Far Away, So Close: How We’re Building a Thriving Team Culture As A Fully Remote Agency

by Meghan Kelly

Apr 21, 2023

Posted in Culture

Formada founder, Meghan Kelly, wears a white button down shirt while standing in front of a black privacy screen, flanked by a plant to her left and a lamp to her right.

What is company culture, really?

Have you noticed the incredible amount of content written about company culture? So much of it is prescriptive — how to create a healthy one, how to rejuvenate one that’s failing, and so on. 

While I understand the motivation behind a lot of this writing, I do think it’s important for us all to  remember that what is healthy or thriving to one organization might look entirely different to another. It’s a subjective experience.

For some businesses, a healthy culture might be as simple as the way in which their team bands together to get its work done. 

For another, it might be a much deeper thing, encompassing how the business’s beliefs, ethics, and practices create some sense of guidance to its employees as to the why, how, and what of their work. 

Again, it’s subjective. This is why I tend to write about the things that are (or are not) working in our business vs. offering specific advice. I personally think that a well-intentioned, consistently nurtured approach to building company culture is something that can unite us. It works for our business.  

A focus on culture was built-in to our business

When Garrett and I first created Formada in 2018, it was our intent from the beginning to be an entirely remote company. 

We didn’t come from remote backgrounds, but we knew that there was burgeoning evidence that supported the benefits of remote work, and with the right combination of people, process, technology, and work, our business and our team culture could really thrive. 

When the pandemic hit in 2020, we were lucky in that we didn’t have to transition in the way that so many other businesses had to. We were already there. 

Now that we’ve gotten beyond the worst of the pandemic, many companies are struggling with how to deal with an in-person vs. remote vs. hybrid approach. 

I don’t think there’s a single solution that is right for all businesses. Again, I can only tell you what works for us. We don’t have any intention of changing our remote work culture, and studies do show that remote work can be incredibly successful for certain businesses and workers. 

Check out this data published by Forbes just before the pandemic hit:

  1. Productivity — Teleworkers are an average of 35-40% more productive than their office counterparts, and have measured an output increase of at least 4.4%.
  2. Performance — With stronger autonomy via location independence, workers produce results with 40% fewer quality defects.
  3. Engagement — Higher productivity and performance combine to create stronger engagement, or in other words, 41% lower absenteeism. 
  4. Retention — 54% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offered them more flexibility, which results in an average of 12% turnover reduction after a remote work agreement is offered. 
  5. Profitability — Organizations save an average of $11,000 per year per part-time telecommuter, or 21% higher profitability.

Do I think that every business can or should make the leap into remote work? Not necessarily. But what I can tell you is that it’s worked for us because Garrett and I started with a very strong vision of what we wanted Formada to be, and drew upon our prior professional experiences to create a solid foundation. 

Team culture is more than just your mission

At Formada, we sincerely believe that it’s our mission to provide our clients a level of partnership and personalized service that they can’t really get anywhere else. This means that each and every person on our team needs to genuinely care about Formada. But it’s more than that.

They need to be able to, on some level, emotionally connect with their work, their peers, and our clients in order to do that. We’re living out the rare opportunity to create something unique and valuable with this business, so it’s incredibly important to me as a Founder to make sure our team members feel respected and heard and to have the space they need to do their best work.

So how do I do that? Well, for one, I feel that it’s my responsibility, especially since we work in a remote capacity, to be tuned into different types of communication styles, watch for people’s nonverbal cues, and to listen carefully so that I hear what is (and often what is not) being said. 

Paying attention to these things can tell me A LOT about how people are feeling about their work, but that alone can’t build a strong company culture. 

The small things that keep our culture connected

Make facetime and communication a consistent part of your daily routine 

With the exception of Wednesdays, we have daily team meetings at Formada. It’s an agenda driven meeting designed to give everyone the opportunity to tell the rest of the team what’s going on with their day, celebrate wins, and identify roadblocks. This is driven by the team. It’s not a top-down discussion. 

We keep this meeting quick and light. If we get a little off-track because we’re having fun chatting, then so be it. We’re fully remote, and this meeting has been a core part of how we’re building relationships as an overall team. 

Make time to listen

Our managers have weekly one-on-ones with their direct reports so they can discuss specific progress, work through project-related issues, or talk about more personal things. Again, this meeting is driven by the team member, not the manager. It is their meeting to have their agenda covered. 

Do lunch

At the end of every month, we replace our regular meeting with a monthly get-together where we give everyone a small budget to order lunch, play a game, or just have an informal discussion about what’s going on in our lives. 

It’s laid back, non-invasive, and designed to create a deeper human connection from person to person on the team. 

Invest in biannual team-building events

We’re fully remote, but we’re still committed to investing in in-person meetings for the sake of our team’s culture. 

On a twice-per-year basis, we rent a meeting space where we can go over goals and planning, and do some team bonding exercises. We hire a photographer, and splurge on a person to do hair and makeup so we can get great shots of everyone to use in our marketing. Then, we cap the evening with dinner at a great Portland restaurant. 

Indulgent? Probably! But do we get a return on our ROI here? I absolutely believe that we do. We’re creating an experience for our team with these events, and both Garrett and I strongly believe that one of the key tenets to creating a thriving culture is through clearly stating our intentions for the business, and then holding ourselves accountable and really following through. 

These in-person meetings can go a long way in making people feel appreciated and in giving clear direction on the future of the company. Every dollar spent is well worth it.

Let your Slack’s random channel be random

A cultural perk that is all too often overlooked is one where you let your people bond over the things that have nothing to do with work. 

I think that if your company’s Slack channel is filled with discussions about people’s favorite pop cultural cul-de-sacs, books they’re reading, and funny things they’re finding on the internet and they’re delighting your clients with top-notch, innovative work, then you’ve probably hit upon something special with the way you’re managing your business. 

We do our best not to force it

One of the things I’ve noticed over the last few years as our team has grown, is that, with the right combination of people and the right investments, the goodwill and camaraderie tends to replicate itself. 

A lot of that is owed to our people. They’re genuinely great. They take it upon themselves to welcome new teammates, to educate them about their roles and responsibilities and how they serve our clients. 

While we do have operational structure built for onboarding, there’s an intangible in between — something that process can’t really capture — that helps our team bond, keeps things light, and doesn’t need my explicit direction. You can’t force it.

A strong culture is about so much more than the work

You’ll notice that I’m talking a lot about things outside of the actual work, when it comes to how we’re building a strong culture. That’s no accident.  

Our goal is to attract and retain top talent in order to build on the foundation of incredible talent that we already have. In other words, the baseline assumption is that if we’re interviewing you or hiring you, then you’re great at what you do, regardless of the role. 

Top talent, of course, is extremely valuable. We’re talking about intelligent, gifted people who don’t want a ton of oversight, they just want the space and support to do their best work.

No one likes to be micromanaged, and in my experience, the best people who I have worked with want their expectations set, they want to be trusted, and they want to be held accountable. 

Micromanagement, in my opinion, is the act of managing to the lowest common denominator, and when you treat your team this way, they’ll act accordingly, so we avoid this at all costs. 

How we manage is centered around support instead of control. 

Outside of this — and outside of the larger discussion surrounding pay and benefits — it’s mostly a work-life balance thing that keeps people engaged and contributing to a healthy work culture. 

At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to set the tone

When it comes to the way in which our team connects with each other, I do my best to stay out of the way, but at the same time, Garrett and I recognize that, as founders, we’re the ones setting the tone. 

The way that he and I communicate with each other and with the team is a model for how the rest of our team is likely to act. 

Luckily, he and I have an incredible amount of respect for one another. Our skills complement each other really well. We listen to each other really well and know how to have a healthy debate and when to back off when the other is particularly passionate about something that will affect our team or business. 

I see this same sort of respect in every conversation that our team has with one another. We’re a passionate team but the last way I’d describe us is combative. We’re always searching for the smartest way to do the best work. I’m endlessly impressed by their curiosity and ingenuity, which keeps things fresh for me. They make me excited to go to work everyday. 

At this point in my career, I’ve had so many experiences that have brought me to this moment with Formada, but the most important thing that I might bring to the table is that I love people. I love getting to know new people and learning about their lives and how they like to spend their time.

For me, I feel grateful that I get to do great work everyday with people who inspire me in support of business owners who I respect. I hope that my team feels that gratitude, because their contributions have made Formada what it is today. 

Curious about how our approach to team culture fosters incredible work? Contact us to learn more!


Get in touch with the Formada Team