Do you have a ping-pong table in your office? Do you offer vegan brunch for free? Do you organize after-work pub nights? Do you think these determine or even connected to your company culture? I don't think so. Company culture is about HOW you work.
I don't think that company culture can be summed up with a ping-pong table or in-office bar. I have seen agencies with more culture and committed employees operating from a warehouse-like empty shell, then others working from a top floor of a skyscraper with a pool table overlooking the city and an in-office free pub installed next to the meeting rooms.
Building a company culture is a) important because it improves employee retention and commitment plus work quality b) hard to do it c) even harder to do it with a remote team. Here are the basics on how to do it.
Culture Goes Beyond The Office
I challenge the idea that physical objects solely can improve culture, but if this would be true, having a ping pong table in your office certainly does exactly zero for a remote team.
Instead of objects, think about somehow mirroring the physical office into the online space. Small talk goes in the kitchen area around the water cooler? Great, have a #kitchen Slack channel for your employees. Are there interconnected topics that are just vaguely related to the work? Great, put them up to Slack as well. Are team members into online gaming? Great, organize and facilitate LAN-games.
These won't impact or form your company culture at all, but they are a good starting point. Consider them as online ping pong tables.
Define HOW You Work = Ultimately Define Your Culture
Every office has rules. It is the same for remote teams. Define how you work online with team members. Clearly define how you track progress, how you collaborate on projects, how you treat customers, how you raise common issues, how personal development works. Even the simplest things matter: when to show up - regarding multiple time zones - and how to participate in team calls.
Transparency Is a Must -- So Does Collaboration
In the office, you can see everyone's face. In remote teams, it's called transparent communication. Every chat is open, searchable and visible. Every communication is collaborative and more relaxed than a usual office talk. Imagine a meeting room with a whiteboard. Your day-to-day toolkit for remote teams should be something like that. Use a company chat to mirror the classic office, use online conference tools for team calls, use collaborative content management platforms to manage collaborative work.
Small Remote Treats
So your company is into gym memberships and stuff? Well, for remote teams, that might not be an option. Instead of perks that are tied to a location, use small perks that are bound to something online. Treat everyone with e-books or streaming music subscriptions.
In-person meetups are important if you are building a remote team culture. What you can save on overhead costs, you can spend on small team retreats. If you have a local office and some remote employees, invite them into the main office once in a while. It helps employee commitment plus improves trust. It is also fun to travel, and it is a great perk for your remote team.
These are just the basics. Building a company culture is critical, and you shouldn't skip for a remote team either. Every company is different, but every successful company has a culture that they depend on.