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March 29, 2020
Employee Experience

Tips for Leading High-Performing Remote Teams

Technology will enable you, but it will not save you.

Despite all the buzz around collaboration tools at the moment, it’s important to realize that the tools matter less, and the goals matter more. If you don’t have clear goals set for your team, now, more than ever, it’s easy for everyone to get off-track. Working remotely requires strong team alignment and individual autonomy. This can be a recipe for success, but only if you set your team up well with strong, understood goals.

Always aim for transparency. Keep your business and team goals in a place where the team looks every day. We use Lattice for this, but it could be a daily reminder you set on Slack, the project management tool you use, or even just on a shared document your team uses daily.

It’s your job to create time for connection.

Accessibility while remote is also key. Make time to connect with both the team and the individual. Set up office hours and make sure they take place when your reports can meet.

It’s also important that you establish expectations around each member’s availability and respect those parameters. We recommend ‘snoozing’ notifications on messengers like Slack during non-business hours, and setting up Do Not Disturb for those tools on your mobile device.

We’ve also seen success in creating a team Zoom or conference call where anyone can join and work with it on in the background. This can help everyone feel connected—as if they are working in an office.

Run intentional remote meetings.

We’ve had a longstanding policy at RevUnit for “Cameras on, Hands off” meetings. These rules help us all connect better, read each other, and stay engaged during a meeting. It can be tempting to pull up your messages or start on the next project when a meeting is less engaging, but it’s important to keep alert while you meet remotely. The ‘camera on’ aspect is especially valuable because it allows other team members to gauge your body language, pick up on valuable gestures like head nods, and can prevent remote workers from feeling isolated from in-office workers.

It’s also important to record meetings and make them available for anyone who can’t attend. We are all human, and sometimes can’t make meetings, no matter how important. Why not leverage the power of virtual meetings by recording them and allowing others to view later as needed?

It can also help to start any meeting with the end in mind. Every meeting should kick off with a statement of what you hope to accomplish. If that’s unclear, you should not have a meeting until it is. As a leader, you need to push for this practice by modeling it yourself, or by asking someone for the end goal before any meeting starts.

Time Block for regular meetings. If you haven’t already been using agile ceremonies, now is the time to experiment with those and see what works with your team. These are built to be efficient and beneficial for every member of the team. Start with a daily standup — a 15 minute video call where everyone summarizes what they plan on doing that day and any blockers. As a leader, this will help you remove blockers for your team and keep everyone moving on what matters most. These ceremonies allow you to quickly prioritize, and make any necessary changes on-the-fly.

Size Matters. Cap your meeting to 25 participants. Why 25? If you’re using Zoom, this is the maximum number of participants that can be ‘seen’ in a single view. Add any more, and you’ll have to navigate through multiple pages to see others. These large meetings are typically best for information-sharing rather than collaboration and action. Therefore, the size of your meeting matters based on the desired outcomes.

With so many people on the line, it can be tough to manage who gets the floor, and when. That’s why it helps to be direct, and call people out by name. To avoid people talking at the same time and then saying “whoops, sorry you go first” the best meeting leaders ask people directly. “Thanks Kendra for your perspective. Tim, how does this differ from yours?” This directness keeps participants engaged with the discussion and they don’t have to fight for time.

Become the Chief Reminding Officer.

These days, it’s easy for individuals to get buried in work and lose sight of priorities. It’s important to be cognizant when this happens and call out any necessary changes to be made as they come. That’s why, as a leader, you must play the role of Chief Reminding Officer (or CRO.).

In times of crisis, both in and out of your company, people need to be reminded of the why behind their work.

As CRO, it’s your job to continuously restate your team and organization’s mission and values. This may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but you can use technology to your advantage to keep your team motivated. Video recording tools like Loom and Zoom allow you to resurface missions and values organically through short video recordings that feel personal. If your team uses Slack, you can use Slackbots to send automated “reminders” to individuals about ceremonies, values, missions … you name it. We have Slackbot post a meme any time someone types one of our values.

You can take this even further by creating a single source-of-truth for your missions and values. While cranking along on the work, document the stories, or axioms, and map them directly to your organization’s values. Call out behaviors that ladder-up to those values, link them, celebrate them, and hold individuals accountable to them. You’ll begin to notice your team’s culture naturally takes flight; let this happen organically in order to foster growth. Ask your employees to contribute their own and call out when you hear something you’d like to add. These axioms will help answer the questions you never thought to answer let alone write down.

When documenting your stories and axioms try to answer the questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we like?
  • What do we look for?
  • Who do we want to be?
  • Why do we do it this way?
  • Why does this matter?

Establish communication norms.

Establishing a communication “norm” is invaluable for any team. At RevUnit, we use Slack for timely, unstructured communication; it’s our lifeblood. The way you set up Slack is just as important as the messages which are being fired off daily. This set up should help drive standardization and usability. Create dedicated channels for company-wide announcements (we use #revunit-announcements), general company chatter (#watercooler), and niche interests (#the-vibe for music, #topic-vgk for Vegas Golden Knights fans). These will help your team stay organized and filter the noise.

Beyond Slack, we use Notion for asynchronous collaboration. It’s primarily used as a knowledge base to get team members up-to-speed and provide alignment on ongoing initiatives.  Email is primarily used with our partners. It is rarely used internally unless the communication is official business. Finally, a meeting is called when timely collaboration is necessary, or if the content cannot be conveyed appropriately through Notion.

Public spaces (like Notion and public Slack channels we mentioned) add context, foster awareness, and enable collaboration within your team. This creates a culture of openness, and allows teams to operate comfortably and smoothly knowing that information is democratized.

Certainly, there are circumstances where privacy via direct messages and emails is needed (primarily HR-related). But these should be the exception. Fostering a transparent environment is investing in the team’s success. We know great ideas come from all over an organization. So why would we want to limit ourselves by siloing information?

Times are tough right now amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to step up as a leader and create the right environment for your team — even if it is remote. Hopefully these lessons learned will give you a good place to start. And feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

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Doug Mitchell
Doug Mitchell is the VP of Delivery at RevUnit, a data technology studio. His background includes product management and IT services — delivering a diverse range of digital products for Fortune 500 companies that focus on helping enterprise teams create change with their data, faster. When Doug isn’t ensuring client success or leading great teams, you can find him brushing up on the art of crucial conversations, negotiation, and collaboration. He also makes killer homemade peanut butter.

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