How We Use Video to Build Remote Culture

Leah Knobler | August 11, 2016

When your team is spread out all over the world, traditional team building activities like celebrating milestones in the office or grabbing drinks after work aren’t on the table.

But that shouldn’t stop you from creating virtual opportunities for employees to get to know each other better, make memories, and build the kind of social capital that helps connected teams thrive.

Keep your remote team happy and productive with these 7 strategies for engaging far-flung team members.

Cultivating strong company culture is one of the best parts of my job in People Ops at Help Scout, and I love coming up with new ways to connect the team. With tools like Zoom, Appear.in, Google Hangouts and a smartphone, you can create virtual team building activities for work that are easy to implement and maintain. Before you know it — ta-da! You’ve amped up your company culture using video. Here are a handful of initiatives that we’ve found work for us.

4 Virtual Team Building Ideas to Try at Work

Monday morning video party

We replaced our recurring standup meetings with a weekly video update where I keep the team informed about new feature releases, birthdays and other company-wide news. The switch to video opened the door for more engaging updates that boost morale for our team. Another bonus: They’re asynchronous, so people on the other side of the globe don’t have to worry about missing them — they can watch whenever it works best, which saves time and gives the team more flexibility.

Learn how to make your own weekly video

‘At Home With Help Scout’

While filming the Monday video from my home one day, I realized most of our remote team would never see where the rest of the team lives and works. Recalling my not-so-secret love for the show MTV Cribs, I thought that even though our team members may not have an in-home stadium-style movie theater or a Tesla to show off, video home tours could be a fun way for the team to share their workspaces and how they go about their everyday lives.

Asking a team dominated by introverts to volunteer to film themselves at home was a lofty request. To make it easy to participate, I offered to edit anyone’s raw footage — all they had to do was film and send. I also reached out to the extroverted minority to be my guinea pigs to help give the series momentum.

To my surprise, many “At Home With Help Scout” participants enjoyed the challenge of learning iMovie and editing their own projects. And it’s been fun to edit other teammates’ tours and feel closer to them in the process. How else would we have found out that Mat has backyard chickens at his home outside of Sydney, Australia, or that Shay has a camera drone at his pad in Portland, Oregon?

‘Troop Talks’

Each week at Help Scout, we randomly pair up the team for a short video chat that we lovingly call our Friday Fika. And while our Fika practice is strong, sometimes intimate one-on-one convos with colleagues aren’t everyone’s jam.

Enter “Troop Talks,” a lightly structured monthly video chat centered around a single topic.

Prior to each Troop Talk, I send out the topic so teammates can decide if they’d like to participate — anyone can join and sharing is optional.

For the first Troop Talk, I asked the team to think about a song they associate with a poignant memory from their lives. Fifteen people shared stories in a group video chat that otherwise may never have come up at work. I’m thrilled to know that Nickolas, our engineer in Canada, has a soft spot for Tori Amos! And that Devin, our director of content, was raised on Phish.

Afterwards, I compiled all 15 songs shared by the team into an endearingly bizarre Spotify playlist - feel free to give it a listen!

The team was excited to have group face time without talking business — something that otherwise only happens twice a year at our company retreats. Several folks continued conversations privately afterward, exchanging more of their musical tastes.

Bring the fun

In between all of the structured video fun, it’s also great to inject a little spontaneous video delight into the mix. In the month leading up to our company retreat, I love to make a series of “teaser” videos to get everyone pumped for what’s to come. Here’s the video I made before our retreat to Austin, Texas this past Spring:

Outtakes

The final video shared with the team always goes through a careful editing process and gets that Help Scout polish of excellence. However, there are plenty of blunders and bloopers along the way that you can incorporate into your video for added fun. Here’s a selection of our recent goofs:

As remote working opportunities expand, so too does the need to keep these employees engaged and motivated. The traditional culture-building activities of co-located companies probably won’t fit the bill, so consider experimenting with tools you already have to make your remote company fun and connected.

For more tips on how to engage your team, read my post on how to plan fun and productive company retreats!.

About the author: Leah Knobler is on the People Ops team at Help Scout. She spends her days making sure everyone around her is happy and set up for success.