Remote working arrangements had been growing in popularity for some time already. And then 2020 happened. For obvious reasons lots of businesses the world over have been thrown in at the deep end and forced to run their operations remotely. For some it’s a temporary measure, for others it has become part of the long term plan for their business. There have been lots of different experiences.
The point is that running a company remotely is now a concept that virtually every man and his dog is familiar with, whereas 20 years ago if you muttered “remote work” to most people they’d likely look back at you with a puzzled expression and reply “remote what?!”
There are a tremendous number of benefits to running a company remotely if it’s done correctly. And it’s that “if” that’s the key point. This kind of working arrangement brings with it a new set of challenges and pressures that can impact many aspects of your business, particularly your staff.
We wanted to help give company owners the best chance of succeeding by talking to some of the most knowledgeable folks around when it comes to remote workplaces. We spoke to 25 consultants and strategists that help companies with all things remote work and have years of experience to draw upon. We asked each of them to provide one tip for any company that is looking to create a successful remote working environment. This article is the result of those conversations.
The Most Common Mistakes Made By Remote Companies
We’ve put together this resource to provide you with tips to help your business excel with a remote setup, but it can also really help to be aware of the potential pitfalls and reasons why some remote workplaces fall flat on their faces.
As part of our research process, we asked each of the experts that we got in touch with to name the 3 most common mistakes that companies make when establishing a remote workplace. Any that were mentioned 3 times or more are shown on the chart below.
Over and over there were two remote work mistakes that kept cropping up. Simply thinking you can try to recreate your physical office in the virtual world, and run it in exactly the same way was the first one.
Not defining a clear communication strategy that your team should adhere to was the other. When you’re not physically in the same space, it’s obvious that the way in which you communicate with each other is going to change, so that needs to be something you take into account and plan for.
How to Run a Company Remotely + Get It Right: 25 Experts Weigh In
“It won’t be much different. Our staff are just at home instead of in the office. No big deal.” – said every company director that implemented a remote work program that flopped bigger than Windows Vista.
Not having your team all in the same physical location IS a big change but with the right advice it’s a change that can be immensely beneficial to all involved. Below we’ve listed a quick rundown of all of the tips that we curated to help you figure out how to properly run a company remotely.
- Learn About Your Team and Embrace Its Work-Style Diversity (Anja Simic)
- Addressing Issues That Impact Your Ability to Meet Deadlines or Provide Quality Results (Diane Stegmeier)
- Create Deliberate Connections (Sarah Aviram)
- Empower Engaged Leaders at all Levels (Mika J. Cross)
- Avoiding Burnout for Yourself and Your Team (Lance Robbins)
- Design a Global People Ops (Remote) Strategy (Nicole Le Maire)
- Writing Things Down is a Game Changer (Yanislava Hristova)
- Focus on Outputs Over Inputs + Avoid Over-Tracking (Chase Warrington)
- Break the Culture of Hyper-Responsiveness (Rhys Black)
- Build Remote Work Rituals to Elevate Your Culture (Maryellen Stockton)
- Remember the Three I’s (Kevin Eikenberry)
- Cultural Underpinnings: Trust Based Ownership & Accountability Principles (Dorota Piotrowska)
- Create a Standard Remote Work Onboarding and Training Process for Both New and Existing Recruits (Fadila Ahmad Abdulrazaq)
- Remote By Default (Deborah Simmons)
- Be Real, Be Caring and Work to Help Everyone Be a Superstar (Arturo Schwartzberg)
- Communication as a Service (Kaylie Boogaerts)
- Management Will Make or Break Your Company’s Remote Workforce Success (Gregory Sherrow)
- Setting Clear Expectations (Ali Greene)
- Understand Your Legal Responsibilities as an Employer for Your Remote Employees (Jo Palmer)
- Overcoming Distance Bias Through Emphasizing Location Diversity + Inclusion (Sacha Connor)
- Building and Sustaining a Collaborative Culture (Radina Nedyalkova)
- Emotional Intelligence – The Key to Effective Remote Working (Shauna Moran)
- Introduce Video By Default for All Virtual Meetings (Egor Borushko)
- Learn to Listen with More Senses (Stephan Dohrn)
- Be Proactive with Team Building Activities (Laurent Parenteau)
If your company has implemented any of the tips shared in this article or you have any advice to add, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!
What the Experts Said: Remote Workplace Tips Explained
Now you know how most companies fail when setting up remotely and you’ve seen a top-level overview of the tips we curated, it’s time to deep-dive into the advice our remote work experts shared. These folks have walked the walk, and the information shared is based on years of practical experience figuring out how to fine-tune remote teams so they can work just as successfully as in a conventional office setup. In many cases, even more so.
If you want to jump to a specific tip, you can use the filters below.
- Addressing Issues
- Remote By Default
- Write Things Down
- Collaborative Culture
- Learn About Your Team
- Avoiding Burnout
- Empower Engaged Leaders
- Onboarding Process
- Mutual Success
- Communication as a Service
- The Three I's
- Get Management Right
- Listen with More Senses
- Legal Responsibilities
- Remote Work Rituals
- Emotional Intelligence
- Team Building Activities
- Cultural Underpinnings
- Distance Bias
- Video for Meetings
- Global People Ops Strategy
- Clear Expectations
- Focus on Outputs
- Deliberate Connections
Building and Sustaining a Collaborative Culture – “What really is collaboration? I always advise my clients to drop buzzwords like “team player” and “people-person”- both in their CVs and job descriptions. True collaborators PROACTIVELY look for partnerships internally and externally. They involve others and are not afraid to ask for feedback. They encourage knowledge sharing and tolerate different points of view. These traits are a lot more valuable than being likeable and able to cope in a team environment. Why? Because experts who embody the essence of collaboration bring people together, act as informal leaders and ultimately, can exert significant influence over your culture. Especially if you are building it in a remote setup.
Change the Narrative
Attitude is what matters in 2020. Yes, we all have a specific need, a skill for success, a position we have to fill. But what I have seen is that companies tend to make two significant mistakes: promoting the wrong person to become a team manager (in order to retain them) or hiring a toxic individual because they tick all the other boxes. Experience can be taught, behaviour though consists of beliefs, values and upbringing. We have all heard that diversity brings better results over time, so let’s consider what a culture ADD can bring: inclusion, creativity, innovation, ideation and, a sense of belonging.
The Ultimate Challenge: Me vs We
Not many organisations have figured this one out. Humans have been social creatures since the dawn of time. However, with big changes such as the 4th industrial revolution (Iot), the Gig economy, having 5 generations working together and the rise of the remote options, professionals have a plethora of choice for their career development. Cultivating loyalty and hiring the right people whilst increasing retention, have become more complex than 10-15 years ago.
Being a remote employee is appealing, but is it sustainable for everyone? What gels people together and helps them establish relationships when they are not having any physical interaction? Perhaps, one of the important things to consider is creating a space where people feel that they are nurtured on an individual and community level. That they are appreciated for the potential they have, as well as their interpersonal competencies and skills for success.
Adopting innovation in all of your people-related processes (from screening and selection to managing the day to day requests) is more affordable than ever. Slack bots that help you drive internal engagement, peer2peer live interview platforms, apps that boost your video interactions. Avail of the technology around you and empower your teams to demonstrate your culture on a daily basis.
Some key action points for every startup owner, manager, HR director or C-level executive (yes, not just for HR):
- Clarify Your Values and Belief System – This is not the “nice to have” PR approved statements. Is collaboration truly embedded in your ethos and goals? Is it introduced in how you build your strategy and measure success?
- What is Your Employer DNA & the Skills for Success in Your Specific Environment – Don’t go for the standard form of a job description, CV screening and interview selection (years of experience, type of education and being a “team player”). What unites your people and make them feel like they belong? Why should they stay in your company?
- Drive Radical Transparency – Sustaining the culture is a team sport. And when you are working in a remote setup, you need to overcommunicate and be 100% more alert about how you come across, how others prefer to interact, what the challenges are with written communication and potential language barriers. Embrace vulnerability and work on your cultural awareness.
- Cultivate Internal Champions – Teamwork makes the dream work – and you will need allies to maintain the commitment and ensure people hold each other accountable in your remote space. Look for these proactive, self-driven and socially-engaged current or future employees who can be your legacy and your voice.
Best of luck!”
Fadila Ahmad Abdulrazaq
Create a Standard Remote Work Onboarding and Training Process for Both New and Existing Recruits – “An integral part of effectively running an organization remotely is the people and the culture you built and instil in them. When new people are hired, it is your responsibility as the hiring manager to ensure that they have everything they need to be successful in their role. Similarly, existing employees who are going remote for the first time or transitioning into fully remote roles temporarily or permanently need to be acquainted and upskilled to enable them to work effectively.
New recruits come in with insecurities centred around the fear of rejection leading them to be alone; Remote employees naturally suffer even worse since location bias is very common, especially in hybrid organizations. It is important to note that Onboarding, unlike Orientation, is not a one-time event.
Onboarding is a series of activities happening over an extended period of time that seeks to empower and enable staff to understand their new working environment, the team, the organizational culture, method of work and tools.
How Long Should Onboarding Take?
The duration is determined by the complexity of the new hires’ roles, the tools needed to be learned, the type of company and how long the engagement period is for. Darren of BambooHR wrote about 10 things you should consider in determining how long the onboarding process should take, for more insight read here. Although many companies adopt a 2-3 week duration, the Boston Consulting Group recommends a 1 year intentional onboarding period as being more effective in retaining employees and enabling productivity among them.
Creating a standardized onboarding process will help you share all of the essential aspects that will help new team members become successful in their new role, saving you time and effort by not having to make constant corrections. This standard onboarding process can be formal or informal. Formal onboarding processes include training, workshops, seminars, intensive coaching and mock exercises. Informal onboarding activities can include job shadowing, intentional observation of a company’s process, approach to creating solutions and dealings with varying stakeholders.
The Onboarding process begins with Pre-onboarding, then an Orientation, First Assignments & provision of ongoing support.
Here are 7 Tips to Help You Onboard Remote Employees
- Create an Onboarding Plan (Ideally 1 year long with a 2 week intensive) – Develop a standard onboarding plan where all necessary meetings and training are scheduled in advance. Create a full agenda, gather all the relevant resources be it video, audio or links that can enable new recruits to get fully acquainted with key areas of the organization. Introduce them to all people, processes and projects that will be relevant to their work. The onboarding plan should include both formal and informal activities to enable them to feel comfortable in their new working environment.
- Communicate Clearly the Role, Responsibility and Vision of the Organization – What is the value the employee will be bringing to the organization? Who are they going to work with? Who will they report to? How often should they report and communicate with that person? What is the organizational structure and dispute resolution procedure? Where is the company vision? How will they help you achieve it? What is the result you want them to achieve for your business and how will it be measured?
- Communicate Expectations and How Results Will Be Measured – If there is anything that makes or breaks a Remote company it is communication at all stages of hiring and during the actual teamwork process. At the onboarding stage, it is crucial for both parties to communicate expectations, share the company’s vision, how the employee’s performance will be measured and what constitutes success and productivity at the workplace. This will allow both parties to understand and set the right mood for work.
- Establish a Communication and Collaboration Plan – And then share it with them.
- Get Them to Start with a Small Project – It is important to have a clear work plan for new hires with short-term intervals of under 90 days to introduce new recruits to company information, other team members and rituals within your remote culture. In doing so assign them work that requires information discovery, culture fit test and cross-departmental team collaboration.
- Ask and Act on Feedback – If you have not had much relevant experience managing a remote team, it’s important to know that you will experience challenges; my best advice to you is to invite new recruits to pay attention to your process and provide you with constructive feedback that can help you improve the experience for future recruits.
- Create Opportunities for Personal Connections – Remote work means there is an absence of those water cooler and chit chat moments employees experience when they are in an office space. It is your responsibility as the HR or Team lead to create opportunities that can foster virtual team blonding and personal connections. For new recruits this means inviting them to introduce themselves in the first week of work, inviting them to hang out at the HQ, encouraging team members who live in the same city or region to have regular meetups or even virtual non-work related experiences.
A study that was carried out by the Boston Consulting Group found that of 22 different HR practices, onboarding has the 2nd biggest impact in terms of employee experience. Added to that, the research showed that companies with a well-designed onboarding process typically achieve over double the revenue growth and also close to double the profit margin when compared with companies with either no boarding process or poorly planned procedures in place. And if that weren’t enough reason to focus on onboarding, employee retention rates are also much higher with proper onboarding.
Your ability to attract, hire and retain the best talent will highly depend on the robustness of your onboarding process and more importantly your continued commitment to ensuring the people you hire continue to have the adequate capacity, expertise and understanding required to function effectively in their jobs. Therefore training and professional development resources need to be inclusive and made accessible to all employees irrespective of geographical, physical, mental or demographic differences.
Here are 3 Tips to Help You Do That
- Actively Involve Your Team in a Periodic Exercise to Determine Their Learning Needs and Style – Some people learn best visually, others love to read extensively, while the rest learn best on the job or simply by doing it themselves. From time to time is important to create an exercise for your remote team that helps you identify the different learning and upskilling needs that are essential to help them thrive at their jobs.
- Provide Access to Learning Tools and Platforms that Cater to the Needs of Different Groups – Employers must not forget that remote teams can include people with visual, hearing or other forms of disabilities, and it is essential to provide learning resources that cater to the needs of these groups too. Provide access to relevant resources for specific job roles, technical briefs or simply the culture you want them to adopt. Here are some examples.
- Encourage skill sharing and group learning programs, events and hangouts.
- Present information in diverse formats: have a good combination of video, audio and text format for the same materials.
- Translate learning materials into different languages.
- Ask for and Use Feedback from Diverse Population – Ultimately the training program you create is for employees – so make a conscious effort to seek different perspectives on what you can do to help them thrive. Be aware of location bias, especially in hybrid organizations; seek the perspective of your remote teams in the development process of the training program.
Hope this helps you and your team run a more effective remote work environment!”
Writing Things Down is a Game Changer – “The nature of remote work is that it heavily relies on processes, prioritizes output over time and emphasizes efficiency. Its proven top benefits are a significant boost in productivity, better decisions and higher employee engagement. The question is how do you accomplish the promised outstanding results in a distributed environment? Well, it’s simple but not easy. One of the true superpowers of remote work lies in writing things down. Let’s dive deeper into why writing things down is a game changer.
There are several practical reasons why you shall keep things documented and how, by doing it, you uphold sustainability, save time and empower inclusivity.
The Handbook-First Approach
As a newbie in the remote workplace, your instinct is likely to try and figure things out yourself before you ask for help or information. Which prompts the question, “Where can I find information that is for internal-only use and not bother my colleagues?” Every remote company must create and maintain one centralized information space. It’s like a folder on your computer but it’s in a sharable format which allows other people to access it too. Gitlab calls this the handbook-first approach. Simply put, it’s a GDrive folder or a Notion/Confluence page etc that is your go-to place when you have frequent questions on why, what and how. It consists of all possible resources and references on a strategic, operational or day to day level. You must include literally everything there such as the company purpose, values, team, strategy, marketing to all processes, how to guides, rules, procedures, OKRs, meeting notes, vacation requests, new ideas, everything. This is an essential space because you need something that serves as a single source of truth. One extra practical use is the onboarding of new employees.
Make Meetings More Efficient
High productivity and exceptional results don’t just happen because we work remotely. They happen because of the focus on efficiency. The majority of remote workers are hyper-time-protective because they realize spending time wisely matters. Meetings are one particularly debatable instrument of teamwork, and writing things down will help you save precious time and prevent endless meetings.
Prior to every meeting, explain the context in written form in a new document and share it with your teammates. Give them time to read it at their own convenience, activate critical or creative thinking and come up with comments and notes directly on the collaborative tool. Jeff Bezos incorporated a similar practice at Amazon and so far it has been a standard to bring everyone on the same page respecting one’s own speed to absorb and process new information. You may be surprised that sometimes you may not even need a meeting to get people’s input. If a meeting is needed, send the agenda in advance. What if someone can not attend? Of course, you do not want to repeat everything word by word and triple the time investment. You will just record this meeting and upload it in the documentation space. Send them the link to watch it and then start a conversation. This is pragmatic when you want to incorporate a high level of flexibility, asynchronous communication and various time zones.
Everyone’s Voice is Heard
Last but not least, let’s touch on inclusivity. It is probably among the most wanted features of a modern workplace nowadays. An environment where everyone’s voice, ideas and feedback is at its heart. Implementing a writing-first approach motivates all employees to share their ideas openly, to give input and their voice to last beyond the duration of a virtual meeting. This is particularly helpful for more introverted individuals who are shy or nervous to speak up in front of many people, but whom may demonstrate genuine care and commitment to company success.
Writing things down may seem not easy at first, however, once you master it, it’s a real game changer to building lasting successful remote operations.”
Build Remote Work Rituals to Elevate Your Culture – “According to the author, Mollie West Duffy, “Rituals are powerful drivers of culture, so they should be thoughtfully designed and nurtured to reinforce the organization’s values”.
Workplace rituals are important, but they become even more important when you aren’t working together in the same location. Getting started with rituals? Here are 4 ways to use rituals to enhance your remote culture.
1. Strengthen Your Onboarding Process
Review your new hire plan and think about what rituals you could include to reinforce your company’s core values. Think about how you welcome new employees and how you can cultivate relationships from the start.
2. Celebrate Employees
Honor your employees on their birthday or work anniversary by having a virtual team party to make sure your employee gets lots of love on their special day. You can also send digital cards or create a celebration channel in your team chat. Continue to find ways to celebrate together.
3. Foster Relationships
- Weekly stand-ups via video call to discuss what everyone is working and discuss any challenges and or help needed.
- Check-ins via chat asking a different question to the team each week.
- One-on-ones with your leader to connect, discuss goals, development, and support.
4. Show Gratitude
- Celebrate the completion of a big project or crushing your company goals by hosting a virtual lunch or happy hour.
- Host an annual employee award ceremony to acknowledge team members who model your core values.
Rituals are a powerful tool you can start today to create an amazing remote culture.”
Avoiding Burnout for Yourself and Your Team – “We’ve all heard or even felt the doubts. “Will my employees stream Netflix all day or will they actually work?” One of the most commonly cited fears of managers is that remote employees won’t work as hard or as much when they’re not in an office environment.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a far greater risk that remote employees and managers will spend more time working than their in-office counterparts.
With the progressive globalization of workforces and marketplaces the days of having a predictable “close of business” time are long gone. Employees and contractors are receiving inbound requests and assignments around the clock, and more often than not, the steady stream of demand gets the best of remote workers.
While work-from-homers can’t just leave the office altogether, since it’s literally in their house, it’s critical that remote workers CAN leave the workplace behind. Here are 3 tips to make it easier to make the break between work and over-worked.
1. Your Calendar is the Boss
Make no apologies for blocking off times that meetings cannot be scheduled. If you find yourself chronically eating microwaveable noodles alone with your computer, you might want to block off a 30-60 minute lunch window. If it’s been far too long since you made any memories with your loved ones, go ahead and block off some evening hours for that purpose. Keeping your calendar up to date communicates the times you ARE available to your teammates and clients and keeps you from having to say “no”.
2. Notifications Off
Great job! You’ve carved out some time to leave your desk and enjoy a meal with your family. What could possibly ruin this accomplishment? 17 Slack notifications, 4 emails, and 6 LinkedIn comments, that’s what. It’s not really a break from work if you’re still working on your mobile device. Do yourself a favor and turn off the notifications from the settings on your phone. There’s nothing so urgent that it needs your attention right this very moment.
3. Create Some Physical Space
When the day is done, lock the beast in its cage. Nothing tells your brain to work a little longer than carrying your laptop out of the office and into your living area. So, unless you need it for a personal project, leave your work computer where it belongs… at work. It will be there in the morning, and you can check your emails then.
Just because managers can’t see their employees overworking, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it. If you’re a leader of remote workers, lead by example. Follow the tips above to avoid burnout for yourself and your team.”
Mika J. Cross
Empower Engaged Leaders at all Levels – “Here’s a little secret about how to set up a remote working environment for success>>> EMPOWER your people leaders!
In order to leverage all the benefits of a successful remote working environment, you have to invest in and support the people who lead the people.
First, managers and supervisors REALLY need to understand the rules and regulations that guide the remote and flexible work policies in your organization. They also must feel comfortable enough in the work environment to make the right decisions for their people. Consider creating a regular open forum Q&A with HR leads and first-line managers. Set up a way to field direct questions from them (polling, email, chat or text polls) and provide them with as many tools, tips and resources as you can to make their jobs easier so they can help support the people who work with and for them.
Create a peer-to-peer manager mentorship program to help share ideas, stories and examples on creative ways they’ve overcome challenges and realized success in implementing remote and flexible work for their teams.
Secondly, support the workforce. Why not create a virtual space for employees to recognize exceptional leaders who are going the extra mile to ensure their teams are supported, communicated with and engaged. An informal monthly recognition forum, newsletter or Virtual Town Hall can go a long way. Make sure your organization is being deliberate with the formats, forums and frequency of top-down, bottom-up and cross-organizational communication, especially in the remote work environment. If you think you are over-communicating, think again and do more!
Simply implementing new remote and flexible work policies will not guarantee their success or implementation. Different people have different circumstances, and if your workplace culture does not support and empower the leaders of people throughout all levels of the organization, the policies will not work as intended.”
Break the Culture of Hyper-Responsiveness – “Perpetuating a company culture where employees are expected to respond to messages ASAP from senior leadership can have significant negative impacts on team productivity and morale.
Firstly, this creates a chaotic work environment where employees are not able to get in a productive state of flow and do their best work. This leads to low output, poor quality of work and is deeply stressful and unfulfilling for employees.
Not only does it create a distraction-infested work environment, but it can also lead to team members burning out.
If your team members feel pressure to respond to messages at 3 pm, they probably feel the same way if they receive a message at 10 pm. This very quickly leads to work hours stretching, difficulties in shutting off from work and eventually burn-out.”
Remote By Default – “Hear me out. Let’s just take stock of where we are at the moment…
Going remote overnight – as has been the harsh reality for many organisations during the pandemic – is not a recipe for long-term success.
Why is this? Well, there are numerous reasons, but here are the main ones:
- Tech changes more rapidly than humans do. We are responding to new challenges with old, industrial organisational solutions which are out-dated and ineffective.
- We may have the remote tools, but we don’t have the remote culture.
- Many organisations simply aren’t ready for such a drastic change and they are effectively paralysed with fear.
- Remote working environments have not yet been adapted to our needs. So many people have struggled because they are juggling work, partners, home and children all in the same environment, and without clear boundaries.
Does this mean that we can’t implement remote working successfully? Absolutely not!
We are now at the point where organisations are starting to take stock; to think about the future of their workplace and how they wish to pick up the pieces and move forward. And, with the best of intentions, many will likely opt for the Hybrid workplace, where some workers return to work in the main office and others work remotely (whether from home, a co-work space or a satellite office).
The Hybrid office, however, is not solving our problems; it’s actually perpetuating them. Why is this?
Proximity bias. Work and culture (including social) are very much still centred around the office, and this means remote workers are overlooked which can be very harmful to your team. When proximity bias exists, remote workers become marginalised – they miss out on important communications, aren’t involved in developmental opportunities and social events and can feel isolated and excluded. This is the stuff that can ruin morale and career progression, so it’s not something that should be glossed over as collateral damage.
So what’s the solution? Remote by default.
This doesn’t mean closing down the office permanently on Friday and everyone working remotely 100% of the time. It means setting up the workplace as ‘remote first’ and, where realistic, giving people the choice. This way, we enable the seamless flow from office to remote and back again, in a way that actual physical location becomes inconsequential and more of a ‘nice to have’.
If you think about the organisations that were set up in this way before the pandemic, the likelihood is that lockdown would have had a very minimal impact on their business practices.
Remote work experts worldwide are advocating the move to a total virtual workspace. Just to reiterate: this doesn’t mean people can’t or shouldn’t work in the office (people shouldn’t be forced to work remotely – it’s not the optimal choice for everyone), it just means that remote working is facilitated first. It’s altogether more inclusive and equal – something that we are striving towards as we attempt to move away from the privilege and exclusivity within our society.
Think of it as a virtual workplace – effective, human-centred and flexible. Some believe that this is not possible in a remote environment but it absolutely is.
And this is where having a clearly defined and embedded remote work culture is going to pay huge dividends. Whether co-workers are in your main office hub, at home, in a coworking space or café, you’ll all be communicating, collaborating and working towards your goals, using the same tools, speaking the same ‘language’ and with the same expectations, plus potentially a new respect for your work and each other.”
Addressing Issues That Impact Your Ability to Meet Deadlines or Provide Quality Results – “Many employers have had structured flexible work arrangements, remote work programs, work-from-home policies, or flex-work guidelines for ad hoc requests for quite some time. Employees working remotely is certainly not a new concept. So, what’s different today, and how can companies successfully ensure both managers and individual contributors thrive in a remote work environment?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to completely close down their physical offices and send their employees home to work remotely. The individuals sent home include the managers who have long resisted having their staff members participate in a remote work program. The old reasoning such as “How will I know my people are working?” and “I need to be able to see my direct reports throughout the day!” can still be voiced by managers, but it will not change the enterprise’s edict for remote work environments based on pandemic-related health and safety concerns.
⚠️Here’s How to Ensure Your Remote Work Program Will Fail
A sure-fire way to fail as an organization is to adopt a one-size-fits-all remote work program, and to refuse to allow for any compromises. A company whose flexible work policies are cast in stone is bound to struggle. One common problem is leaders who treat all employees equally as if all members of your workforce are identical, each having the same requirements. Just because an issue arises that creates a problem for one individual, it does not mean all employees will eventually be touched by the same problem.
✅How Can Leaders Help Their Employees with the Inconveniences & Adjustments of Working Remotely?
Employees operating in a remote work environment will indeed experience occasional inconveniences and require minor adjustments from time to time. Of course, the same is true for working in the corporate office. How can leaders ensure that their direct reports will meet their deadlines and produce quality results? Your flexible work approach must be flexible. Think “flexible flexibility.” Do not expect a one-size-fits-all program to be the best solution to achieve your desired results. Make sure your work from home policies and procedures allow for the flexibility in addressing unique circumstances in order to support employees’ requested needs and accommodate specific physical requirements.
Differentiate Between Cultural, Environmental, and Operational issues
As a leader responsible for guiding your direct reports through change, it’s often beneficial to recognize the difference between cultural, environmental, and operational issues that may arise in a remote work environment. Accept the fact that leaders cannot—and should not—fix every minor inconvenience your staff members experience while working remotely. Empower your employees to seek solutions where appropriate. You should get involved to resolve issues that impact the employee’s ability to meet his or her deadlines or provide quality results.
- Culture is the social control system of an organization. Your organization has an overall corporate culture, and every business unit or team has its own culture that informs employees of what the acceptable behaviors are in the workplace—and in a remote work environment.
- A common example of culture is how virtual meetings are conducted. As a leader, pay close attention to how employees treat each other in a video conference call. Does your culture allow certain individuals to talk nonstop, interrupt, and harshly criticize others’ ideas? Bullying behavior can also be conducted covertly. If a certain individual seems a bit unprepared in a meeting or confused about a topic being discussed, take the time to look at who distributes materials to the team. It’s not uncommon for a bully to “forget” to include that individual when emailing the team—over and over again. Intentionally withholding information to make a peer look stupid is a tactic that bullies often use to undermine their targets.
- Environment has to do with our physical surroundings as well as the way we work within our spaces. Within the walls of our corporate offices, we often adjust furniture components to create spaces for concentrated quiet work, as well as spaces for lively interactions. In a typical office, workplace protocols are developed based on how the space should be used and acceptable adjustments that can be made. In the case of working remotely, the environment is likely the employee’s house or apartment. Remote work environments don’t come with a laminated poster displaying the proper etiquette to guide your family’s behavior.
- An example of an environmental issue is when an employee comes to you complaining about how her teenagers barge into the room where she’s working and start a conversation before checking if she’s on a call. What do you do as her manager?
- Listen and do not make assumptions
- Share an example, if you have one, of how you handle those kinds of situations in your home
- Encourage her to be creative…talk to her peers who are also parents working remotely…suggest that the entire team brainstorms solutions to typical problems at an upcoming staff meeting
- Remind yourself that you are not responsible for developing solutions involving employees’ residences or their families
- Operational elements are often tied to processes, policies, and procedures. They are about how the work gets done through technology or other methods.
- An example is that one of your employees is responsible for delivering a weekly report in a hard-copy format to another business group. When everyone was in the office, he would simply take a 2-minute walk to the adjacent work area to drop the report off. Everyone is working remotely, but that business group insists that they receive a hard copy of the report. Your direct report would have to shift priorities to finish the report earlier, then use snail mail to get it to the right person on time. In situations such as a pandemic, we should all take a second look at “the way we’ve always done it” and suggest alternatives. If your employee approached you with this scenario, you would speak with the manager of the other business group regarding the outdated policy, and suggest that now is the time to update the rules and allow electronic reports to be submitted. It’s unlikely that your direct report would be successful in changing an established policy. Operational issues often require a manager’s involvement.
Bottom Line: Invite your direct reports to bring issues to you that impact their ability to meet their deadlines or provide quality results. This will, in turn, help your employees to focus on what is necessary to support their work, and hopefully, ignore the minor adjustments and inconveniences of working in a new, remote work environment.”
These insights have been drawn from Diane Stegmeier’s book, Innovations in Office Design: The Critical Influence Approach to Effective Work Environments, which has been adopted by universities on six continents and ranked the #1 Workplace Strategy Book by Amazon readers.
Learn About Your Team and Embrace Its Work-Style Diversity – “When building a remote company, every founder strives to gather the best, most talented team. But what happens when you hire remotely and cannot quite assess their soft skills? You need to make the most of your hiring process. Since many are now working from home, the interview process becomes more intimate. The applicants do their interviews from their homes, bedrooms, desks. This is the first touchpoint to learn more about who your candidate is.
Bonus: Commenting on something you see (book, poster, pet) is a great conversation ice-breaker.
It’s About the Output, Not the Input
People are different, and their work-styles might be different from yours or someone else’s. Many remote companies have moved past the 9-5 schedule, because of many things, the main ones being time difference and flexibility. Productivity cannot be forced, so it’s important to understand in which way your team functions the best. Some might be productive early in the morning, some prefer to work at night, and that’s ok. If you have clear responsibilities and communicate well within the team, this shouldn’t be a bottleneck.
Remote Policy is Key
Every company should have a remote policy or a playbook, to outline the processes that happen within the company. The policy should include the knowledge base, department guidelines, roles and responsibilities, etc. It should also serve as the “source of truth” for anyone from a recent hire to the oldest employee.
Learning About a Person (& Their Work-Style) is an Ongoing Process
Dedicating time to learn and understand your team is important. It’s not a task, but rather an ongoing effort. Set up 1:1 calls, check-ins, or allocate time during team calls to hear how your team is doing, learn about what is happening outside of their work, etc. Identifying the work-style and embracing it within the team will go a long way when it comes to productivity, employer experience and will create a great team culture.”
Emotional Intelligence – The Key to Effective Remote Working – “There’s a difference between being able to work remotely and being truly effective at remote working.
As an accredited leadership coach, emotional intelligence practitioner and remote team researcher- the key to being effective at remote working lies in emotional intelligence.
When we think of remote working, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to believe someone will succeed as long as they can effectively do their jobs. There’s a deeper level to being successful as a remote employee, manager and organisation.
In order to manage ourselves and each other in an online or multi-office environment, individuals need to have a high level of self-perception, how we see ourselves, understand ourselves and how well we identify our own emotions.
The autonomy that comes with working remote, and primarily alone, means that we should be tapped into ourselves as individuals in order to better make decisions that promote our overall well-being. Working without in-person interactions on a daily basis, means we need to adjust how we express ourselves online.
Our communication skills and awareness should be developed when we’re working in multi-cultural virtual environments. We need to understand how we can communicate, listen and express ourselves effectively online. If our team are based all over the world, we’ll need to develop our independence in order to be resourceful and self-sufficient.
Our assertiveness in setting clear and healthy boundaries and expectations are vital when working across multiple time zones and primarily online when we’re so connected through technology. Our interpersonal skills need to be developed and explored when we work online with colleagues, employees and customers. In order to build mutually satisfying trusting relationships, we need to develop our empathy towards other people.
This is where emotional intelligence comes in.
Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.
Emotional intelligence accounts for 25-45% of workplace performance, and unlike IQ, EI is something that you can improve with training.
When We Think of EI When Working Remotely, It Helps Us:
- Better manage our time, energy and emotions in order to sustain ourselves, be productive and prevent burnout.
- It helps us understand how to express emotions online, how to tap into the emotions of others in order to build strong interpersonal team relationships.
- It empowers us to cope with stress, make decisions and problem solve when emotions are involved
- It helps us show up with empathy, and balance that with assertiveness to ensure we’re finding balance in how we show up remotely.
If we want to improve these skills, we can. Aside from working with a professional coach, a great place to start on your own is to tap into self-awareness. Ask yourself the following questions, start getting into the habit of reflection and experience how you can be the best problem-solver and manager of your life when working remotely.
Reflection Questions to Build Self-Awareness
- Based on how I’m currently managing my time and my energy, what’s working? What makes that work well and how can I bring those same processes forward into more of my tasks?
- What’s not working well with the way that I work right now? What’s taking my energy and what doesn’t make sense for me/my team? Where might I be able to improve or what might I be able to change?
- What are my non-negotiables in both my personal and professional life (what gives me energy and drives me closer to my definition of success?)
- How have I carved out time for my non-negotiables? What healthy boundaries do I need to put in place for myself?
- When and where do I work at my best? What are the routines and habits that serve me? What do I need to shed that no longer serves me?
We should bear in mind that working remotely throughout a pandemic isn’t normal circumstances for remote working. Work environments and priorities in most companies are changing quickly, which makes it even more important to practise reflection on a regular basis. I do this exercise at least once a week and encourage you to do the same.”
Setting Clear Expectations – “How many times have you lost patience when waiting for an important response from someone who said they would get back to you “soon”? Have you ever experienced that feeling, when a deliverable from a team member leaves you irked, even though technically the task has been completed?
All of those moments boil down to unclear expectations. Remote work can exasperate communication issues, and cause mistrust between managers and employees, simply due to misunderstandings in expectations. Simply, if people are not on the same page, if they do not know what to anticipate, it will be impossible to build trust, a core foundation for strong remote teams.
Ideas on How to Solve It
As a leader in a remote organization you should set the following expectations:
1. Availability & Working Hours – There are a couple of decisions to make when it comes to availability and working hours. Some questions to have clear answers on include:
- When are people expected to be online and working? Are you keeping a 9-5 or can workers choose when to be productive?
- Are there core hours of overlap you expect your team to have for spontaneous questions and real-time collaboration? Example: You may decide to have 2-4 hours of overlap a day for team members to check in with each other.
- Which meetings are mandatory? How far in advance should meetings be scheduled? Are there core hours for meetings?
2. Communication tools – The tools you use are only as good as how you implement them into your company culture. Write down all the major ways your company communicates, what the goal of that communication is, and then choose a tool to suit your needs. Further, define a cadence for acceptable response times based on communication tool (for example: 24 hours in email, 4 hours over Slack).
My favorite tools are Asana for project management, Zoom for video calls, and Slack for asynchronous updates and collaboration!
3. Project deliverables and success metrics – Before delegating a project or assignment, managers should make sure there are clear expectations set on the work that needs to be accomplished. This will reduce the tendency for frequent check-ins, and virtual micro-management that can be frustrating for remote teams. Areas that managers should define are:
- What is the goal of the project?
- What is in or out of scope?
- What is the project plan and milestones timeline to adhere to?
- How should stakeholders be included?
- What is the cadence for updates and what content should those updates include?
- What are the final deliverables, how and when should they be received?
- What does done look like?
- How will success be measured?
Making sure you and your employees are on the same page as it relates to those three topics will help reduce confusion and frustration when collaborating virtually and set you up for remote work success. Good luck!”
Overcoming Distance Bias Through Emphasizing Location Diversity + Inclusion – “Unprecedented location inclusion is one of COVID’s positive unintended consequences. The office shut-downs have forced so many of us into FROGs* – fully remote organizations. This meant that for the first time, in many companies, all team members were are on an equal, location-agnostic, playing field.
For many, the frequent faux pas of only inviting people to participate in a meeting, a brainstorm, or social gathering that live or work nearby has vanished. Those invisible fences have fallen in favor of location inclusion – people are being included based on merit, not proximity.
Before COVID, so many of us were being called upon to lead teams that were distributed across the country and the globe. The COVID office shutdowns took that one step further, jumping all the way into fully remote teams. Now that some offices are slowly reopening, new hybrid teams are emerging.
These team dynamics require us to lead in a way that ensures inclusion, regardless of location, to get the best ideas, best collaboration, and best business results. And leading and working within these hybrid teams is actually harder than working as part of a FROG due to an unconscious bias called Distance Bias.
I experienced Distance Bias first-hand, working fully remotely for eight years while leading large teams that were responsible for more than $250 million in business and were mostly located three time zones away.
The NeuroLeadership Institute identified five unconscious biases that impact decision making. They call it the SEEDS model. The “D” in SEEDS stands for: Distance Bias—our brain’s natural tendency to put more importance on things and people that are closer to us than farther away. This Distance Bias can become a key factor in holding back hybrid teams.
While you have been working in your fully remote teams you might not have been feeling the Distance Bias as strongly, but you might have fallen victim to its close sister, Recency Bias – our brain’s natural tendency to put more importance on the people and things that are closer in time to us. The people that are more top of mind for you are likely those that you’ve seen via video chat or heard from via email or text more recently.
Once your team is aware of Distance and Recency bias, here are some steps to mitigate them. The tactics may vary depending on where your team is in the spectrum of remoteness during COVID and after.
If you are a manager:
1. Be deliberate about forming relationships equally with your co-located and remote direct reports. For example, hold virtual coffee chats with your remote people to create a personal connection.
2. Consider all your direct reports when assigning projects, rotations, or promotions. Pick the best person for the job, not just the closest in proximity.
- Insist on using video conferencing software so everyone has a virtual seat at the table.
- Proactively invite remote people into the discussion.
- Leverage virtual whiteboarding software so everyone can contribute to a brainstorming session.
- Be overly communicative about your team’s roles, goals, and values.
- All social activities should involve all sites and team members. I went as far as having virtual happy hours, virtual baby showers, and virtual holiday parties.
3. If you have questions about a project or a business issue, go to the “right” person to get the answer instead of going to the closest person.
If you are a team leader or team member:
4. Enable virtual attendees to participate equally in team meetings.
5. Build team culture and relationships virtually.
As offices and cities start to slowly reopen, let’s not slip back into our old ways of proximity as paramount.”
* the FROG reference is attributed to Greg Caplan, co-founder of Remote Year.
Management Will Make or Break Your Company’s Remote Workforce Success – “Remote work: many love it, a few are suspicious of it and company executives have traditionally been split on it. Suddenly, it’s a critical tool for nearly all professional workforces. How quickly the world changes.
However, strategic change often lags environmental change. Companies around the globe are suddenly struggling with traditional office-based workforces going 100% remote. Some were already moving that way and could apply what they had already learned. Others have struggled to reach previous productivity levels and create a functional remote work culture.
Homebound executives point fingers for perceived failure in many directions, but it turns out that a major gotcha for many companies successfully going fully remote is the management itself.
Executives, corporate captains and business owners of the world focus their energies on finance and strategy, relying on a very traditional corporate animal, the middle manager, to make everything run smoothly. Without them, chaos would take over the office parks and towers of the corporate world. So what’s the big problem? Just send the middle manager to work from home like everyone else.
Let’s quickly run through that scenario. We’ll pretend that I’m an executive at an insurance firm that just realized it can’t rely on an old fashioned office-based work environment. The part-time and temporary remote work assignments we instituted as a result of forces outside of our control are beginning to require something more permanent.
I have been told by the CEO to turn the company on its head: make working from home the norm and meeting in the office the exception. I am a realist and expect some hiccups. After all, not everyone can or wants to work remotely. I’m afraid that up to 20% to 30% of my workforce will stagnate at home and I’ll need to make tough decisions about them before it’s too late. The difficult choice of replacing or doing without will be easier for some than others. When it comes to replacing experienced managers, however… I get a headache just thinking about it.
The skills needed to manage a full-time remote team aren’t the same as the traditional office-based management skills that rely heavily on constant personal interactions, strategically dropping in on meetings or standing behind someone as they work. If I apply that 20% to 30% figure to the middle managers right off the top, I can see through the smoke and carnage that the company’s normal operations will be disrupted in a big way.
So What’s the Solution?
Startups and established office-based companies that want to move the focus of their workforce away from the office need to take a few pages out of the playbook of successful remote companies.
1. Flatter is Better
Forget the traditional reporting structure your parents and grandparents imagined when they told you inspirational bedtime stories about climbing the corporate ladder. In most companies with a distributed workforce, the distance between the c-suite and the talent is minimal.
But make no mistake, successful distributed workforces still need talented leaders between c-suite planners up on deck and the crew below. Those who have assembled remote companies that operate like well-oiled, long-distance communication machines have found that full-time remote workforces just doesn’t require as many stratifications in order to reach the same goals. Begin combining and spreading out responsibilities from the beginning and don’t be afraid to redefine roles to meet adapted goals.
There are multiple reasons for remote companies ending up flatter. Some have to do with the mentality of the type of person who works well from home, others have to do with efficiencies. Your company may discover reasons for a flatter structure that are unique to your own corporate culture.
One common reason is that remote structures naturally feel flatter, allowing communication channels to naturally grow wider and become full-duplex. With previously unnoticed physical barriers gone (floors in a building, office doors, layers of admin assistants), suddenly everyone, everywhere is one video conference call away. This allows well-structured, remote companies to adapt quickly to rapidly changing marketplaces and work environments even when their teams are literally spread between Alaska and Zimbabwe.
2. Hire Smart
In this case, “smart” means seeking out independently-minded, resourceful individuals at all levels who are organized and driven. These people don’t need the moral support of their co-workers in nearby cubicles or the direct pressure of an immediate supervisor peering over their shoulder. Self-motivated individuals understand that a team works best when everyone is contributing to the group’s direction and meeting personal and team goals, not just passively lining up behind the team leader waiting to be told what they should be doing.
3. Train Well
At this moment in history, experienced and talented remote workers, especially with remote management experience aren’t very common. Until they are, we need rule three.
Hiring or contracting a remote management trainer who can not only provide newly-remote managers with a plan for success, but also help establish a positive remote work culture, will save both time and money. Working it out as you go along is never a good business plan and leaving an entire company to flounder while talented employees attempt to find their remote footing on their own will result in a death spiral.
There are companies that have learned to adapt and survive great changes in technology. And there are many who failed. The driving force behind this change may be different, but with the right preparation and training, your employees can roll up their sleeves, go home and get to work.”
Be Proactive with Team Building Activities – “One of the biggest differences between remote and in-office work environments is the casual discussion and random human connections that happen. People chat at the coffee machine, over lunch, in the parking lot, etc. This happens whether you want it to or not, without having to do anything special.
When you have a remote work environment, this is no longer the case. You have to take explicit actions if you want those random human connections to happen. And you do want them to happen, as it is tremendously valuable for team bonding and helps reduce miscommunication problems.
There are many ways this can be done, and the more methods you use, and the more diverse they are, the better the result will be. Here are a few activities I’ve successfully used.
1. Weekly Icebreaker Questions
In your chat tool (Slack, Twist, whatever), have a dedicated channel for icebreaker questions. Every week, in that channel, ask a simple question that everyone is required to answer. Questions like “What’s your favorite taco?”, “Best book you’ve read / movie you’ve seen lately?”, “Do you prefer Pepsi or Coke?”, or any other icebreaker style questions are perfect for this. They can be silly, or could require more thoughtful answers, so vary between those styles over time.
Over time, without much effort, you end up knowing a lot more about your coworkers. Also, when someone new joins your team, they can see the previous answers and jumpstart their knowledge of their teammates. They can also go back to those older questions and answer a bunch, allowing the rest of the team to quickly learn more about this new team member.
This is one of the easiest asynchronous team building activities you could run.
2. Social Time
Social Time is a weekly meeting about anything except work. The goal is to have the team get together and discuss. Since this is synchronous, you have to be careful if your team spans across multiple time zones, but this can be adjusted to work in those situations as well.
One approach I really like for Social Time is to use the Weekly Icebreaker Question to kick start the discussion. The discussion usually ends up with the team talking about random stuff, and that’s perfect. But the initial already answered icebreaker provide a nice and simple way to get the discussion moving.
Other times, instead of having a discussion, we’ll play a game. There’s a whole lot of free (or paid) online games available, so you can find whatever suits your team. One game that always results in a lot of laughs is any of the online Pictionary clones.
A variation here would be to use smaller groups (10-15 people) instead of the whole organization, depending on size.
3. Random 1:1
Another great synchronous discussion activity and one that is a good complement to Social Time, is to hold 1:1 meetups with 2 random people. That could happen anytime, but I’ve had great success with it happening right after Social Time. It makes scheduling easy and also people can just keep the same discussion going if they want to (so there’s no awkward silence wondering what to talk about). This is a great opportunity to create a personal connection with everyone, even if you don’t interact with that person on a day to day basis.
A variation here would be to use smaller groups (3-4 people) instead of one-on-one, depending on team size.
4. PowerPoint Karaoke
This one is great for celebration events. Everyone gets a random deck of random slides and needs to do a 5-minute presentation based on that, without having seen those slides beforehand. One nice thing with this activity is that it’s well suited for remote teams, doesn’t require any particular skills, and isn’t competitive.
That said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a really fresh team, where people might not yet feel comfortable looking like a fool and doing improvisation in front of the team. You’d need to do some more ice-breaking stuff first. But after that, it really helps to get the team to jell and break down any barriers that could remain.
One Final Tip: Be considerate with your team. Any team-building activity you want to hold should take your team’s diversity into consideration. What do they enjoy? How spread across the globe are they? What is their idea of fun?
With that in mind, go ahead and experiment!”
Be Real, Be Caring and Work to Help Everyone Be a Superstar – “It’s not about you, but about them. Your job is to help each individual truly maximize their potential. Look inward, and ask yourself if you really and truly care about their wellbeing and if not, change. Your remote team is held together by your gravitational force and you need to focus on connection and authentic caring.
All of this is true remote or otherwise, but remote accelerates the need. You need their trust – they must trust you – and then you will be able to trust them. And so, it starts with you.
If you do this right, you can create a team based on mutual success and each member of the team caring about each other, about you, you for them and all in all a beautiful high performance and caring environment.
We have created this environment at SweetRush and have built a high performing team of 200 superstars based in 14 countries.
All this is as it should be; a principle of all religions is mutual success (do unto others….) and none of this is a new concept born on the new normal of remote, but rather a basic human-centric value that we should all adopt on the path to world peace…and building an awesome remote team :)”
Nicole Le Maire
Design a Global People Ops (Remote) Strategy – “When it comes to virtual (remote) organisations, there are a lot of moving pieces that must come together in order to form a successful business. It boils down to more than just pushing employees to perform their tasks and turn it into cash flow. As a business owner, you must have smart working (distributed) teams in place, connected so that each knows not only just their expectations, but the needs and goings-on of other teams, as well.
Your global People Ops strategy needs to be flexible to integrate the differences comfortably to satisfy everyone. You will find the stakeholders will be aligned to either a global or local focus, depending on the nature of their position. Ideally, all these viewpoints should be incorporated.
(Countless businesses have implemented a global model, where the corporate department centralises and establishes policies, procedures and tools to ensure business interests are accomplished across the organisation. However, success in a remote company depends on addressing local cultures and business needs!)
There is a tendency to build large chunks or phases while designing a People Ops strategy. Management wants the huge initiatives that fire teams up and get them excited; however, individual components usually don’t align, causing challenges to their innovation!
When you descale work, you reduce the impact of these challenges by empowering a bold vision with a clear small, first step. When you pair this with outcome-based measures of success, the benefits grow 10X.
As different groups of participants will have divergent views and needs, your goal is to bring out the collective knowledge and skills, to achieve the best alignment. Encouraging stakeholders to voice their views, listen, give feedback and incorporate what makes sense for local and global people practices.
Make your global people vision become a reality, resist working with a large team to achieve a revolution in one go. Perfect the slices of value you create before you scale up to other areas. Ensure you give the people team support to make mistakes and achieve changes to push the innovation forward.
The experience to create is about positivity and collaboration. This is the best way to build a healthy organisation culture of openness, trust and transparency, which benefits the business. Take a collaborative approach with communication where it is visible and proactive.
Open communication is crucial, by involving all the stakeholders in your Global People Ops Strategy, you are more likely to find success in achieving the organisation’s goals. Utilise your digital communication systems to enhance collaboration and conversation with one another.
These are all steps you can take today to help build trust with your remote employees. The more they trust you, the more value your people team can bring to the table, the glue that holds it all together. You have such an important job, and it’s crucial to make the most of it!”
Remember the Three I’s – “You won’t go far wrong if you keep the following in mind.
Intention. Everything leaders must do when leading a remote team must be more intentional. Old habits might not work, and intention is a habit over-ride. Think about how you need to do things, rather than relying on past approaches. Be more intentional about everything from informal communication to coaching to team building – and everything else in your leadership role.
Interaction. When people work away from each other, conversations will become more transactional. The focus will be on the work and the task. Make sure that you (and all team members) create space for interaction and avoid everything being a transaction.
Isolation. When people work alone there is the risk that people will feel isolated and alone. Don’t allow the social currency of the workplace to be lost as distance between people increases. Help people maintain and build relationships. They will be healthier, happier, and far more productive.”
Create Deliberate Connections – “It’s critical for managers in remote organizations to create opportunities for deliberate connections since colleagues are missing those water-cooler conversations that build relationships.
The most challenging aspect of working remotely is feeling isolated. Help your team feel a sense of connection by deliberately creating more face-time opportunities. Here are some examples:
- Build in small-talk-time in first few minutes of meetings by posing a question like “what’s the last thing you got delivered to your home?” or “what’s your best travel memory?”
- Start the day with a standup and end with a wrap up. Share goals, accomplishments, small wins, or even just something small you learned. Ask these three questions to each person at the meeting:
- What did you complete yesterday?
- What are you working on today?
- What is a challenge you’re facing?
- Suggest peer 1-on-1s with coworkers.
- Create optional co-working times with cameras on or chat on. Folks can work in silence or shout out if they have a question.
- Schedule demo days where different team members share what they’ve created and what they learned from this project.
- Rotate meeting facilitators for optimal visibility and conversational turn-taking.
- Hold virtual events for the team to join like workshops and even fitness sessions.
- Encourage random virtual coffees by pairing up team members for a weekly “virtual coffee” to drive a sense of connection, moral support, and accountability.
- Focus on a good day’s work by asking team members to finish this sentence at the beginning of each day: “It will be a good day’s work if I’ve accomplished ______”. Then follow up at the end of the day to see how they did and if they need support.”
Communication as a Service – “A remote setup allows you to give your team more flexibility, which often goes hand in hand with more asynchronous communication (http://asyncmanifesto.org/). If you don’t set any guidelines and expectations on how to handle that, things can easily go wrong.
For example, when you need something from a colleague, it’s easy to quickly drop them an email or a Slack message with your question or request. If you don’t think about what information the other person needs to be able to help you, they’re going to have to come back with questions to pull that information from you. This back-and-forth exchange goes quite quickly when you can have it in person. However, when you’re writing each other, and especially when you’re doing it asynchronously, this becomes a long process.
Instead, view your communication as a service to one another and push the information the other person needs. Don’t make them pull the information from you.
What Does this Look Like in Practice?
- Consider how much context the other person already has and what information they may require to be able to answer you. Can you provide them with a link to documentation, a ticket, screenshots? What follow-up questions can you expect them to ask and can you already answer those in your first message?
- Be clear about whether you’re looking for approval, feedback or a decision.
- Give the other person context on the urgency of your request. When do you need a reply?
- If you pull someone into a conversation, provide a summary of the conversation for them and be clear about what you need from them. Don’t force them to read through the whole conversation and to find out why exactly you pulled them into the conversation.
- Be aware of language and cultural differences and avoid role-specific jargon and country- or culture-specific language.
It’s better to over-communicate in order to keep things moving in a remote environment.
How to Make Your Team View Their Communication as a Service?
- Lead by example.
- Explain the concept to your team. You can do this by just sharing what I wrote above, or you can be a bit more creative and set up a little training or workshop.
- Reward or praise people when you see team members communicating more effectively by viewing their communication as a service to each other. Just a simple “Thanks Marie for providing context and your expectations when you requested this from me. It made it super easy for me to get back to you and unblock the team” does wonders!
Cultural Underpinnings: Trust Based Ownership & Accountability Principles – “A remote smart organisation is first and foremost about strong, cohesive and pervasive cultural underpinnings. For people to thrive and be effective in it a high degree of ownership, empowerment and accountability is needed. They’re all built on trust.
Trust has many layers of course. Here is my remote org experience based top 10 take on this:
- Respect above all and embrace perspectives of others determined by their individual set of cultural lenses (check here) to avoid the so-called vicious circle of Four Mis’s -: Misperception ➡️ Misinterpretation ➡️ Misevaluation ➡️ Mistrust.
- Psychological safety – it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s critical to not judge a book by its cover or to judge the book by the chapter you walked in on.
- Integrity – walk the talk.
- Sincerity and radical candor (i.e. Caring Personally while Challenging Directly).
- Reliability – deliver as promised, and do not overpromise because you’re bound to underdeliver.
- Commitment to what you’re building as a team.
- Consistency and clarity, even if things evolve, explain the rationale of the modification.
- Competence & life long learning – be a subject matter expert in your role, but don’t forget about…
- Intellectual humility- adopt a ‘learn it all’ NOT ‘know it all’ mindset, be in listening mode, listen to learn not to find quick fixes/to win. Especially crucial in the context of the remote workplace.
- The mutually reinforcing ‘trust triangle’ attributes: logic, authenticity, empathy, as depicted here.”
Learn to Listen with More Senses – “Online we cannot see much of each other’s body language, posture, and gestures. To compensate, many remote leaders tend to fall back on things like chat messages and being more purposeful and clearer in the questions they ask.
That is a great strategy, but it can become too much and can be perceived as distracting by your team members.
So, how can we listen more deeply? We all have the ability to sense others through our hearts – to listen from our hearts. We do not use this ability much in in-person settings, especially in a business context, so it takes training.
Experiment with the Following:
When you listen to a co-worker, focus on your mind and listen from that place, then feel into your heartspace (feel your physical heart) and see what happens when you listen from that place.
Why should you train this ability? Over time it will not only slow down and deepen your way of communicating, but it will also have a similar effect on how others communicate with you.
How to Learn More:
Understand Your Legal Responsibilities as an Employer for Your Remote Employees – “It is extremely important to have an understanding of your legal responsibilities as an employer when employees work remotely. In many countries, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that their employees have a safe workspace from which to work at home. If their employee is injured during work hours, the employer may be liable. Regulations and laws differ from state to state and country to country so it is vital to research your particular obligations.”
Introduce Video By Default for All Virtual Meetings – “It’s easy to fall into misinterpretation during virtual meetings due to the lack of body language and typically more distractions. By implementing a company-wide video-by-default policy, the participants can feel more connected to each other. Audio-only calls tend to create an even further distance between your remote workforce.”
Focus on Outputs Over Inputs + Avoid Over-Tracking – “One of the first questions aspiring remote team leaders tend to ask me goes something like: “How can I best track remote employee performance?” My answer to this is: you have to start with trust.
Don’t waste resources setting up systems to track employees’ every minute spent on the clock. Hours worked is a really bad measure of productivity – plus it’s been proven that while office employees “work” a standard 8-hour workday, they typically average about 3 hours of “real work” each day.
Trying to track employee performance in this way or expecting people to respond to messages within 5 minutes to prove they’re “at work” is only going to get in the way of them actually doing their jobs. Instead, default to trusting that you’ve hired the right people who are capable of working at a high level, whether they are in an office or at home.
New remote leaders have a tendency to focus on inputs — things like hours worked, emails sent, calls made, message response time. These metrics are easy to quantify, making us managers feel secure that we’re getting the most out of our team.
However, focusing on inputs leads to frequent interruptions, busywork, and burnout, more often than results.
Instead, start focusing on outputs — which actually create value for the team. For example, if it’s your employee’s job to sell, let them sell. Don’t pull them into multiple meetings a day or interrupt them with messages they need to reply to immediately. Help your people identify their highest impact tasks and then encourage them to block off uninterrupted time in their calendars to focus on getting that work done.
Shifting this focus away from micro-managing the inputs, and instead focusing on outputs, will pay dividends for your remote team down the road. Happier employees, better results, less staff turnover, more goals achieved.”