Mikaela Kiner kicked off the discussion of the July Seattle HR Collective Meetup on “Managing Remote Teams” by asking the audience how many attendees worked for companies with a remote work option. Almost everyone raised their hands and confirmed that their employer had at least some remote working option and/or teams that were based at more than one location.
Dave Glick of FLEXE joined Kiner for a fireside chat on the topic. He started as FLEXE’s CTO in April 2019. He previously managed numerous remote teams in several positions for about 20 years at Amazon. His teams were distributed throughout the United States and all over the world. Kiner spent a few years working for Amazon in India. Both Glick and Kiner have extensive experience managing remote teams and shared some key takeaways on best practices while hearing from the audience.
Having leadership onsite to hold down the fort and be a real presence in the lives of employees based at offsite locations is key. Lack of leadership increases chaos and misunderstanding. When no one has ownership over anything onsite, it leads to a lack of planning. Glick witnessed instances where there was no one managing space planning at an offsite location so new employees had nowhere to sit on their first day at work. Who makes the coffee in the morning is important to know. Glick feels it’s important for someone to be overseeing day-to-day operations. “It becomes Lord of the Flies if you don’t have someone in charge,” he says. Having leaders onsite on a regular basis can allow for a witness to employees’ continued progress and can allow for the ability to promote, nurture and encourage an entire workforce.
Things that are the norm in one city in the world may not be the norm in another. Think about what makes sense for each office location or team member location. This applies to health practices, holidays, time off policies, vacation policies and technology. It’s wonderful to be consistent. But the moment you find out something does not make sense from a local standpoint, figure out what does for an office, region or team. Understand that your internet speed might not be as fast and efficient as a different part of the world and that not every place has the same recognized holidays.
Consider scheduling recurring check-ins by phone or video chat with remote teams or individuals so there is time to discuss any clients, projects and any challenges or accomplishments made. There are plenty of ways to communicate but designating time to talk can be beneficial. Empower remote employees to be assertive. Sometimes, a remote employee can be on the phone for a meeting and people in the room forget he or she is apart of the discussion. Give remote employees the chance to speak up and contribute as well as ask questions.
Sometimes things drop off, so it is crucial to over-communicate with remote employees or teams on a regular basis. For example, a meeting about a project might have occurred while someone was sleeping if they live on the other side of the world so they need to be emailed with an update (or consider using certain tools in the next section). Never forget if any company policies have changed and the reasoning behind that if this comes out of headquarters.
Consider video conferencing such as Zoom, Skype, or Hangouts when connecting with remote teams or employees. It’s nice to see your colleagues’ faces if you don’t see each other in person on a regular basis.
Tools such as Slack, Workplace, and Microsoft Teams can help break up communications between projects or accounts where those involved can stay in constant communication and have access to any correspondence or updates they might have missed while they were offline or focused on other tasks regardless of timezone. Be clear on what tools and/or forms of communications require immediate response from remote employees versus other tools/forms that allow for more time for follow up.
Set Standards for Remote Work
Ensure remote employees are held to certain standards if they don’t work out of your main office or are remote some or all of the time. Confirm each remote employee has a designated space free of distractions and excess noise as well as a reliable computer, internet, and phone connectivity so communication is constant. Adhere to arranged timed attendance and breaks in accordance with management so team members are aware of each other’s work patterns or schedules.
Time In Person
If possible, designate face-to-face time as a team because it is important. Even if it is only a few times per year, it’s crucial to get time together if possible. Work in-person on strengthening your communication and bond. And don’t forget to take some time for fun activities. Face-to-face time should not be just about what can be improved upon when it comes to work but also on sharing company culture and allowing for time for the development of more personal connections between employees. When Glick was at Amazon, he made a conscious effort to have facetime with employees to work with them on problems he would not have normally known about as well as to thank his team members and acknowledge them for the work that each of them did on a regular basis. Leaders should also consider inviting remote employees to headquarters so those individuals can absorb the company culture and take it back with them whether it is to a second location or home office.
Thank you again to Dave Glick of FLEXE for speaking at our July Meetup!