Illustration: Sim Onay (fam°)

Culture Design: 6 Mindsets for Remote Teams

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 13 min read · October 4, 2021

How did our culture adapt to living and working with COVID for over a year?

Author: Ayşe Yazgan Editors: Melissa Clissold, Oytun Elacmaz In-text illustrations: Aleyna Tezer Translation: Gamze Yılmazel


In March 2020, everyone at ATÖLYE started to work remotely. This was a decision that was made immediately by our Talent and Operations team right after the risks of the coronavirus became ever-more apparent.

Adapting to an entirely remote-based system has proved challenging. In this article, we would like to share with you six mindsets that we tried to adopt during this time to ensure the wellbeing of our team as well as our community members. Not everything worked, in fact, some of our methods failed; yet, this state of experimentation has allowed us to move from a more reactionary "survival mode" to a "thriving one."

I will first discuss the importance of reminding ourselves of our purpose, move on to the sudden "reactive" changes that we made as a response to the pandemic, then finally finish off by sharing the 6 mindsets that have helped guide us during this time. We hope that they will be useful for you too!

Please feel free to share ways that you and your organization have adapted to remote-working with us too. More important than "adapting to remote-working," designing a culture of remote work is what we chose to address below.

Reminding ourselves of our purpose

At this point, we would like to not only briefly share with you "what" we have been doing in terms of culture at ATÖLYE, but also focus on the "how" and "why" of things. Talking about culture without discussing the purpose of an organization is impossible. Purpose is at the core of organizational culture; it is as an anchor that reminds us why we are doing whatever we are doing.

If ATÖLYE is "a community-powered creative services organization that places an Academy and a Strategic Design Studio within a vibrant Creative Hub;" then,

ATÖLYE exists to cultivate a fertile environment that catalyzes individuals and organizations to thrive for the better.

A detailed depiction of our purpose.

What does this mean exactly? It means that we aim to create a culture of collaboration; a culture that is based on the idea of bringing people together whilst working towards creating a positive impact in any sector that we find ourselves in. We do this through our Creative Hub - a network of individuals and organizations who have joined our community*, through our Academy - a place where individuals can come together to become part of a learning community, as well as our Strategic Design Studio - a place where we hope to design solutions to any problems that may cross our path.

So, the first thing we asked ourselves during the initial phases of the coronavirus was:

"Why not do all of this remotely too?"

Since our culture also embodies the concepts of "living, working, and learning together," as well as the values of being "a child, a grown-up, and a community member" (these concepts are further explored below), we have constantly been able to remind each other of the "why" instead of giving up and saying "we can't do this." In this respect, we asked:

"How might we maintain our culture whilst working remotely?"

Culture may not be tangible, but it is experienced through every message, action, and interaction that we have. As Ben Horowitz has discerned, values are rather similar to aspirations. Culture, on the other hand, occurs in our everyday activities: it is practical.

So, as we entered "the new normal" and started experiencing a new reality of "Working From Home (WFH)", we were - and are - still unable to see each other physically (as much as we would like to). By seeing each other only as talking heads on a computer screen, we started experiencing Zoom-fatigue. We then started to ask ourselves,

"How can we truly sense our culture as we work remotely - separated from one another?"

"How can we know if we are doing a good or bad job in terms of maintaining our culture whilst working from home?"

It was apparent, and still is, that some practical changes needed to be made.

Adapting to sudden changes

Existing Rituals

Firstly, we moved all of our existing internal and external meetings to Zoom; we closed our physical working space at bomontiada in Istanbul, and as the whole team, we shifted to a mandatory WFH situation as of 16th of March, 2020. We are still all WFH.

Moreover, we started hosting all of our public events online - in addition to adding a few more! Since March 2020, we have held several virtual CreativeMornings events, witnessed hundreds of participants attend our local and global Academy programs such as "Liberating Structures Virtual Immersion", and we have even organized a total of 5 online Hackathons, 2 Ideathons, 2 Jams and 1 Designathon. We changed the format of our "New Creators" events and turned them into the series "Creators at Home." Our workload did not decrease, to the contrary, we tried to turn this situation into a positive by asking ourselves "how might we turn this situation into an opportunity for us, and for others?"

Furthermore, we continued to host our entire community virtually for Creative Hub events such as Potluck Lunches and Happy Hours (which occasionally turned into virtual discos). As ATÖLYE, we also usually organize team retreats twice a year and it is one of the most sought-after rituals of the team that I'm personally proud of. These take place in an off-site location in nature around November and May. We believe that these retreats lie at the core of our belonging and therefore we prioritize our participation. In 2020, instead of canceling the retreat, we shifted it to beyond work and extended it to our larger family, our community Members. Thus, we held our first virtual retreat and we called it Play & Live Day.

These are just a few examples of the immediate actions we took to strengthen our connections within our community and with the outside world straight away.

New Rituals

Town Hall meetings are a new ritual that we created during this period of remote working and mandatory WFH. Every Thursday between 5:30–6:30 PM, unless otherwise stated, the whole team comes together online through Zoom to check in, carry out activities together, and hear status updates. Each session is designed and co-hosted by two different team members every week. We also have monthly Town Hall meetings with our community members.

The first weeks were a little hectic, we were all jumping from one Zoom call to another; thus, we were exhausted and overwhelmed with the increased work time in between grocery shopping, cleaning, and constant disinfecting of our hands. In order to sense our team's wellbeing, we announced weekly pulse check surveys on our #orgfeed Slack channel.

We also virtually onboarded a new team member for the first time in ATÖLYE's history. He has not even met most of our team members physically, yet we have still managed to make him feel welcome as we have gotten to know him through fun facts and icebreakers within our Zoom sessions whether it be in meetings or breakout rooms during Town Halls.

In terms of communication, we have always used Slack as our main medium for internal messaging, and ideally only use email for outside communication. Each project team and unit now share Slack updates every Monday at the same time between 5:00–5:30 pm. We used to send the updates asynchronously but it didn't really work. So now, we have created certain times on our Calendars for "Slack update entries" and "Slack updates reading time" so that we ensure we are all aligned whilst starting the week.

Moreover, we have also hosted specific events focusing on the psychological impacts of the coronavirus (and how we can get support), as well as a brand new 30-day Personal Mastery program to help our team members feel more in control of their feelings.

So, where are we now?

It has been over a year and a half since we have started working from home due to the global pandemic. During this time, as mentioned in the introduction, we created 6 mindsets as a response to COVID-19, in order to remind ourselves of what is important during these uncertain times. We have shared these visual mindsets with our own team and our community, in order to feel further connected to one another and remember to be present.

We would like to now also share these mindset visuals with you, so that you may use them too, or even be inspired to produce your own! You can find a variety of formats to use here: you can use them as phone wallpapers, desktop wallpapers, or Zoom virtual backgrounds.

Just a little reminder to everyone to remember that we are all indeed connected.

Stay safe and healthy!

Our 6 Mindsets

1. Speak up. Participate. Engage. Silence is not golden.

Clarity is what we need when we cannot be together physically. Usually, we can interpret someone's body language, and feel the energy or "vibe" in the room when an element of physicality exists. We are currently "talking heads" on a computer screen. For setting clear expectations and bringing clarity to our virtual meetings, we use the IDOOART tool from Hyper Island. Indeed, silence is not golden, and rather than answering with a simple "yes, I agree," speaking up when you disagree with something is more important than ever.

2. Check in. Be present. Over-communicate. Appreciate. Check out.

A "check in" is the best way to become present and to set the tone of a meeting; it is also a great opportunity to make sure that everyone is heard.

Over-communicating about the status of our projects gives us a sense of alignment and belonging as a team. It allows us to say: "We know what the rest of our team is doing, let's jump in to help." Over-communicating does not mean being available whenever we are asked upon. We must try to balance ourselves accordingly and keep asking each other how we are doing.

We also prepared an "information flow and cadence guideline" as a reference document to choose when to communicate via Slack, whether information updates should be online or offline, and whether they should be synchronous or asynchronous. We also asked our team members about which days they would prefer to focus and have no meetings. Thus, now we have a whole day allocated to no meetings - split between two days.

Furthermore, appreciation is the key to being seen. "I see you, your qualities, and I appreciate you" is always heartwarming to hear. Some research studies indicate that for a person to hear constructive feedback; there needs to be a 5 to 1 ratio of appreciation; meaning, the person giving feedback also needs to hear positive feedback from you. Also, in the workplace itself, researcher Marcial Losada has found that among high-performing teams, the expression of positive feedback outweighs that of negative feedback by a ratio of 5.6 to 1.9.

"Check outs" are equally important as check ins; we close each call with our takeaways from the session, and make sure everybody knows what they are doing as a next step.

3. Focus on a sense of progress every day. Update your team every week.

Focusing on progress not only increases positivity, which is known to be in strong correlation with creativity, but also decreases our level of anxiety which we are collectively experiencing these days. It also gives us a sense of control. We make sure that we focus on progress with an abundant mindset.

4. Stay flexible. Things will change, we will thrive by adapting.

At ATÖLYE, we have a value-based culture. We rely on our values for our daily actions and rituals and we have three main values that refer to the behavior we love to model in our community. These are the values of being a "Grown-up" (feet on the ground), a "Child" (heart in the sky), and a "community Member" (we > me). Embracing ambiguity and resilience is also one of our community Member (we > me) values. To explore our values further please check out our Talent page.

We understand that rapid change and ambiguity are inevitable byproducts of wicked problems. We gracefully welcome ambiguity and perceive it as a learning opportunity where we employ a certain leap of faith - therefore we are able to function competently in uncertain environments by thinking on our feet.

Andrew Zolli defines resilience as: "The capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances."

5. Remember the live-work-learn triangle. Connect with people beyond work.

Boundaries can become blurry at home. We are working from home and learning from this experience every single day. What do we mean by the work, live, and learn triangle? Work is self-explanatory. Learn implies that ATÖLYE is a learning organization. We try to learn together and give back to the community through 101s, feedback sessions, and more. Live is with regards to how we belong within our community; how do we "live" together rather than simply work and learn? We do this by creating a sense of belonging, getting to know one another, and having informal conversations that move beyond work.

6. Remember to serve the community as a whole.

"Being a community member" is also one of our main values at ATÖLYE and it has three subcategories of its own: Being proactive, being generous and caring, and embracing ambiguity whilst being resilient.

As responsible community members, we look at each activity we are doing through the lens of 3 layers: The individual level, team level, and community level. And then we ask ourselves the following questions:

Does this serve me? Does it serve my community? How can I individually, and as a team, serve my community and the world? What is my contribution to my team and my community?

The fact that all of us are part of a community that lives, works, and learns together gains even more importance during harsh times like these. Knowing that there are people out there, and creating those feelings of intimacy and trust with them, truly helps our bodies release oxytocin and feel "happier."

Final remarks

This was what we did as ATÖLYE for our own cultural design for working from home. Which of the mindsets resonate with you the most? Which ones do you think would work best for your culture? And why? Tell us more in the comments below, we love to hear from you!

If you'd like to learn more about Culture Design for remote teams, please email us at

*Note: At ATÖLYE, we call our employees "team members," whilst we call the members of our Creative Hub and the team in its entirety our "community." ATÖLYE Community consists of creative individuals and teams who aspire to connect, learn, and grow around purpose-driven work. ATÖLYE's Creative Hub is the unit that aims to nourish and catalyze creative individuals and communities through community curation and programming.

For more information about how to become a part of our community please visit our website at