We’re living through extraordinary times. Where before we would talk about the future of work being fully remote, we’re now living in, at least for office workers, what Time Magazine is calling, “the world’s largest work from home experiment”. So how can people team leaders best support this new normal? What experience gaps are our people facing as they navigate this new world of work? Do they feel safe and supported? Do they have everything they need? And what about the managers who are suddenly thrust into supporting a fully remote workforce?
As many of us started working from home full-time for the first time, we put together what advice fully remote workplaces have for us and what we can learn from them.
1. BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER, EVEN WHEN THEY’RE APART: Creating a sense of community has always been important. Social media management platform, Buffer, has a fully remote workforce with more than 85 people working in 19 different countries. Buffer’s Director of People, Courtney Seiter says one of the biggest issues facing remote workers can be a sense of disconnection and loneliness. “Especially if these people aren’t used to working from home – it can be isolating.” To combat this, Buffer has experimented with different kinds of virtual gatherings, where people can get on a video call to chat about life and share concerns or stresses. “We use a tool called Donut that integrates with Slack and pairs you with different people within your organization to meet and chat with.” Buffer has also tried virtual forest bathing, where colleagues can get together online to enjoy the soothing calm of being in nature while meditating. This not only brings people together, but also goes some way to help relieve anxieties in uncertain times. “Everyone needs outlets for stress and anxiety,” she says.
2. HELP COLLEAGUES ONBOARD REMOTELY: Dev ops platform, GitLab, sends its people clear achievables for what’s expected of them weeks 1, 2-4, and 4-6. “They can check off exactly what they need to cover for not just work, but also social things like setting up a coffee chat with three different people.” A coffee chat at Gitlab is defined as a meeting without an agenda where the whole purpose is simply to get to know the other person. “The cool part is people also set up coffee chats with you because they know you’re new.” Gitlab also has a Slack channel called ‘new team’ members. “All of a sudden you’re seeing interactions happening through that new team member channel,” says Dave. “It starts to create connections, starts to create a sense of community, starts to create a sense of acclimation and acculturation.”
3. KEEP TEAMS SMALL , BUT CONNECTED: One big problem remote teams have is isolation. "We hold book clubs and we do learning sessions once a month, with topics that people submit to my team and from there we’ll either source an internal or external expert speaker. “Because we’re in so many timezones we’ll make sure to record them and transcribe them too.
4. TRUST YOUR PEOPLE: Now is an opportunity to focus on results, not just presenteeism. As Dave Gilbert, VP of Talent at Gitlab says: “Don’t be a clock watcher.” After all, “The coolest part of working from home is there isn’t an expectation to be at your desk at all times. Watch the results, but not time in the chair,” he advises.
Though, it is important to make sure your people are 100% clear on what you’re expecting from them and when. Include things like: When and how they need to be accessible How long you expect them to take in responding to your requests, etc.
5. ASK YOUR PEOPLE HOW THEY ARE DOING: Communicate and then communicate some more, says Benjamin Granger from the XM Institute: “Communicate even more than you think is necessary,” he says. “Results from our latest EX trends report clearly indicated that employees want to be surveyed during times of major organizational change.” Qualtrics Head of Growth and Strategy Steve Bennetts agrees: “What we’ve found is that companies that listen more and take action off the back of that listening have a significant increase in engagement.”
MOVING BEYOND “HOW ARE YOU?” How do we do better to truly see and hear each other at work? Susan Scott, in her book, Fierce Conversations, talks about the need to for us to listen deeply. She recommends these follow-up questions during 1:1s with your boss or direct reports: + What do you wish you had more time to do? + What things are you doing that you would like to stop doing? + If you were hired to consult with our company, what would you advise? + What are you feeling? + If X, Y, Z doesn’t change, what is likely to happen?
6. DON' T EXPECT TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS: “Managers want to feel like they can help in any scenario,” says Steve. “But in times of uncertainty it’s OK not to know. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not sure – let’s figure it out together.’” In fact, in unprecedented times like these, it’s better to be figuring it out together rather than just telling people what to do. “Crowdsource ideas,” says Steve. “Now is the time to really tap into how people are feeling and to be asking them how they need to be supported.” You’re far more than likely to get unexpected ideas that the leadership team may have never thought of.
7. BE EMPATHETIC: “Empathy is extremely important at the moment,” says Courtney Seiter, Director of People at Buffer. Especially for those with family responsibilities who need to fit work around childcare, or caring for elderly relatives. “So what if you can hear someone’s child in the background on a call? Be kind and try and be as understanding as possible.
One of the most important take-aways here is listening. Right now, organizations need colleagues listening more than ever. Surveys, 1:1s, team meetings, town halls are all powerful tools to scale business continuity planning efforts. Colleague feedback is always important but it is even more important in times of uncertainty and crisis. Not only does this practice help our teams feel valued, supported and engaged but it can help organizations identify blind spots, improve and frame communications and ultimately, improve their processes and policies. We’re in unprecedented times here, and the situation is changing every day. Organizations and teams should listen to and act on feedback, and ultimately come out the other end in a better place.
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