The Covid-19 pandemic has stressed so many different markets, and created challenges in business and our personal lives that were unimaginable just a few weeks ago. It’s forcing businesses to rethink their operating processes and launching organizations into unchartered territory, especially as teams move to remote working for the first time. There are fantastic tools on the market now for remote teams (and we use a lot of them!), but I think most leaders will find that the real opportunity in remote work...as well as their ability to scale a dispersed team will come down to culture and values, more than tools and technology.
Drawbackwards began 17 years ago with remote work from day one, and the culture and productivity it drives has become an important component to our value proposition for our UX clients. How do we make it work? Well, it starts with our team’s values.
The entire team built our values, they weren’t just dictated from me. Engage your team, and allow them to be part of the decision-making process. Your ability to involve your team early on will be a major factor in your success. You’ll need to rely on your team to make decisions on their own, and placing your trust in them early on will pay dividends.
Trust more, and ask for the same in return. As a remote leader, I have to TRUST that my team is putting 100% effort into the work they do. I’m able to do that because we have explicit social contracts amongst each other. If you haven’t yet, I recommend having a very direct trust conversation with your team. Don’t underestimate the power of verbally laying out all expectations for work delivery, while explaining that it will be the only conversation of its kind that will occur and that you do trust them. The social contract removes any doubt about expectations, allowing you and your team to focus on execution. The explicit trust between you allows you to go faster. One of our values states: We believe in the speed of trust.
Our culture and values allow us to execute flawlessly while working remote. We move faster because we trust one another. Here I am, working in Poland in 2019.
Foster a culture that rewards detail-oriented work. When was the last time you celebrated a team member that executed a small aspect of a project exceptionally well? I have found that celebrating the small details has a trickle down effect to the project as a whole. If you get all the details right, there’s a better chance the entire project will be a success. Luckily, UX and product teams are better than most other teams when it comes to detail-oriented work. But creating the proper culture for detail-oriented work will reduce the chances for sloppiness in the absence of in-person design and sketch reviews. Get creative with how you recognize the details...we have custom emojis in Slack when someone does a great job on the details. Another one of our values: “We love the details.”
And while the details are important, don’t forget to give yourself and your team latitude to experiment, innovate, and to learn. We have been working remotely for nearly two decades, but we are still learning about new processes, tools, and challenges. It isn’t always easy. Experimentation is part of the design and development process, and yet we sometimes forget about that in our people-management. It’s important that our teams are not afraid of failure when innovating. The simple mindset change of learning vs. failure recasts roadblocks that completely stop us. Moving beyond mistakes allows us to have an open, loving culture that embraces innovation. One of our values states: We are always learning. Remote work is more than just an office with a view. It requires a deliberate approach to innovation, tools, and accountability. Here's our Director of Technology, Sean, still enjoying the view in Ireland though.
Create tools and processes that allow your team to remain autonomous, yet accountable. It’s important for us to understand how much work everyone has, but it’s also important to empower the team to come together in the interest of our clients. These two necessities often find themselves at odds with each other, especially in a remote environment where you can’t read body language, stress levels, and emotions. We use an activity called Weekly Tetris to help us connect with priorities, and to aid in top down and bottom-up planning. We outline all client commitments and internal priorities at the beginning of the week, so we’re able to ensure we’re working on the most important items every day.
Our planning meeting creates alignment between team members. Best of all, everyone holds everyone else accountable for their daily delivery, and we don’t have to micromanage from afar (which you can’t do anyway). Even the simple tools we create allow us to ensure our work is creating success: We deliver value every day.
At times, it’s difficult to stay focused amidst all of the outside stress. However, there may be an underlying opportunity in your new work-from-home team. Technology may be the tool that allows you to work remotely, but your culture and values are what will determine your long-term success. Enjoy the journey into remote work and drop me at line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions along the way.