Leading remote teams: Learnings from SXSW 2019

At work, do you sit near everyone on your team? How about in the same office? Same city? Same country? Every single day? Remote work is a growing trend, rising by more than 115% over the past decade. At SXSW 2019, the Future Workplace track included some sessions specifically about remote work, featuring leaders working in-house and externally to help teams adapt to a changing work culture.

Both the Transforming the Workplace through Remote Work panel and the Remotely Happy: Better Results from Timework meetup made one thing clear: both employers and employees want to know how to work better together, regardless of where they’re located.

Sarah Beldo
Director of Content Marketing and Communications at Miro

It all starts with thoughtful planning

The more careful structure you put around remote work – at a companywide, teamwide, and individual employee level – the more likely these situations will be successful.

Have an open dialogue about expectations. Different people across the organization may have different ideas about what a flexible working situation entails. Involve stakeholders in a discussion to assess needs, expectations, and what’s reasonable.

Make sure everyone in the organization is on the same page. This includes departments like IT, facilities, and HR, who will need to collaborate on an infrastructure to support remote work.

Explicitly define guidelines. Remote work isn’t an on/off switch; it’s a gradient. Therefore, you need to explicitly define guidelines for what “flexible work” means. Go as far as including those specific expectations in your job descriptions, so applicants are 100% clear about what they’re signing up for.

Track the ROI. Sure, it’s tough. But it’s the only way to prove the value of remote work internally (and externally) and dispel myths about how it’s a fuzzy “feel-good” benefit that only benefits employees.

Tracking the ROI of remote work is critical, yet few companies do it. That’s why the progression has gone so slowly.

Sara Sutton

CEO and founder of FlexJobs

Creating a positive culture

Encourage boundaries. When people are remote, they often start to feel like they need to respond to every message immediately. Or they may feel guilty about not being online when others are. Help your employees set boundaries.

Walk the walk. When it comes to a healthy flexible working arrangement, managers can lead by example. When your leaders are taking advantage of remote work and flex work options, it makes it a lot easier for their employees to follow in their footsteps.

Make time for chitchat. Take a few moments at the beginning of each meeting to focus on personal stuff, like your kid’s baseball game. Talking about what you did over the weekend isn’t “fluffy stuff.” In fact, it’s crucial for building relationships and strengthening team collaboration.

Consciously re-create the best of in-office culture. Don’t forget the little things: for example, send people their favorite candy for Halloween, to put on their desks. Order coffee or food for remote employees who are in meetings, to help them feel included.

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We threw a Skype virtual baby shower for a coworker. You just need to be creative and think outside the box to build relationships with remote team members.

Amy Forbes Winebright

Global Project Manager of Talent Attraction and Employer Brand at Dell

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Define processes and tools

Create an equal playing field. Sometimes you need to force people who are colocated to follow the same processes as those who are working remotely.

We have an all or nothing rule. Either everyone is together in one room, or everyone is in separate rooms, logging in on their computers..

Greg Caplan

CEO and founder of Remote Year

Document workflows and decisions. Virtual collaboration tools can provide transparency into workflows and decisions that happen asynchronously across time zones. Everyone can read about what happened, and catch up.

Adapt to different workstyles. Just as with a colocated team, virtual or hybrid teams will have introverts, extroverts, micromanagers …and everything in between. Studies show that virtual collaboration tools are also good for introverts, because it helps them feel more comfortable. And extroverts may need more consistent “face time.”

Leverage video. As one meetup attendee explained, “Getting employees on video is the key. Gives us 80% of what you get in person, while voice only gives you 50%.” Screen sharing or using a visual collaboration tool also helps, since it gives participants something to focus on.

Explore different synchronous / asynchronous work schedules. For example, you could have one day of the week when everyone works from home.

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