Growth and Standing Up Remote Workforces

Can anyone share what was useful or not useful in setting up remote teams for success?
Anything from training and onboarding, effective communication tools or strategies to reinforce trust, key trends, and connection of the disconnected workforce.

My company is going through this growth and we’re finding it necessary to create some norms and manners for interacting in virtual meetings, as well as instilling trust at a distance. I would love to hear what worked and what still is challenging. Thanks!

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I was reading this article this morning, and thought I’d share:

I have been a remote employee for the past 6 years, so have some tips from an employee point of view on how I feel more included and informed, and part of a team.

  1. Remote-First meetings are better for me than just being the only ‘remote’ person on a video call. When everyone joins the call from their laptops, there’s more structure and less in-room chatting where jokes/body language are easier for me to see. People’s faces are larger on-screen, and I can read their names too.
  2. Video calls into a meeting room can be easier when I can control the camera and zoom in to see people’s faces. Asking people to sit within view of the camera helps, and asking people to move the mic so I can hear properly helps.
  3. We use gestures to indicate we want to say something, otherwise remote attendees can be overlooked. Having a facilitator say “anyone remote have anything to add?” doesn’t really work, too impersonal and puts pressure to say something, even if you didn’t need to.
  4. I keep my local mic unmuted where possible so I can contribute ‘naturally’ to a conversation, rather than have the few seconds delay finding the un-mute button/keystroke. When everyone wanders into a meeting room a few mins late, I can interact with people who are waiting for some informal chat.
  5. All company-wide meetings and big announcements needs to be written as well as verbal. Especially where there’s different timezones and not everyone can participate in live events.
  6. I attend a daily stand-up and share what I’m working on with my team, if I can’t attend I Slack them an update. This builds trust and accountability.
  7. Weekly check-ins are more important for remote workers, and usually go for up to 90minutes, as there’s a lot to catch up on when you’re not physically present to hear any updates/share learnings from the rest of the team.
  8. We have a Slack channel for remote workers, and a monthly meeting to catch up and share learnings. This creates a sense of connection with others, and helps us improve how we work with office workers.
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I’ll focus on the trust and connection part of your question - because a big part of being physically separate is occasionally coming together.

At my last job we were a tiny company (6 employees, all remote) and for building trust we had a quarterly company retreat. (We were fortunate enough to live within a few hours flight of each other). We’d hire an AirBNB and spend two or three days re-aligning around goals or working on some hack-a-thon style projects where we’d try to collaborate on something outside our routine intensely for a couple of days to shift the needle on something in the business. This time together was great for bonding.

At my current role (Culture Amp) I’m one remote worker in a mostly co-located group. We don’t do regular retreats like this as it’s easier for the handful of remote workers to visit the office. One thing we’ve done in the product group is look at the cost of keeping an employee in the office (rent, furniture, electricity etc) and given that budget to the remote engineers to make semi-regular trips to the office. It’s up to me to decide how to spend that budget, where to stay, how often I visit, when (the ask is at least one week every 3 months, but you can do more than that). I’ve really valued this - the trust to go and manage that myself is valuable. Whenever I’m in town I focus on face-to-face activities as much as possible, and we usually do a team lunch (or two!)

As for building trust and connection when you’re not physically together:

  • When you do a video call, be generous with your time at the start and at the end. In an office people often gather outside a meeting room a few minutes early or for a few minutes after and chat. Encourage people to start/join the video call early, and don’t end it as soon as the meeting is finished - you might get a few minutes to catch up

  • Clearly communicate expectations around availability. In an office you can go for a coffee and no-one questions it. When remote, if you go for a coffee and miss a Slack message, people wonder what you’re doing. Getting a coffee just like everyone else! It helps to post “AFK” (away from keyboard) statuses etc if you have a free flowing team chat.

  • At Culture Amp we use Donut (https://www.donut.com/) for a coffee roulette - it pairs you with another employee that you don’t normally interact with and encourages you to book a coffee or video call catchup with that person, purely social, for about 30 minutes. As a remote worker I really love these conversations and it helps me feel like I’m getting to know other people at work, even if I rarely see them in person.

  • I also like having some non-work-related Slack channels that make up for the lack of “watercooler” discussion when remote. We have “#club_music”, “#club_public_speaking”, “#club_cooking” and more. These all help the sense of social connection - it’s not directly related to work, but when you go to work with these people, even remotely, you now feel better connected with them and it feels more natural to collaborate.

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There are various pros/cons of having remote teams, and I think it’s also important to distinguish the difference between remote challenges (where employees are not sitting in the same office) and global challenges (where employees are not sitting in the same time zone).

With dispersed teams

  • Research shows there are increased challenges with delayed responsiveness, risk of miscommunication, and risk of freewheeling (where employees are working on duplicate work, or on different priorities). Putting practices in place that help to improve frequency, predictability, and opportunity to align can help alleviate these challenges.

Tips include:

  • Daily huddles (or some other frequency that works for the team)

  • Clarity of expectations when the team forms. Some facilitative questions I like to ask include

    1. What unique value do we provide as a working group? This helps to set the commitment and motivation of working together as a group.
    2. What information do we need from each other?
    3. How/when/where/and in what format should we provide that information?
    4. What tools can we put into place that will sustain these practices as we grow? It could be as simple as documentation, or onboarding practices.
  • One team norm we have is called “working out loud” this means that team members should be open and transparent about the work they’re doing (so people can learn from them or contribute) - and it’s good to select technology tools that can support these norms (we use slack), and cultural values that will support transparency & trust.

As far as virtual meetings go there are great tips above (and from excellent remote folks). One thing I’d add is from a facilitator perspective, since it’s difficult for remote folks to interject in conversation, just do a quick check with virtual members to see if they have anything to add at the end of topics (not just at the end of the meeting), it might feel like they’re put on the spot at first, but over time they should feel comfortable to just simply say “nothing to add”.

With global teams

  • It’s important to recognize that work is happening at all times of the day, and it can sometimes be overwhelming.
  • Develop norms/expectations around when people should be sending/responding to messages (should they avoid sending messages outside of someone’s business hours? or send it, and simply set the expectation that the person doesn’t need to respond until its business hours?)
  • Encourage employees to align their technology notifications so they’re not receiving pings at all hours of the day (or actively manage which notifications they do want to allow outside of business hours).
  • From a meeting perspective, encourage employees to keep hours open to meet with people from other timezones. For example, perhaps NY employees keep their afternoons free to meet with SF employees.

Hope that helps!

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Hi All,

I am a remote worker and my Team Lead runs all of our meetings “remote first” so even if all of my team members are in the office for our Team Meeting, they will go and sit quietly with headphones and dial in.

It’s awesome as you’re not just stuck watching the conversation, you have an awesome BRADY BUNCH view with everyone’s faces and it feels very inclusive.

Extra bonus for the fact that a meeting room is not being used at this time :slight_smile:

Thanks for caring about us REMOTEES @matmauck :slight_smile:

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