"Becoming a team, one pixel at a time" was a great talk by Lena Reinhard at the CodeMotion 2019 conference in Berlin. She is managing a fully remote team at Circle CI and shared her experience on how to create a successful remote environment.
Comparing a company culture where everyone is in the office versus everyone is remote makes one thing clear: in remote setups, so much does not happen by itself. Many things need to be done intentionally mainly because spontaneous inter-human contact can't happen without a social place like an office.
The goal of a people manager is to get a high performing team. The main factors to archive this are:
- Psychological safety
Someone should not feel embarrassed.
People are reliable.
- Structure and clarity
Ambiguity should be reduced. This is true for organizational things as well as for communication. Especially in written communication where an information sender will not get any feedback on how the message was interpreted.
The things someone does must have a meaning for someone else. The meaning should be communicated clearly. Otherwise, the work can be easily purposeless.
Everyone should have and feel the impact of themselves. Otherwise, the motivation will decline.
These can be archived with four basic concepts: Connection, Collaboration, Communication, and Continuity. Let me explain what this means in detail.
A connection to the purpose and a connection to the people is essential to foster a high performing team culture. Especially for the people part, it's important to keep in mind that your colleagues are people. Even if you see them during your remote workday, usually just some pixels on your screen. If you be mindful of the other people, you will create a good connection to them.
In my opinion, this is also very valid for non-remote working environments. For example, every tech company has some chat tools for internal communication. It can happen easily that this remote communication cannel makes you forget that the readers are human beings.
Other things that are important to create a better connection:
- Define our expectations
Decisions should be recorded (maybe in an ADR - Architectural Decision Record - like the one from GitHub at https://adr.github.io/)
- Lifting each other up
Help others to succeed. This will create a strong connection.
- Sharing praise
- Constructive criticism and feedback
- Staying aligned
If you tackle a problem and you go deeper and deeper the rabbit hole. Then ask yourself: "What problem are we trying to solve right now?". Always make sure you stay on track.
- Address remote loneliness
This can also include the fear of missing out. In many company’s people can get stuck in all the available chat rooms.
- Stay humble
Make some space for other people to shine.
- Build relationships that strengthen trust
- Combat a hero culture
This will reduce the pressure on individuals and also strengthen the resilience of the organization as the bus factor gets reduced.
- Learn together
This also brings the power of admitting what we don't know.
- Enforce experiments
Introduces a mindset to embrace change.
- Listen well
Maybe even active listening to create a shared understanding.
- Getting curious
Ask some good questions.
- Avoid surprises
Communicate bad news very early and open. Bad news shouldn't travel faster than good news through the company.
- Write better
As a lot of communication in remote setups is written. Be crisp, inclusive, convey emotions (ask for reactions)
- Edit your writing
Is the message clear? Are the expectations clear (what should be done, by when, and from whom)? Are there any anticipations?
Invest in your future selves when you can recall decisions.
All of the above need to be done every day on and on. Building a team is never done. It's an investment we make every single day.
Some remarks from myself: I think all of this can also be applied to teams working onsite in one office. Maybe you don't need to put that much attention on each of these aspects as you have to in a remote environment. Nevertheless, I think these are some really good practices that can help a lot.