Personally, I’m a firm believer that providing the ability for employees to work from where they feel most creative, focused, and comfortable is one of the best ways for employers to support their teams. Not only that, but it’s also a huge competitive advantage when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent. So for those of us that have already been sold on the beauty that is working remotely, this sudden shift towards remote work (although it happened under terrible conditions) is great!
It’s clear that we’re settling in for the long haul with remote work, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Shopify and Twitter have both recently announced that they’ll be keeping remote work around for their teams, and more are sure to follow suit. Even Google is extending their remote mandate, Pinterest is closing their San Francisco office space, and Facebook is starting to take remote work more seriously as well.
So while many industries and companies are shifting their policies towards supporting remote work, they’re doing so with leaders and managers who are tackling the challenges of remote work for the first time, with very little preparation or experience. And now that we’re a few months into this shiny new era of distributed work, I think the ripple effects of that inexperience are really going to start to be felt across their teams.
Terminal.io just released a remote leadership report, which showed that 77% of the leaders they surveyed reported that they’ve never managed a fully remote team, and 89% have never managed a partially remote team. More than half of employers (54%) have never hired an employee in another country, and 43% have not hired someone without meeting them in person.
Now that the dust is starting to settle, for many remote teams, they’re moving into disturbingly uncharted territory. So, what’s a newly remote manager to do? When we began building and maturing our fully remote team and remote-first policies at Dribbble, here’s where we started, and why:
Experience drives success, but many managers and leaders now have no choice but to learn on the fly, and fake it till they make it. The good news is that there’s a growing body of remote-first literature, training programs, blog posts, books, and professional networks.
If you find yourself in the driver’s seat of a remote team but you have little functional experience under your belt, I encourage you to do some reading around best practices, and what’s worked well for other remote companies alongside Dribbble like Buffer , Hubspot , Basecamp , that have already paved the way here. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel—study up and then apply the learnings that will work for you and your team!
Experiment to find out what will work for you
What works for one team may not work for yours. Be willing to try new things to see what resonates with your organization, and what doesn’t. Take the processes that stick, run with them, and be willing to iterate on them over time. Remember that what worked for you three months ago may not be what is still working for you today! Gather both anecdotal and quantitative feedback from your team through surveys and check-ins to get a sense of what’s working, and what isn’t, and evolve your processes from there.
There will likely be a number of things you’ll need to experiment with. For example, when it comes to working hours, how will your team best strike the balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication? Do you need to seek total time zone alignment and set office hours, or will your team be able to thrive with more flexibility to work the hours they see fit?
Another area of remote operations to explore is creating a productive meeting cadence that balances protecting the heads-down, focus time for your individual contributors to get their work done. Will you set no-meeting days, limit all meetings to 30-minutes as much as possible, or will you need to try daily stand-ups? The possibilities are endless, so be ready to stay open-minded about experimenting to see what works, and what doesn’t.
On successful teams, everyone understands what is expected of them, and what their priorities should be. But on a newly remote team, communicating those expectations and priorities may take a little more extra effort than usual. It’s been my experience that teams are most effective and impactful when everyone understands where and how their individual work fits into the overall context of our mission. This frequent knowledge-sharing plays a crucial role in your team’s productivity and engagement. When your people are privy to this kind of contextual information, not only can they make better decisions about what will benefit your business, but it will reduce anxiety and build trust in leadership. Keeping the lines of communication open, honest, and broad is essential for productive remote team communication.
If your managers don’t already have regularly scheduled (at least bi-weekly, if not weekly) 1-1 check-ins on the calendar with their direct reports, this is a great place to start investing in creating strong organizational communication. Another great practice is to get a regular all-hands meeting on the calendar, so you can ensure your team is all swimming in the same direction, and you’re clearly communicating and reinforcing your priorities and values. We’ve seen first hand how an impactful town hall is one of the best ways to reinforce your team’s culture and communication.
Create opportunities for meaningful connection
Along the lines of building trust, one of the best ways to foster trust and cohesion is to create opportunities for connection and engagement together. When we let our hair down around each other, it creates empathy for one another. Virtual happy hours are a great place to start, and there’s a plethora of games that are fun and easy to play over video conferencing platforms now. Get creative depending on what your team loves.
We’ve tried a remote 5km run, virtual yoga, and a remote book exchange . Ensuring we have time to connect “outside of work” together goes a long way in helping combat loneliness and isolation, and creates a sense that we’re all in this together!
Invest in onboarding
If you’re at a point where you’re growing your newly remote team, one of the best and most important investments you can make is to thoughtfully craft a strong remote onboarding program . Onboarding looks quite different for distributed teams. There’s no conference room or office kitchen to gather in for introductions or a first-day lunch. If you’re hiring remotely for the first time, this is an area to spend some time and energy thinking through how to start your new hires off on the right foot, remotely.
Consider exploring onboarding buddy programs, holding a virtual happy hour so your new hire can meet the rest of the team, and ensure your hand-book is easily accessible and up-to-date to reflect all your remote work processes!
During this unprecedented and accelerated widespread adoption of remote work, many leaders and teams have been unexpectedly thrown into the deep end of uncharted waters. Be patient with yourselves and your teams as you navigate through these challenges. Know that remote work is about far more than recreating in-office scenarios with your team, and lean into those differences! New social norms, channels of communication, and moments of connection will begin to manifest themselves over time, as you and your team adjust to your new remote circumstances.
If you’re prepared to do some re-evaluating, research, experimentation, and are committed to continue iterating on and optimizing the way that you communicate, collaborate, and connect within your organization, you and your team will be well on your way towards reaping the rewards of flexibility, freedom, and productivity that remote work offers.
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