As we define them, perks are fun little surprises that also help build and craft company culture. We design them intentionally to:
Engage and connect remote teams
Opportunities to bond with each other aren’t as readily available to dispersed workers. Create them!
Reinforce that team members are valued people
Dispersal precludes more traditional methods of demonstrating care. We can’t pop into Bob’s office and ask how the kids are, but the right perk may do a better job of making Bob feel valued anyway.
To be clear, when we say ‘perks’ we’re not talking about ongoing benefits like gym memberships or vacation plans. We’re talking about unexpected extras here and there. Extras that cultivate relationships and support life beyond the computer screen. We love these kinds of perks because they go farther than simply handing out bonuses (though we won’t argue with that practice); they cultivate the camaraderie and trust that may be easier to come by in face-to-face environments.
Here are seven of our most successful culture-building perks:
1. Everybody's A Critic
Movie critic, that is.
This one’s pretty straightforward: Send everyone a movie of their choice and ask them to share a short review with the team after watching. Bonus points if you ask for photos of their movie snacks.
Why do it: The surprising thing about simple activities like this is that they foster a sense of having done something together even though the group may be spread across the globe. Because we know we’ll be offering feedback about the film later, we carry an awareness of our coworkers, subtle though it may be, into the experience. Which is what we’re after on the job too—the team must work together and do so apart. Having fun in the same fashion strengthens that muscle.
2. DIY Days
When your staff is remote, you don’t have overhead in the form of rent, janitorial services, or building maintenance. Your employees work from their own homes—homes that inevitably need spring cleaning, repairs, and renovations. Care about that. Make it a little easier. Add in fun and you’ve got something more compelling than a foosball table in a break room could ever hope to be.
Step one: Ask everyone to take a paid day off within a specified window of time and use those unplugged hours to complete a project around the house.
Step two: Everyone shares before-and-after photos with the team. (Boom. Instant conversation starter.)
Step three: Mutual admiration, booyahs.
Why do it: There’s a reason home-improvement television shows are so popular—they’re inspiring. Motivating. When you’re inspired and motivated as a team and, even better, by your team, the dividends are respect, cohesion, and esprits de corps. You can’t get that watching HGTV.
3. Geek Garb
Logo-emblazoned company apparel is all well and good, but ThinkGeek’s Random Torso Combo Generator is much more fun.
Step one: Everyone chooses their desired size.
Step two: Order and ship to your team members' homes.
Step three: Photo share. (We love photos here.)
Why do it: One of the benefits of working remotely is the nonexistent dress code. This perk capitalizes on that, giving your team new clothing (they still dress, they just don’t dress up) and a forum to show it off—a rare opportunity for dispersed teams.
4. Flu Busters
One year when a particularly nasty strain of influenza was making its way around the world, we decided to get proactive. Everyone had the opportunity to get a flu shot, courtesy of Open Door Teams, and a paid hour off for the time it took.
Why do it: Aside from avoiding the obvious downside of an infected workforce—diminished productivity, anyone?—there’s something to be said for going out of your way to make staying healthy through flu season easy. It’s one thing to say, “We care about your health.” It’s another altogether to put your money where your mouth is.
5. Family Care Package
Company retreats and All Hands meet-ups may be great for remote teams, but they can be hard on the ones we leave behind. They’re used to having us around, after all. This perk makes the time away a little easier.
Step one: Each team member chooses a surprise for their loved ones within a predetermined spending limit.
Step two: Ship the gifts so that they arrive while your team is away from home.
Why do it: It’s perhaps no surprise that this is one of our most popular perks. When you care about their lives outside of work, you demonstrate your awareness that your employees are not one-dimensional, that their families and home lives have real impact on their professional lives. Not to mention the fact that we all love to see the people that matter most to us treated kindly.
6. Jack O' Lantern Challenge
We like to do this in October. Naturally.
Step one: Everybody buys a pumpkin on the company dime.
Step two: Everybody carves their pumpkin. Families can pitch in too. In fact, we encourage that. Part of the beauty of remote work is that it allows us to stay engaged with and connected to our homes and families. Anything that reinforces that is a win in our book.
Step three: Everybody posts a photo of their carved pumpkin in whatever team communication tool you use.
Step four: Everybody votes. Multiple categories make it even more fun, e.g. most intricate, most creative, funniest, geekiest, etc.
Step five: Prizes! Winners receive gift cards.
Why do it: Anytime we share something we’ve made, we’re allowing others to see us—a scary prospect when the something in question is an autobiography, but a jack o’ lantern is less exposing. Pumpkin carving is a fairly risk-free way to see and be seen. Teammates can show off their personalities and artistic skills, engage in a little friendly competition, and do something with their hands that doesn’t involve a keyboard.
7. Seasonal Style
Like number three, this perk acknowledges the fact that even remote workers wear clothes, but Seasonal Style does so without the wackiness.
Step one: Everyone chooses a winter (or spring, summer, fall—whatever the case may be) item of clothing within a set spending limit.
Step two: Order and ship.
Step three: Yep, you guessed it. Photo share.
Why do it: In the United States, the Autumn months are September, October, and November. But those months spell Spring in Australia. Celebrating our different experiences of the season is a fun way to connect and foster empathy. Even if your workforce is concentrated within one country, there are likely notable environmental—and, therefore, fashion—differences from one end of it to the other.
The right perks help build a strong culture.
Hopefully you see the trend here. This isn’t about free stuff. It’s about developing relationships, creating meaningful moments, and enjoying each other. Remote teams have to work a little harder at culture-building, but we’d argue that’s a good thing. After all, strong corporate cultures don’t evolve by accident.
Photos by Paul J., Michael S., and Tim H. of Open Door Teams