team meets up for an on-site team-building activity. Since we’ve got limited opportunities to interact with each other in person, Pammy and her team go all-out to make the activity memorable for everyone. This year’s team-building activity involved an obstacle course, mini-ziplines, and a giant volleyball game. It was pretty epic.
Parties are the perfect way to cap off the year. It’s a special time when people get to dress up, receive awards, and showcase their talents. This year, Pammy and her team threw a fabulous gala night that everyone enjoyed.
Twice a year, Pammy sends out an employee satisfaction survey to get feedback from our team. This gives her a good idea of what activities to continue, stop, or start. She also sends out a feedback form after a major event, like our team-building activity.
As far as tools go, Pammy believes in using the resources you have on hand. “Be creative! There's no limit to what you can do if you’re creative about it.”
Here are some of the tools she uses to make sure that her engagement activities are a success:
Pammy loves using Zoom for engagement activities. She says she finds it much easier to navigate than MS Teams. Here are some of her favorite features:
Google Jamboard is mostly used by students, but it’s also a huge hit for Pammy. They use it for Friday night games that involve writing or drawing. Bonus: it’s also a great platform to visually brainstorm ideas!
If you’ve got a few extra bucks to spend on engagement, Pammy recommends Kahoot. She uses it for interactive games, announcements, polls, and quizzes.
A great online buzzer is your best friend when hosting competitive multiplayer games and quizzes.
As for games, Pammy says that there are endless options for online games available. The key is choosing one that best fits your overall theme or activity.
Google Forms is another underrated engagement tool that you can take advantage of. Pammy says it’s great for gathering data, creating polls, and planning big events.
We asked Pammy if she’s got any secret sauce when it comes to developing remote workplace culture and engagement. Here are her best nuggets of wisdom:
“I understand why it would be a challenge to engage people in a remote setting but I think having the right mindset definitely helps.”
Instead of seeing remote work as a constraint, Pammy says that viewing it as an opportunity to experiment can make engagement easier. It can be your testing ground for new ideas. You can use tech to bring your team together. You can share inside jokes on chat and build a remote culture even when you’re not physically together. The options are endless! The key is to shift your mindset and enjoy the process.
Pammy says that knowing your demographic helps you pick the right activities and engagement channels.
In Shepherd’s case, she observed that younger team members loved turning on videos during engagement activities. They also seemed to enjoy using voice calls and Slack huddles. Millennials, on the other hand, preferred talking through chat and email.
This information helped Pammy and her team plan activities that fit the preferences of various age groups.
Shepherd’s People and Culture team don’t do things on the fly. Instead of just shooting off the hip, they stay organized by plotting activities at least a year ahead. They also take advantage of automation tools and workflows to schedule recurring weekly events.
But staying organized doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible to change. Sometimes your ideas work, sometimes they don’t. Pammy says that being open to feedback — and adjusting your plans accordingly— is key to creating successful engagement activities.
Bottomline: be organized, but stay agile.
Speaking of staying agile, Pammy says that creating activities and engagement content based on something recent and viral is a surefire way to grab your team’s attention.
Based on her experience, it’s easier to get a reaction out of your team if you plan something that’s easy to recall or relate to. This increases the chances of participation and, in turn, boosts your chances of success.
For example, at the height of the pandemic, a lot of remote teams played the viral game Among Us during their hangout sessions. Others recreated popular social media challenges and incorporated them into their team activities. Incorporate activities like these into your own schedule to get everyone to participate.
You can also plan around monthly themes. Pammy and her team, for example, do lots of summer-themed activities around April-May and create spooky content all throughout October-November.
For Pammy, team engagement is all about consistency. It’s something that you have to do with purpose and intention.
“Make engagement a habit. Gain momentum by being a constant presence in your team’s online lives.”
Pammy says that when your team starts expecting activities from you, it’s easier to get them to participate. Give them something to look forward to — whether it’s prizes, quality time with office friends, or bragging rights after a friendly competition.
Doing these activities on a consistent schedule also helps your team to plan their days ahead. Lastly, having a routine makes engagement activities scalable. Just like any other aspect of business, having an engagement routine allows you to build processes that will help you scale remote team culture as you expand.
Scaling remote culture takes a village. And to motivate that village, you'll need a leader. Someone who:
You need someone like Pammy. If you see a team member showing the same drive — empower them. Provide them with room to grow and the resources to do a great job. That's the real key to scaling remote team culture.
Team engagement is important because it helps you build strong, motivated teams. It also boosts employee retention, helps you gain buy-in from your team, and keeps everyone productive.
There are lots of ways to build team engagement virtually. You can:
Remote work affects how employees interact, collaborate, and make decisions. Remote teams have to create processes to make communication smooth and efficient. Since there are limited opportunities to interact in-person, remote teams also have to put in extra effort to build team culture and engagement.