How TaxJar builds connections while working remotely

by Darcy Boles July 31, 2018

We talk about the benefits of working remotely often because we believe it really IS the only way to work. We’ve written about the lessons we’ve learned over the past 5 years of working remotely, but sometimes when talking to folks unfamiliar with remote work, I get an important question that I’d like to address.

Don’t you get lonely working remotely?

I get it. Not only are there a lot of different work environments that people think of when “working remotely”, there are also a lot of companies that treat their ‘remote’ employees quite differently which can give this style of working a bad reputation.
For folks that are used to working in an office environment all day surrounded by people, the idea of working at home can be thought of as a lonely experience. But at TaxJar, it’s different.
Some of us live in the mountains in Tahoe, in upstate Vermont on farms, or on a boat nestled in a harbor. Others of us are constantly travelling, away from the comforts of home forever seeking adventure, making many of us jealous of their thrilling experiences. However, despite being located in destinations far away from your typical office, we have created a virtual ‘work community’ where we are all connected and come together to build deeper connections.
If you’re looking for ways to bring your remote team together we hope this will help. Here are some of the most impactful things that we’ve done at TaxJar to build relationships as a team and foster community virtually (in between our biannual in-person JarFest retreats).

We overshare and support one another

I’m relatively new to TaxJar and haven’t actually met the team I work with in-person at a JarFest yet, but I’ve observed how open and honest the team has been with each other since I’ve joined. From complete transparency with our company performance metrics, to mindful meditation sessions, to bringing in Brad Stulberg, the author of the book Peak Performance to discuss our shared struggles in work/life balance, TaxJar has encouraged openness in everything that we do.
My teammates have shared very personal stories, experiences, and it’s been incredible to see a team that has such a deep trust level with one another. I recently witnessed it first-hand when I went through a break-up. The first few days it was happening, I’ll admit I worked in my robe and ate ice cream for breakfast. I knew I needed to tell someone at work what was going on or scurvy was going to be in my future.
I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, maybe but a few “keep your head ups”, some encouraging emojis, and perhaps, a little empathy? However, I woke up the next day to a breakfast burrito delivered to my door from a local coffee shop, a “singing wake-up call of joy,” from a teammate, and a list of “10 fun things to do instead of think about your ex” in my inbox.  I was blown away by the thoughtfulness of how the team responded when I opened up.

Remote Work Culture

The sweet note attached to my breakfast burrito

What some companies may consider an ‘overshare’, TaxJar encourages. We want everyone to be open and transparent with the team so that we’re able to support each other in the best way possible.

We pay attention to mental and physical health

We want to make sure everyone has access to the help they need when dealing with a personal issue outside of TaxJar – whether it’s feeling isolated, caring for a sick relative or dealing with the reality of burn out. We know that everyone has varying comfort levels, so in addition to our already amazing health benefits,  every employee also has access our EAP (Employee Assistance Program) at anytime, and can connect with a counselor in their area covered by their insurance. The program is 100% confidential and no cost to our employees.
Because we can’t offer in-office yoga classes that foster movement and connection, or go for walks together at lunch, we offer a monthly gym stipend, Fitbit step trackers, and we even recently started diving into meditation through the Headspace application.
Aside from just offering the perks, we encourage accountability and connection in our “Health and Wellness” space in Basecamp.  We launched a meditation challenge during our busiest month for stress-release (it worked!), and step challenges where we set a daily step goal and encourage one another to share photos of our daily strolls.

One of our employees favorite walks in Montana

We create opportunities to learn from one another

Our team LOVES to learn. Aside from the $1,000 a year that we offer for professional development, we’ve implemented monthly Skillshares. A Skillshare is an hour a month where a teammate offers to teach some sort of skill or spend time educating the team on a subject they are passionate about. The team tunes in on a live Zoom call (it’s also recorded and posted if members can’t make it).

remote work culture

Live Skillshare demo

Since we started this, we’ve learned how to make vegan mac-n-cheese from one of our developers who apparently doubles as a chef outside of work, had our family history researched by our very own Chief of Content, and learned the ins and outs of language in “Linguistics 101.”

 We celebrate together

We make a huge effort to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We always send everyone a personalized gift for their birthday and TaxJar anniversary and announce the occasion to the team.  And just because we can’t EAT a birthday cake together, it doesn’t mean we can’t share the sentiment. For TaxJar’s 5th birthday we held a friendly “Cake Wars” competition. We had anyone interested in baking make a cake for our virtual anniversary party. Our categories were “Most Creative Cake,” “Ugliest Cake,” and “‘You Should Probably be on the Great British Baking Show Instead of Working at TaxJar’ Cake.”The results were even better than we could have imagined.

remote work culture cake wars

Vegan chocolate cupcakes, with vegan buttercream icing, gilded with real 24k gold and vodka, dusted with gold and green sugar, topped with a handmade flag for each state where a teammate resides!

Ultimately, we’re one team, with one mission, and we’re here to support each other on the journey.

At TaxJar, we’re proud to be remote and we’ll never accept working any other way. We work really hard to make sure we’re going above and beyond to bridge connections and foster community in our teams, instead of focusing on gaps created by our geographic limitations.
We’ve created a space where it’s OK to be vulnerable, to laugh, to create, to try new things and learn from our mistakes because we’re one team, built on trust. At TaxJar we may be remote, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’re alone.
How does your remote team build connection? Let us know in the comments!

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