Staying Connected to your Distributed Team

July 19, 2022

Tags: Company

In March 2020, our remote-first company began its fully-remote journey. During COVID, we tested the waters and after 9 months, we officially terminated our office lease. This meant that by the time I joined in February 2021, we were already a fully remote team, but based entirely in Louisiana. We became geographically distributed once I joined (hailing from California) and Meks joined (hailing from Minnesota). This level-up is best captured by our NewAperio 2021 Mug, adorned with a wonderful illustration by Hannah Gumbo representing the three states our team now spans.

NewAperio 2021 Mug illustration

However, this level-up tested the processes we had put in place to support and maintain culture and connection as a distributed team. After a year of iterating and trying new things, I wanted to share some of the events and practices that we engage in as a company to help us stay connected:

Events

  1. Opt-in coffee breaks, twice a week: this experiment from the lockdown era is one we’ve kept, as it provides needed social breaks during more remote days when the only lifeform you’ve spoken to is your dog. These water-cooler-type chats run the gamut from weekend plans to TV show updates to unboxings of new comic book deliveries.

  2. Lunch & Learns, once a month: these informal lessons are a great representation of our key value ”Learning & Mentorship“, allowing teammates to share knowledge during a lunch break. Topics range from technical (color theory, NeoVim, and Figma) to non-technical (ADHD, Ergonomics, and K-pop) and are always a fun change of pace.

  3. Company retreat, once a year: after our first company-wide gathering in New Orleans this year, we unanimously voted to make this a yearly event. The experience was invaluable — deepening, enriching, and reinforcing our digital bonds with new memories and inside jokes.

Practices

  1. Wide range of active Slack channels: Slack keeps us on top of our projects and helps us stay connected throughout the day. In addition to the usual project channels, we have social channels (like “fur-friends” for cute pet photos) and support channels (like “everybody-makes-mistakes” for reflecting on small failures before moving on).

  2. Daily check-ins: our morning meeting stems from agile development processes, but has also become a daily anchor point of human interaction for our team. Although video is always optional, our team often prefers it as it lends a much more personal touch to our meetings.

  3. External meetings on Monday and Tuesday, no meetings on Thursday and Friday: this weekly structure can't always be followed, but by clumping the majority of our meetings at the beginning of the week, we can extend our periods of focus later in the week. Wednesday is our flex day that ideally has no meetings, but stands as a buffer to help keep Thursday and Friday free for focus time.

  4. Spontaneous Zoom pairing sessions: sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes 4 hours — pairing with a teammate isn‘t always the answer, but it’s always available when we need it to collaborate or work through a problem with support.

While all of these events and practices have helped us at NewAperio bond through our webcams and computers, we acknowledge that every remote worker is an individual with unique needs. To account for this, some of the above are opt-in: no guilt-tripping applied if anyone doesn’t feel up to it. Each item is also open for readjustment and reinterpretation.

I think the most important thing to staying connected is being flexible and adaptable to your team’s needs. Try new things! Test them out and listen to your teammates with empathy and understanding. And when something fits, keep doing it.


If you’d like to collaborate with our team, please reach out! We specialize in UI/UX, product design (including remote product design sprints); software development in Elixir/Phoenix, Ruby/Rails, React, or React Native; and DevOps with Kubernetes, Docker, or AWS. We’re always looking to make new connections.

Nikki Kyllonen

Junior Developer

Tired graduate TA turned wide-eyed junior dev. Requires good desk speakers and periodic dog petting breaks to survive. Enjoys road trips and rock climbing when not glued to her computer. she/her

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