People worked remotely pre-pandemic, especially in Open Source Companies such as GitLab, but after the pandemic, we hear about remote work and variations of it, a lot more. GitLab has a good blog describing the 10 models of remote work and the nuances of hybrid-remote. Trust is the foundation of teams and it’s hard to build even for all in person environments, but it’s even harder to build in a team which has a remote variable. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness and provide some concrete steps we can all implement to work more effectively and be happier in the new normal. Disclaimer, I am not an HR leader nor do I work for a company building HR software, I am an infra early stage investor who is of service to remote teams and previous to VC, I was an engineer part of a team distributed across three continents. This blog is purely based on observations and what I have read on the topic and I am applying.
We trust people whose behavior we can predict and who, in return, can predict our behavior. The more we trust someone, the more they trust us. We trust the teammates who a) have good intentions, b) their work will be high quality and c) they will continue to deliver, they are reliable. In person gives us more moments to observe and build a dataset for our trust prediction model. Besides having less data in remote, we also have pre-built wiring in our brains that associates a lack of physical contact with a lack of trust. So the way to establish trust in remote is to be intentional about it. What I have seen to not work, is managers, who use software to monitor their employees, in order to establish trust. Instead of monitoring, one could:
1) Identify people with whom you want to build or expand trust and understand the way they build trust: automated trust until you break it or evidence based, prove me I can trust you.
2) Look for opportunities or initiate projects that have a high likelihood of success and where you can show them your trust. It can be anything, as small as organizing game night together. Build up from there to more key projects where you can repeatedly prove that you can be trusted.
3) If you are a team lead, also make sure to communicate about what is not changing as much as you communicate about changes. Reducing uncertainty and having a sense of stability in the team builds trust.
On Feeling Secure and Supported
Each product has its north star. Each team has its unwritten rules and permissions. If you are joining a company remotely you might not know what are the acceptable norms of that team. Or even if you were an existing employee, you could benefit from reminders that your culture is unchanged. This information lives in the minds of the people who have been the longest at the firm. Is it ok to take a day off or a break in the afternoon for mental health? Is it ok to have quiet days? Is it ok to address the manager directly to fix something? etc. As a team leader, one can collect from each team member the perceived unwritten rules and share the collection with the entire team or use this great list as recruiting material. Potential areas to seek input from team mates around unwritten rules are:
1) digital communication/zoom etiquette (e.g. can we turn off video, i had a back to back zoom day)
2) emotional support (e.g. can we talk tomorrow, i had a tough day?) and psychological safety (e.g. is it ok to ask silly questions, asking small questions virtually and when you are new could seem challenging, is it okay to ask many questions?)
3) work styles - you don’t have to give up your natural work style, that works best for you, if you know the work styles of your teammates so you can adapt per person (e.g. does he/she like to debate? Do they prefer chat to calls? is it ok to be direct? Is it ok to follow up with people to clarify something?)
Have you ever felt like your head was in the oven after a full day of back to back meetings? You are not alone. Online work can take a toll on your energy levels. One can easily overwork and lose social contact, being left feeling alone. In a remote environment one has to block time on the calendar for activities that fuel us with energy. For example, for me talking with founders gives me energy so I make sure my morning starts like that. The source of energy is different for each person but one has to make sure to find renewed pleasure in their work. Maybe for you it’s time to connect with a coworker or share witty puns on your team’s chat. Another way to gain energy and share it with your team is to be present, not just physically in the zoom meeting, but also with your mind by:
1) Reflecting on your physical and emotional state when entering a meeting. What energy do you want to convey? Is this the energy of your previous tough conversation?
2) Giving your full presence to the person speaking. Would you be doing email or texting if this meeting was in person?
3) Suspending ego and judgment and instead sharing words of gratitude for the people showing up, as a way for the other participants to pause and pay attention.
Building your remote community is not hard if each member of the team participates and looks after the community. You don’t have to be on your own and do it all on your own if you are the manager or an individual contributor. It’s truly a team effort. It’s still day one, and these are just 3 aspects of remote work for this blog, the topic is much broader and I might address it in future writings. Please comment and share what works for you so we can learn from it.