A sense of belonging from a distance

Written by Sarah Spitz, on 05 April 2018

Shortly after founding Four Kitchens with three partners, Todd encountered a significant problem: he couldn't recruit for his offices in Austin. All the good candidates were elsewhere. He then decided to get rid of the offices: but how could he maintain the culture of Four Kitchens if there were no more offices?

Early on, Todd researched the practices of other companies that operate without offices. He contacted remote-working executives and attended events on the subject. Among the advice he received, he now recognizes as essential the need to systematize communication, whether work-related or informal. And yes, without offices, there's no more coffee machine break... But that doesn't mean you can't compensate with something else.

"Every conversation becomes deliberate, so we had to create very distinct communication channels," Todd Ross Nienkerk explains.

Examples? They're plentiful!

Every Monday, they have 'team hugs'. Employees connect via video conference and take 15 minutes to congratulate each other on their work. Another quarter of an hour is then dedicated entirely to non-work-related questions: the rule is to ask any question, as long as it's funny and unrelated to work. Everyone then briefly answers. For example: "Would you rather be Batman or Superman?"

Meetings in smaller groups also take place every Thursday. It's an informal conversation, without any agenda, lasting half an hour, with 5 participants. The composition of these groups changes every quarter, allowing everyone to get to know all their colleagues quickly and in a small setting.

Un mois typique de rituels chez Four KitchensA typical month of rituals at Four Kitchens

The after-work event has also evolved from an optional end-of-day activity at the local bar to a genuine weekly practice. Everyone gathers with a beer in hand at their desk on the same video conference, despite a 4-hour time difference. There have been no reports of spilled beers on the computer, but it seems important to keep this risk in mind. Consider yourself warned.

Finally, every year there is a week-long retreat that everyone participates in: it's an opportunity to meet colleagues in person and in a pleasant environment. This practice is very common among distributed teams and is considered by all to be an indispensable highlight.