The world has entered an unprecedented moment in history, and organizations around the globe have had to adjust quickly to a new way of working. For some leaders, remote work was something they were forced to do, not something they embraced.
But when leaders are prepared with a remote-first mindset and infrastructure, they can shift their companies to remote work without sacrificing productivity or culture. 15Five is proof of that. Despite nearly half of our team working remotely full time, we’ve placed #3 on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work (with over 80, 5-star Glassdoor reviews), #2 on Fortune’s Best Workplaces Bay Area, and #5 on their Best Workplaces in Tech.
To help leaders successfully make the shift to a remote work mindset, I’ve put together five key ideas that I’ve found helpful in thinking about remote teams and how to have them work well.
If done right, having a remote-first infrastructure will give you the best of both worlds. You can still get all the benefits of working in an office if you choose to, while also allowing you and all your employees to have the flexibility to be productive wherever, whenever.
Having a remote-first mindset and infrastructure also opens up the ability to hire the best people regardless of locale (perhaps even in lower-cost areas than where your company is headquartered), and gives your organization a high degree of resilience should anything like this ever happen again.
Culture is what naturally happens whenever you bring a group of human beings together and have them work or live together for any period of time.
As the best organizations have learned, great culture doesn’t happen by accident but requires intentional design and influence. This is why it is so important to make your company’s mission, vision, values, operating principles, standards, agreements and social norms explicit, and to reinforce them. Doing this with a remote team is no different.
However, it’s also important to understand that a key aspect of how a culture is experienced is through our emotions, which includes how your employees feel when they think about the company, you, other leaders, their manager, and their peers.
The best cultures are ones where people feel a sense of connection to the company’s purpose, a sense of trust and faith in their leaders, and a camaraderie with their manager and peers.
That feeling is developed through human interaction, plain and simple. When you’re all located together, it happens naturally; whatever the culture is propagates and is amplified with each human interaction.
Impromptu water cooler, kitchen or hallway conversations, quick whiteboard sessions in a conference room, or 1-on-1 and group lunches are all things that contribute to this experience.
They’re important not only to your sense of culture but also your team’s sense of social connection and productivity. While you can’t replicate them exactly, with proper design you can ensure those very same needs get met despite the physical distance.
As I recently shared with CNN in an article titled How to work from home without losing your sanity, it’s important to not underestimate the psychological impact of being alone. We are social beings and need connection, so getting this piece right is also critically important.
Thankfully with high-quality video conferencing, text-based tools that encourage the use of emoticons and rich imagery, and a well-thought-out cadence of communication and connection rhythms, we can nearly re-create the level of emotional connection you’d experience in any office.
When working remotely, your team will have fewer opportunities to see you face to face, and this is important to design for.
Leadership presence is always important, but in times of crisis especially critical. Your people need to feel your presence as a leader.
That means showing up in a variety of forms, regularly and consistently, despite you not being able to physically share the same space. I try to balance a mix of engaging via video in our weekly all-hands Boosts, periodic company-wide emails, presence on Slack in public channels, and engaging with our team’s High Fives inside our own product (more specifics on all of this below).
Consider the cadence and channels that you think would work best for your team and culture. To start, I recommend erring on the side of more communication rather than less, and soliciting feedback from your leaders, managers and team members to find the right amount for your specific situation.
One common fear I hear from leaders and managers is whether their employees will actually do their work, or will they just sit around watching Netflix all day.
In my experience, in most cases, this fear is usually misguided, and any impulse to micro-manage based on this fear will likely backfire.
What’s the impact micro-management has on your relationships? From my limited experience, what I’ve noticed is that when you micromanage others, they learn to hide from you. They become defensive about their choices, deflect feedback, and close down. This is the antithesis of the dynamic you need to create when your people go remote because what you need is more openness, transparency, and trust to make the whole thing work.
To that end, the formula I’ve found that works is granting trust, treating employees like adults, and then putting in place the right set of accountability and communication structures to ensure that wins, challenges, and results are being surfaced, and the right conversations are happening at the appropriate cadence.
Things like weekly check-ins and 1-on-1s are critical here, and by standardizing these practices across your organization, you can ensure a high degree of consistency and effectiveness.
It’s also important to understand some of the key principles of intrinsic motivation. When your team is intrinsically motivated, not only are they most likely to do their best work, but you won’t have to worry as much about whether they’re working either. Based on Self-Determination Theory, the idea is that there are four aspects that independently lead to someone feeling more intrinsically motivated, and those are Relatedness (with others), Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, which some call the intrinsic motivation RAMP.
Adam Grant shared last year about a recent Nick Bloom experiment showing that if you let call centers work from home, they’re 13% more productive. Adam said, “It’s not just because they save commute time — it’s also that they’ve been given real autonomy. They have flexibility around where they work, when they work, and how they work, and they don’t feel like they’re being micromanaged.”
Good news! You’ve just granted your people a whole lot of autonomy!
Focus now on ensuring they feel connected to each other and to your purpose, and are on a path of growth and self-mastery, and you’re well on your way to up-leveling your team.
At 15Five, we ascribe to a philosophy called Best-Self Management, based on our belief that high engagement and high performance are results and things you can manage directly. If instead you focus on managing people to become their best selves, then great culture, engagement, performance, and loyalty are the natural results.
As an aside, Best-Self Management is based on principles of psychological safety, intrinsic motivation, growth mindset, strengths, and positive psychology. If you or your team are interested in exploring more on this topic, we offer a free 4-hour Best-Self Management Certification Course for managers at 15Five’s Best-Self Academy, which can help to really up-level your managers’ skills whether their team is remote or otherwise.
Offices, especially open offices can be rife with distraction. While there are certainly benefits to social interaction, no quality work gets done without focused attention.
On the other hand, science tells us that long commutes have a negative impact on well-being. In addition, recent research by Allen, Golden, and Shockley (2015) shows that remote work increases job satisfaction and performance, and helps to reduce stress and exhaustion.
Another pro of remote working (in many cases) is the ability to intentionally shut off distractions for a period of time and focus on the task at hand.
However, we’re in a unique situation now with employees needing to work from home, many without an effective home office/workstation setup. Some of your employees have roommates. Others are parents needing to balance the demands of simultaneously taking care of both work and their young children.
In a longer-term remote-work strategy, providing resources to help individuals create an effective workspace is often a great strategy, and if you can do some of that now, great.
In the current environment, it’s important to have empathy for people’s individual situations, and do your best to provide whatever flexibility that can be provided to ensure your employees are able to take care of their families (especially parents of young children) alongside the needs of the business.
Ultimately, the key to leading a remote team well is to understand that you need to intentionally design communication and meeting rhythms, social connection, and management/work practices.
Thankfully there’s a wide array of easy-to-use tools on the market that help you do exactly this.
– Part 4: Shifting Your Mindset
David Hassell is a business columnist, speaker, and serial entrepreneur who believes that when leaders institute cultural practices that support each person in being and becoming their best self, high performance and uncommon loyalty naturally result. As co-founder and CEO of 15Five, David created the science-inspired Best-Self Management methodology that helps leaders and managers address the hidden factors that stimulate sustainable growth and development – things like intrinsic motivation, strengths, and psychological safety. David has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Wired. Follow him on Twitter @dhassell.