Myth: Teams Won’t Be Able to Collaborate Effectively



Updated March 23, 2023

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There’s a grain of truth to this concern about remote work, but only if your company doesn’t intentionally design how it will support remote workers. The way co-located teams collaborate doesn’t translate to a distributed model. Teams can’t rely on being in the same space to get context, share ideas, give and receive feedback, and iterate or brainstorm. The nature (and, sometimes, timeframe) of collaboration shifts when people move outside an office. But it’s not necessarily ineffective. Remote collaboration requires rethinking how remote teams work together, and also designing practices to support more asynchronous progress while still helping team members trust and learn from each other. (See more in Remote Collaboration Ground Rules.)

Myth: Our Company Won’t Be Able to Maintain Our Culture

Much like workplace communication norms, company culture has been heavily shaped by physical presence. Proximity has long been a proxy for what constitutes culture, despite not being the primary factor that establishes any given culture, nor a guarantee that a culture will be healthy. The belief that remote teams won’t have a cohesive culture is the same belief that maintains that co-located companies have good cultures to begin with. As we cover in Remote Company Culture, shared values—and the specific practices of communicating and promoting those values—largely shape a group’s culture whether group members are co-located or not. Values can and should be written down, shared liberally and regularly, and revisited as a company grows and changes. Like many other written, asynchronous practices, values—and the culture built from them—can survive, and even thrive, in remote settings.

importantWe don’t intend to downplay the difficulties involved with establishing and scaling a healthy remote culture. But like any other aspects of remote work, it’s a matter of doing the work. And most importantly, it’s a matter of realizing that culture isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it phenomenon. Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab—arguably the fastest-growing all-remote startup out there—acknowledges the work required to maintain their culture:

It’s a daily, intentional challenge. I’m working a lot on onboarding right now. One of our biggest risks is “losing the values that bind us.” When we have too many new people coming in too fast, they are figuring out where they fit in. If you’re not careful, they don’t realize they have permission to do things differently. If too many of those people come in and “talk louder” than others, then the culture starts to tip in that direction. Any leader who appreciates the culture they’ve built has to continually watch out for that. Your natural inclination is to get them in and working quickly, so you don’t have the time to teach them to do things differently. The thing that GitLab has going for it is that stuff that we let people leave behind is what people usually want to leave behind. It’s like hiring a new soccer coach, someone who views the field the way the old coach taught them. If you take that person and then add a flood of new players, it’s hard for the existing players to teach them their playbook.*

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