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© 2020, Luis Montanha

Event organized by Grow Remote Edinburgh

Leading Remote Teams Through Coronavirus

April 28, 2020
Guest: Gary Walker

Gary has worked remotely for over 13 years and has built, led, and nurtured remote teams for over 10 years. Hopefully, he can provide some useful insight and tips to support people during this unprecedented time. Ask Gary anything!

Trust, clarity, and transparency. These values underpin our remote work.

Karen asked: Gary could you describe the kinds of activities you use to “nurture” your remote teams and how you evaluate their effectiveness?

Hi Karen, thanks for the question. In terms of nurturing remote teams, it depends on how experienced they are at remote working. But, during the first few months we buddy them up with an experienced teammate. It’s key we support them in learning to adapt to our principles for remote work. These are: trust, clarity, and transparency. These values underpin our remote work. It doesn’t matter how good our tools are; if our organisation doesn’t embrace these values, then our remote working practice won’t succeed in the long run. As a leader, it’s my job to create the clarity the team needs about what I’m asking them to do, and when I’d like it done.

In terms of measuring effectiveness, we value productivity over visibility. So when we define the outcomes we are working towards, we make sure we can measure the success of these before we start to deliver. We also look to nurture the wellbeing aspect of remote work, we look for triggers where people are over working, going silent, and we try to support them through the guilt curve that often comes with remote work (i.e. when someone feels privileged to be able to do the things an office-based role restricts them doing), when they tend to over work and overcompensate. So we try to course correct.

Nuha asked: What skills do you look for in remote workers and what software do you rely on to facilitate communication and collaboration of the team?

Good question, Nuha. It’s a balance, but there are some core things we look for: low ego, motivated by getting things done, and diverse in experience. If the role needs a mastery skillset, we will pay the person to do some work for us to evaluate this. In terms of tools, we have a toolkit at Ready for Remote that is categorised and contains the tools we use. For communication and collaboration we use Slack, for task management we use Trello, and for show and tells we use a combination of Yac and Loom.

Ruben asked: How do you know when an employee is underperforming and how do you tackle it? Do you track their KPI’s or do you focus on the bigger picture?

The beauty of remote working is people are measured on output. In an office, people can often get by being unproductive and its undetected, so it is visible early if they are not being productive. If a team member is struggling or not meeting deadlines, often one of two things has happened:

1. You haven’t clearly communicated the expectation of the team member and supported them appropriately to complete their tasks.

2. You’ve hired the wrong person, and you need to look at your hiring process. For remote workers you need to ensure you hire people that can adapt to the freedom and autonomy.

Karen asked: Do you think that the current en-masse work-from-home due to coronavirus is enabling or dis-enabling remote working? What are the key messages or learnings?

Great question! What we’re doing right now is not remote work. We’re trying to work from home during a crisis. Most companies are not ready for their employees to undertake sustained periods of remote work. They don’t have the culture, working practices, or tools. A lot of companies are doing their best. They’ve ‘enabled’ working at home during the lockdown, but it’s a survival situation, not a considered act of business transformation. The rules that ensure an organisation will flourish when remotely have not been followed and pretty soon if this situation continues, the weaknesses in their survival plans may be exposed. In short, most organisations have thrown a bunch of tools at the problem and are hoping to wait out the storm.

It’s our bet though that there are some people, enlightened leaders, who have had their eyes opened to the possibilities that remote working can offer. They are aware of the weaknesses and want to come out of this to learn what they need to do to transform the organisation, so next time it’s business as usual, rather than panic stations.

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