8 tips for building a fast-paced remote startup culture

Building a remote startup isn't easy. How do you build a fast-paced, collaborative culture when everyone is remote?

At Jam, we've learned a lot about how to build a remote startup over the past two years. Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks for creating a thriving remote culture:

1. #whats-cooking

#whats-cooking is our dedicated Slack channel to share rough drafts & in-progress work. It’s one of our most active channels.

This channel is the virtual equivalent of turning your laptop around to show your desk neighbor what you’re working on in the in-person office. It creates excitement, and sets the fast pace, and a sense of togetherness, even when we’re remote. In the comments, people give each other kudos, and brainstorm improvements.

It’s also a great way to keep everyone in the loop on what’s going on in the company, and what new features or products are being worked on. This builds transparency and trust, and helps us move faster as a team.

2. Coffee Break

We’ve tried many different ways to do remote social gatherings, but the one we found works best for us is Coffee Break:

Once a week, for 30 min, we have Zoom automatically shuffle us into breakout rooms of 2-3 people per room twice for 15 minutes each. In the breakout rooms, you’re allowed to talk about anything but Jam, so conversations don’t devolve into another working session.

Once in a while someone on the team will host a Coffee Break and lead us all in an activity of their choosing, to mix it up. That’s always a hit.

In one special edition of Coffee Break, we mailed everyone some soil & seeds, and everyone planted strawberries together (luckily we have a part-time farmer on the team to help guide us). Most of us do not have green thumbs, but check out Pawel’s strawberry plant!

3. Daily standup – with a timer

At Jam, we have a live, full team daily standup every day. This is something that is important to us as a remote team, as it provides a touch point every day where we can see what everyone is working on, and how it all fits into the bigger picture.

(We’re a small team which makes this doable, but even when Jam grows, we hope to be able to continue bringing everyone together daily before splitting up into different breakouts by smaller teams.)

However, nothing is worse than a daily status meeting that drags on and on, so to keep things high-energy, engaging and the right level of detail, we use a standup timer. Everyone gets one minute to give their update, unless they share their screen - in which case, everyone is super engaged watching their demo that no timer is needed.

We use dailytoast.io as our standup timer because it’s on brand. 🍞🍯

4. Hear from users at standup

We often use the last 10 minutes of standup to share meaningful clips from our most recent user interviews and discuss them as a team. This is a great way to keep everyone focused on the user and brainstorm ways to improve the product.

5. Frequent retros

Especially because we are a remote startup, we're always trying to learn how to work better together and improve constantly.

We do a 15-30 minute retro after we ship any major feature, and after any time there is a production incident.

We use FigJam (again, on brand 😜) and Zoom for retros. We’ll spend the first 5 minutes independently creating stickies in 4 different categories: what went well, what we want to do differently next time, immediate next steps and open questions. Then we each take turns presenting our stickies and the group discusses throughout.

6. Weekly photo thread

Every Monday, we kick off the week with a weekly photo thread. The rule: post one photo (or a gif from giphy if you took no photos) from your weekend. You are only allowed to post the photo or gif – no context allowed!

(Thanks Primitives team for this idea - we originally heard it from them before adopting it ourselves)

7. Luna park

For those occasional big team social events, we play Luna Park. It's a live game show for your team that's fast paced, engaging, and hilarious. Remote social events tend to be awkward, but this one is purely awesome.

8. Jamboree

Even with all the remote team traditions in play, there’s just no replacement for in-person. We got everyone together for the first time in May. Because we can do anything work-related remotely, we decided to focus the three days on hanging out and getting to know each other, plus one brainstorm about the company culture we want to build at Jam.

The highlight activity was one we learned from USV (shoutout to Bethany who introduced the activity there) – everyone had to prepare a 2 minute presentation about anything (except for about their work) and present it to the team. The presentations were truly awesome, funny, insightful, and it rocked to see everyone in their element talking about something they were passionate about.

We definitely haven't figured everything out yet, and we're constantly learning and evolving. We'd love to hear from you if you have any more ideas we should try!

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