"Remote companies have no culture." When people think of a remote workplace, the first thought is often one of distance and disconnection. But this is simply not true. It is possible to form deep connections -- and yes, culture -- at a 100 percent distributed company. It starts with gratitude.
A recent study found that being regularly thanked at work can lead to better sleep, fewer headaches, and healthier eating. The benefits of this to the individual are obvious, but it is also clear to see how it impacts the organization -- fewer sick days and more contented people who are able to bring their best to each day.
I have seen this at Aha!, where I am the co-founder and CEO. Our company has always been fully distributed and we have a culture of gratitude. Contrary to what you might think, these two attributes go hand in hand--though, admittedly, it does require extra work to make it happen, especially as our company has rapidly grown to nearly 100 teammates.
We make this a large priority because gratitude helps us pause and recognize how important small acts of kindness are -- even when we are not physically in the same building. It also inspires the team to stay committed, giving more effort and care.
So, how do you start creating an environment with regular thank-yous? Here's how to foster a culture of gratitude on your remote team:
1. Build team spirit.
The more that co-workers connect with one another, the more appreciative they will be of the organization as a whole. Researchers at Binghamton University found that fostering a work environment where people feel included and valued leads to higher satisfaction and trust among employees. All teammates at Aha! can opt into a program that randomly pairs them with someone in the company for a quick get-to-know-you video chat once a month.
2. Create space for thanks.
You need to give the team a place to share their thanks. Our team practices something we call "hatitude." It happens in person when our entire company meets twice a year. The idea is that teammates take turns donning a goofy hat while everyone showers them with gratitude (thus the name "hatitude"). But we also do this every day by sharing gratitude in our company's group messaging tool. This works because the messages are heartfelt and specific like, "Jennifer never hesitates when I ask for help. Today she immediately said yes to jump in last-minute and cover a customer call."
3. Celebrate big achievements.
Celebrate the team regularly and often -- especially when they accomplish something great. One way to do this is to reserve time at the end of video meetings to acknowledge great work, asking people to get on camera and comment on a major goal or project they just completed. You could also invite everyone to a virtual party. Have folks hop on a video call to give rounds of applause and maybe even a toast. And when new folks join the team, be sure to make a celebration out of that, too.
4. Give back generously.
Remote teams can not only give back to society; they can also do it with more impact -- we span various states and even countries. We have a much broader reach. This is why we established a program called Aha! Cares. Teammates can nominate a nonprofit in their community to receive a financial donation from the company. Additionally, we offer an annual paid volunteer day, and our whole team volunteers together when we meet up in person -- something our teammates often cite as one of their favorite memories of the year.
Creating a culture of gratitude is more important now than it has ever been. The world needs more kindness and more people who are willing to lift others up. You can be that person to lift your team up. You simply need to commit each day to making gratitude a priority.