August 17, 2017

A Fully Remote Company Can Reinforce Their Core Values, Exceed Their Team Goals, and Celebrate As One – A “Teach A Team Member To Fish” Story

Yes, it’s possible. I’m not in HR,  and I’m not an expert in the study of the workplace, but I’ve been running a fully remote company of over 40 full-time employees for years, and feel compelled to write as I bear witness to the glut of articles and comments being written about #remotework recently.  There have been so many folks debating the theory of remote work, with praise or admonishment for those individuals who are distributed, and/or for the organizations who hire them.  What has been missing in my mind from these conversations are the real-life examples of vibrant, strong, remote-work teams, the practice of this debated theory.  I want to share an example of how a remote company can succeed and excel when everyone is aligned around strong and thriving company values.  And believe me, this is just one small real-world snippet of life at our company.

Teach A Team Member To Fish

One of the criticisms of remote work is that folks are silo’d, and act independently, not as a “real” team.  Everyone is doing their own thing and there’s a lack of accountability.  I’m sure this happens at some organizations, but not if they are well-run and intentional about their values, culture, and goal-setting. Last quarter, we launched our Teach A Team Member to Fish theme (we have a theme every quarter around our goals), and every person regardless of their role, seniority, or experience at the company was asked to participate.  This reinforced our core values in the way that it encouraged our team members to learn or teach each other how to do things for themselves, while having a better understanding of each other’s jobs and improving upon our common, collective brain. Our goal for the quarter was to create the types of documents, processes, explanations, write-ups, meetings and overall data downloads that would be helpful to new employees or even seasoned folks as they navigated within our world. Every organization has this issue (don’t tell me you don’t).  Teach A Team Member to Fish sought to solve some of it.

How Can A Team Act In Lock-Step Virtually?

Teach A Team Member To Fish, in a virtual environment, works the way many of our projects and corporate initiatives work.  There’s an announcement of the quarterly goals and theme over our Slack channel weekly “all-hands” (literally as we’re typing away!) meeting.  We share Google docs, a virtual scorecard of the goals and what we want to accomplish.  We talk in our meetings (video, phone, Slack etc.) about the kind of information we want to share, what we want to see in our Employee Resource Center as we build it out (this is where a lot of this information will end up living).  Team members slack each other and call each other up about things they don’t understand.  Channels are created for topics that need more collaboration.  We joke about needing to “Organize the Organization” and we root each other on as different folks are assigned to wrap up different docs, processes, data dumps, etc.  We all share, in real-time, our progress on those documents, and celebrate together in the spirit of what we call “Professional Intimacy” as we count down the remaining items needed to earn our team reward (more on that in a moment).  We understand why we’re trying to Teach A Team Member To Fish because we all communicate when there are pain points, where we could be Improving, whether in our 1:1s, or our department meetings, or with each other.  Working remotely is easy when there is transparency in the organization and everyone can easily communicate.  It’s even easier when everyone embraces the same values and approaches the work with that spirit in mind.

A Common Experience to Reward an Uncommon Group

What does one do for a fully-remote team that has successfully taught it’s team members how to fish?  Can you get clever with a seafood or sushi buffet in the common room? Can you take a team-wide fishing expedition as a bonding experience away from the office? When your folks are all over the country, like ours are, how do you create a common experience that rewards unity and accomplishment for an uncommon group?  This is what runs through my mind.

Enter our first-ever “Fishing Week.”  During the quarter, we announced to our team (via our weekly Slack meeting and again over email with their voucher coupon) that we would be rewarding everyone on the team with an experience through a website that offers national experiences aimed at “teaching” folks new things.  Tours, events, and classes were offered in nearly every major city, and we did our research to ensure all our locations could participate.  We set a dollar amount, and a designated week, in which every team member, should we accomplish our goals, would be able to play a little hooky and learn about architecture, take a food tour, sail around the Statue of Liberty (my personal Fishing Week experience), paraglide (!!) and get out there and learn something new. Team members within the same region elected to seek each other out to do experiences together, creating a week of team bonding through sharing similar experiences on different days, in different locations, taking pictures (see below) and coming back to work to share, laugh, and celebrate as we pushed our, and our organization’s, development forward.  It.was.awesome.  Seriously, you can ask them.

Lisette, Kayla and Angie enjoying tacos and grilled cheese at the LA Food Tour!
Nikki & Stephanie taking in the beautiful sights of the city on the NYC Harbor Tour!
Erica & Samantha admiring Bottega Louie’s famous macaroons!

The takeaways

So what does it mean for the debate, and what does it mean for how folks will look at individuals and organizations participating in remote work?  One company does not make the norm, I know that.  I know our team has its challenges, as does any organization.  But I also know that these challenges are not present because we work as a distributed team.  This is just one example of the way we approach our work together — collaborative, creative, and in lock-step.  We are a strong, thriving, tight-knit organization and we enjoy experiences and togetherness in a novel way that works for us, and it can work for other organizations too.  I believe the key is in intention, focus, and desire on the part of management and the people who self-select for this kind of flexibility in their work lives.  There needs to be common purpose, a fanatical recruitment of folks who share the same core values, and a commitment to create an environment that is just as, if not more rewarding, than one within the confines of four walls.  Our purpose is to build meaningful relationships beyond borders, and the way we work is the epitome of this philosophy.  I challenge every organization out there to examine their own culture, be they remote or not, and create experiences for their teams that are creative, collaborative, and rewarding.  We all face the challenge of unifying our teams, on this there’s no debate.  This is just one small way our team, our 100% remote and proud-of-it team, answers the call.

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