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The 3 B’s of Healthy Remote Teams: BBQs, Beer, & Bourbon

By Brett Florio | November 18, 2013

BBQ

Remote working. Virtual teams. Telecommuting. Whatever you call it, we’re big fans ourselves, and by all accounts we’re just a small part of a rapidly growing number of companies embracing it. The new technologies enabling this are truly revolutionary, but here at FoxyCart we’ve discovered the oldest of old school technologies have proven far more important than we’d ever imagined when we started this in 2007. Team members meeting each other in person has made us stronger.

Trust Augments Productivity

Think about the best work environment you’ve ever participated in. Your colleagues probably knew what you held dear, and cared about your well-being. They probably understood how to shape compliments and criticism in a way that respected your unique needs and communication preferences.

Now think about how that environment came to be. It wasn’t from task-specific comments in your project management tool. Nor was it from Git commit messages. I’ve never seen anything like

Refs #2918, fixing some CSS quirks.
Hey @Evgeniy, how's your baby girl? Comment me back on your next commit, ok? :)

Remote teams have it rough in this regard. You might glean somebody’s interests from Twitter or Facebook, which could lead to sharing Reddit links or blog posts you think they’d enjoy. But even with the best of intentions, remote workers lose in-person interaction for about half of their weekday waking hours. On a personal level, “social isolation is the best-established, most robust social or psychological risk factor for disease out there.” Even beyond needing a healthy company to have a healthy team, these types of interactions build empathy and trust. All of this leads to a more productive team.

How we improve FoxyCart by not talking FoxyCart

So, what to do? We’ve found the best solution to be periodic in-person hangouts. Our nine current team members are spread out across the US, Australia, Russia, Pakistan, and Poland, and all but two team members have met most of the rest of the team in person. (The two that remain hopefully won’t remain IRL strangers for long, but in the meantime we try to make up for it with more frequent non-business video hangouts, sometimes involving the kids.)

When we meet in person, we don’t typically talk business. We talk about life, family, politics, religion, social justice, psychology. We enjoy BBQs[1], beer, bourbon, or whatever else will contribute to a relaxed atmosphere. Little kids, toddlers, and babies are constantly present.

Even without talking about business, the benefits to FoxyCart (the company and the service) are tangible. During a BBQ with Josh, I realized we were underutilizing him in certain areas, which lead to shifting his roles further towards marketing and communication. Over bourbon with Luke, we realized that our passions aren’t necessarily the technology of ecommerce, but in helping entrepreneurs make a difference, and disruptive technologies and the possibility for social change.

Other topics have covered future roles and responsibilities (from management to learning new skills), new tech (that we’ve subsequently adopted), and cultural differences in work/life balance and communication styles.

How to prioritize some IRL meatspace meetups

Our instruction manual for BBQs, Beer & Bourbon are straightforward:

  1. Start with a weekly or bi-monthly, optional, informal video hangout on Google+. No agenda. Share the latest viral video, photos of your kids, or anything else. Pay your team for the time they spend there. It’s worth it.
  2. As you’re able, schedule trips and work around your team’s travel schedule. (Many of our team members travel pretty regularly, which helps.) Flights might be a few hundred bucks or more, but they’re worth it if you plan on spending years working with these people.

That’s it. Just make it a priority. Solid relationships are the foundation of all great teams, and in-person hangouts can provide personal and business benefits far beyond your expectations.

That’s our experience, at least. We’re always looking to improve, and we’d love your feedback!


  1. Tacos may be substituted for BBQ where climate and availability permit.  ↩

The views expressed in the above post are the author's own, and may not reflect those of FoxyCart.com LLC.

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