As companies around the world have faced off with COVID-19 and its implications, they have quickly had to shift how and where they work. For some companies, however, managing and collaborating with distributed teams is nothing new.
15Five customer TargetX, a US-based company offering comprehensive CRM solutions for higher education, is one example. The bicoastal company employs about 100 people with offices in Philadelphia and Oakland, CA, but about one-third of its workforce is remote.
Given TargetX’s experience and success with remote work, we asked Kelly Sharkey, VP of People and Finance, what advice and best practices she could share for managing engagement, performance, and most of all culture when team members are not in the same location.
Kelly: We use a number of tactics that really come down to communication. We always encourage people to pick up the phone and use their video conferencing as much as possible to connect in a way that emails just don’t allow. Video conferencing really helps our remote people feel connected to those people who are in an office together but also to other remote colleagues. We are avid Slack users and feel that the constant conversations across various channels and topics (some work-related and some not) help people make more personal connections and lessen feelings of isolation.
We also use 15Five in a few different ways. We have found clear objectives and key results to be really helpful in aligning the entire company to our primary goals. Everyone can see the company-wide objectives and key results and the progress being made. This helps everyone stay focused and feel like they are contributing to a bigger purpose.
We use Check-ins weekly/bi-weekly and have found these to be invaluable for engagement. People get the space to regularly tout their accomplishments but also have the opportunity to get help removing impediments they may be facing.
High-Fives are another feature that we use to acknowledge each other. In fact, our relatively small employee base has sent thousands of High Fives in the last few months!
Kelly: First and foremost, we were concerned with everyone’s safety and health. And we knew that regular communication would be key. Initially, we allowed staff to make the decision to work from home before things escalated. When we knew our entire company would have to work remotely, we turned to the teams who know how to do it well and followed their advice, which included:
• Be really proactive in forming personal connections with coworkers—ask about their kids, pets, hobbies, etc. Consider how you would talk to someone you eat lunch with daily in an office and try to do that over chat or in online meetings.
• Over-communicate the message that every single person in the company wants you to be successful and will help. Remind people to reach out early and often and to not be afraid to ask for help.
• Don’t let yourself become an island. The responsibility is not solely on the company to keep you connected. Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you—connect with others and you won’t feel like you are alone.
• Engage in all forms of communication, calls, videos, chats.
Kelly: For everyone, even those who worked regularly or full-time from home before the shelter-in-place orders, there has been a lot to adjust to, including balancing work with the busy schedules of children, spouses, and partners who are all at home now, or having an increased sense of isolation when they can’t get out and see friends like they did before. We promote family-first, and we trust our teams to meet their objectives and get their work done. Communication is key! Especially between supervisors and team members.
After week one of the entire company going remote, our CEO sent an anonymous survey out to check on teams to see how they are doing working from home and give them the opportunity to express any other concerns. Actions like this help support our transparent and engaged culture.
We also took some additional tips from our teammates who were remote long before COVID-19 hit, which include:
• Make sure you set up a designated spot in your home that is strictly for work. This will allow you to separate work life from home life and make it easier to get into a mindset for work.
• Get a second screen. For those that were in an office, we allowed them to take these home during this work-from-home period. Our regularly remote teammates promise this is a life-saver.
Kelly: Staying connected on both professional and personal matters is huge for us. We started Pour@4 so teams have a reason to get together and talk about things that aren’t purely work-related. Our Slack channel “Pets of TargetX” has been a fun way to connect with everyone’s four-legged friends.
In terms of performance, the 15Five Pulse checks have been helpful for managers and Leadership to understand how people are feeling overall. We are fortunate that we have a pretty good submission rate for our 15Fives, and the Pulse check continues to be our first “at glance” to see how teams are doing. Managers can dig deeper into their progress and encourage engagement. The High Five feature continues to be a great help in encouraging others. We have all the High Fives feed into Slack so everyone can see all the great work that’s happening.
Kelly: Be understanding and flexible. There is a lot of anxiety and pressure surrounding workers and their families at this time and showing empathy goes a long way. Also, encourage people to stay connected and remind managers to stay engaged and do frequent outreach. Leverage the experience of people on your team who regularly worked remotely—they will have some great ideas.
Even in long-term, stressful situations such as what the world is experiencing during COVID-19, companies can still promote engagement, performance, and good culture across remote people and teams, as TargetX has proven. With breakthrough thinking that opens new, creative methods of communication and interaction, your company can adapt to any situation with agility, but also compassion, to support the health of your people and the success of your business.
Mike Siemasz is the Senior Customer Marketing Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, OKR tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. When Mike isn’t finding ways to increase customer advocacy, you can find him spending time with his family or working on his novel.