The rise of remote work has brought many changes to today’s workforce. What “work” looks like now is wildly different from work thirty years ago. We rely more on machines that seem to get smaller, located in places that seem to get farther away, and work hours that seems to get longer.
While we have been able to give up the dreaded commute to physical offices, we have traded it for an isolation that can affect growth, productivity, and even happiness. Co-located teams take nonverbal cues, ease of conversation, camaraderie, and built-in community for granted. How can remote leaders be more intentional in spite of the challenges that remote work introduces, like space and time? The key is to identify what advantages remote work has and build practices around them that encourage and inspire your team to thrive.
In the traditional office setting, nonverbal cues and on the fly “watercooler talks” bring value to a team’s cohesion and health. In The Art of Working Remotely author Scott Dawson discusses the need for openness and vulnerability in a remote team. As a remote worker, letting nonverbal cues to do the work is a luxury, so it’s important to make opportunities for transparent conversations. Researcher Brene Brown tells us: “Never underestimate the power of being seen”. What are the best ways to make sure your team is seen when physical proximity just isn’t possible?
- For individuals – Regular one on ones. The only way to encourage open, honest and consistent communication with your team members is to have dedicated time just for them… Keyword here, CONSISTENT. One on one meetings should never be cancelled, only rescheduled. This gives employees a platform to be heard and encourages a relationship that can be slower and harder to build when you aren’t in the office.
- For teams – The success of a remote work culture doesn’t fall on the individual. The entire company has to engage in a remote mindset, especially when parts of the organization are colocated. A remote manager has to be able to communicate their team’s value to the business as a whole. In the absence of a context that embraces remote work, we create silos and the potential for a few loud voices to dominate conversations. The value of the team has to come not just from you as their leader, but from the rest of the organization as well. This can look differently for everyone, depending on their size and their organizational goals.
A regular investment of time can drive valuable attributes of a well-functioning team like connectedness and community. It’s important to ensure that remote workers feel included when their remote status can lead to feeling physically isolated. As a company, meeting times should remain consistent and not rescheduled on the fly, time zones can only be battled with the right time.
Get into the habit of recording every meeting (if possible) and follow up with a short synopsis of action points and decisions made. Within your team, look for opportunities to collaborate together and make decisions as a group and use these opportunities to learn and grow from each other. When you are in the same physical location being able to ask for advice or perspective can be more natural as you have those impromptu discussions. But remotely, it can seem like even more work. Make the effort to include your team in reflection sessions or short syncs that they can contribute to.
It’s important to note that all the above suggestions are only as successful as the most important element involved: the individuals on your team. One of the biggest advantages of being a remote leader is your talent pool without one of the biggest limiting factors: geography. Refining your recruiting strategies and hiring processes are great opportunities to build a foundation for an effective team of high performers. On our team we look at networking as a great recruiting opportunity for future roles. It’s also an important step in establishing an interest and passion in your brand by new employees.
During the hiring process we evaluate candidates with questionnaires before video interviews with the goal of establishing a baseline for their skill set and ability to perform tasks required in the role. This lets us get the practical stuff out of the way so the face to face interviews can be focused on potential fit. This also sets the stage for our onboarding process because, you guessed it, it’s remote. We have our new hires take an active part in onboarding with a flexible schedule that has built in reflection time during and after the onboarding period. This not only gives our new hire a voice, but also continually refines our process. We start to establish connectedness during onboarding as well with scheduled “coffee chats” with the entire company.
In my time as a remote leader I have only scratched the surface of the challenges that this work lifestyle introduces. But here’s what I’ve learned: don’t be afraid of the challenges. These experiences are what stretch us as leaders and help us grow. Every team is unique so some of the habits above may not be a one size fits all solution. So lean into your creativity here and your team’s input! What you may see as a hurdle to overcome, like time and distance, could become your biggest asset in building a connected and productive team.
About the Author:
Ashley Sachs is the Head of Customer Support at Whereby. Ashley is a Tennessee native living in Chattanooga, working remotely. Ashley was the first US for Whereby and manage the support team. She is a remote work evangelist!