So the world is really weird right now. The Coronavirus outbreak has wreaked havoc and affected every person in the world in some way. And while a pandemic could never justify some of the (dare we say it) “positive” outcomes, we can’t deny the fact that the sudden transition to remote working would’ve very likely taken a good few years, nay, decades to achieve – especially for the big traditional corporates. As an organisation in the sustainability space (and the 21st century) we are ALL about remote working.

For a lot of the population working remotely is completely new and not only have we needed to adapt, we have needed to do it in a world that has been turned upside down. 

It feels like an important time to talk about the realities of remote working – the good and the bad.  

Michelle McNamara, People Ops Lead at a little company you might have heard of called Over, spoke to Storme Conradie – an Aurora Sustainability advocate and design curator at Over – about the ins, outs and everything in-between when it comes to remote working. You can watch the full interview here, as well as read more about the FAQs received here

Michelle began by explaining the remote working culture at Over. “We have transitioned from being “remote friendly” to a “remote first” company, and ultimately to a “distributed team”.” This is an interesting and very important distinction to make – “remote” implies that you are removed from the hub, whereas “distributed” means that the entire team is scattered. It is important to make these distinctions clear upfront. 

Companies adopting a remote first/distributed team also need to understand that if one person is remote then everyone needs to be remote. “When some people are remote and others are sitting together, there is a stronger chance for feelings of disconnection. When you aren’t in the room you might be missing the inside joke, it is more difficult to read body language and get a sense of the energy in the room.” So, when moving to a distributed team, if one person is calling in, every person – regardless of where they were based or if they were sitting together – should call in separately.  

remote working

 Below are some of the important lessons Michelle and Storme have learned while working in a distributed team; 

Figure out your ways of working and build a manifesto.

“This is one of the biggest challenges to overcome but once it is in place it really helps set the tone for the business as it unpacks the values, the best ways to communicate, sets boundaries, builds trust, and so on.”

Start practicing intentional communication.

A big shift is changing from every day “communicating” to “communicating to be understood”.

Establish video etiquette.

At Over this means, switching your video camera on, putting yourself on mute when you are in a loud space, ensuring you are actively listening (i.e. nodding enthusiastically, giving a thumbs up, etc. ), and using the Zoom chats when it is appropriate and doesn’t distract the rest of the group – “compare it to chatting to someone next to you whilst someone is presenting, we wouldn’t do this IRL, we shouldn’t do this virtually either.”

Be more open and start collaborative working.

Instead of holding onto something until it is 100% complete, share it with your team at various stages and provide continuous updates. This also helps build trust through vulnerability.

Rethink the way you communicate.

Not everything needs to be a face-to-face chat – especially with time zones in the mix. This is when sharing asynchronous updates via a chat or channel is important. Less meetings, more doing. 

Lead by example.

Vulnerability in a leader paves the way for tremendous trust. If you are showing your team how you want to interact, it sets the precedent for all communications. Set aside 10 minutes for a personal check-in, “How are you doing?”, “How was your weekend?” and then listen. Really, really listen. Icebreakers are also really valuable, simple tools that allow teams to get to know each other and laugh a little. Eg. What would your superhero name be? 

remote working

“Some of the perks we have noticed is that when an individual has more control of their time, they are able to protect their personal time and prioritise family and their own space better. Work-life balance is paramount to our generation, we want this and when we have it, it is a special thing. You spend less time and energy commuting to and from work, you’re able to restructure what would be a waste of this time, to something more useful. Maybe you’re an early bird, or a night owl, you can work at times that sync up with your own lifestyle (provided you’re communicating and sharing with your team of course).”  

As a business you get very productive employees, people are taking less leave as they are finding the energy to put in the time. This is because they are able to go away for a weekend, and then instead of rushing back to the office, they stay for a little longer and work from wherever they are. Running costs reduce as you no longer have big overheads, you can put the resource towards what truly matters, your team, and therefore your business. 

Of course, there is a philosophical shift in the working environment. Leading a team is hard, leading a remote team is even harder. These simple changes can streamline processes, build trust, and effect a happier and productive team.

1. Leaders need to stop micromanaging and assuming the worst, “just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean it is crashing and burning.”

2. Be present when you are with your team. Nothing is more off-putting than being distracted on your phone or checking email. It tells your team one thing, “you’re not as important as this”.

There is a lot to navigate here, and if you are feeling overwhelmed or lost, don’t worry – you are not alone. These are weird times, and you are doing GREAT!

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