With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global shift to working remotely, many companies have struggled with the inorganic transition from a collocated work environment to independent homeoffices. At Metadot, we have established an acronym that takes into account the vital responsibilities of those in management during this transition: R.E.M.O.T.E. Leaders are often skeptical about the true potential of an entirely virtual environment. However, many organizations have successfully made the transition, ultimately morphing to a more productive, flexible and happier workplace. A study from the company Airtasker showed that at-home employees work more hours each month than those in a collocated work environment, resulting in up to the equivalent of two extra work weeks per year. Not only is this beneficial from the perspective of an employee shifting to remote, but also in the hiring process. From a business perspective, removing the ‘physicality’ of a candidate increases the opportunity for companies to expand globally, and have the option to pick from top-notch pools of candidates who may have previously been out of reach.
Positives aside, the transition has come with challenges for some employees, especially those with families, and also for more integrated work groups such as sales and customer service. For the management team, the remote workplace has added the additional challenge of keeping a team motivated when there’s less socialization. As well as managing teams that may now be spread across multiple time zones, and maintaining the workplace culture. There are many factors that contribute to a healthy, sustainable workplace, and these may shift as your company navigates the world of remote working. In any successful company, the leadership during times of transition is most essential and can make or break a business.
R - Rewards
In addition to the social impact of the transition to remote workplaces, some employees may also be adjusting physically to their new work environment (or sudden lack thereof) and face anxiety about the sustainability of their roles. This is where it is essential for a strong leader to come forward and be clear with expectations and benefits. As a leader, this includes ensuring that each member of your team is able to perform to the best of their abilities. Many may not have the luxury of a dedicated home office or a comfortable, quiet, area to complete their work. With the company relieved of the burden of physical infrastructure, management is now in a position to support employees with acquisition of tools to improve their remote work environments. This could include something as simple as a computer, desk, chair or other supplies that will help ease the stress of the remote transition. For some, working from home may not be an option. You can reward these team members with coworking office spaces. These spaces allow the individuals to complete their tasks without the added stressors of working from their home. Not only will the employee value your effort to alleviate the challenge, but these coworking offices are a very cost effective solution.
Rewards and benefits don’t have to be tangible! Celebrating even the smallest of successes can have a huge impact on the wellbeing of your team. In your channels of communication and video meetings, give praise when a team member is progressing or does something well - this builds morale. People want to feel that they are making a positive contribution, and to be recognized by a leader in front of the company builds the confidence to ensure continued quality work in the future.
E - Evaluation
Evaluation is a necessary process in the collocated work environment, but is even more vital to a remote company. If an organization is not able to reflect on what strategies are successful or detrimental, there will not be much growth and progress. As a leader, invest time into reflecting on your values, the team values, and goals of the company. Ask yourself constructive questions: What is our long term goal? What are our short term goals? What strategies have I implemented to help us reach these ambitions? Are the roles of my team (and company) able to be successfully done remotely with the tools we have in place? What resources will they need to complete their tasks? Thinking with a realistic, yet adaptable mindset can be helpful as your company separates from the traditional workplace.
A common roadblock on the transition to remote is the elimination of access to many perks of the collocated environment. Stopping by a manager’s desk, taking breaks with coworkers and being able to interpret the energy of the team - the socialization benefits of a collocated work environment are no longer available. This is where it is important for leadership to invest into small strategies, to achieve big results.
An effective way to read the energy of your team is to give surveys. The first survey should be within week one of working remotely, and include basic questions about how the process has been for the individual. Followed with an opportunity to list remaining questions, comments and concerns. This will provide you with substantial information into the state of your company’s wellbeing. The feedback will give insight about uneasiness your team may be experiencing, and give you the opportunity to strategize and implement helpful changes. To improve the validity of your data sample, allow these surveys to be completed anonymously. The anonymity will encourage people to be more honest when completing their assessment. Implementing changes will be an extensive process and the changes will be gradual. Consult with other leaders for feedback and suggestions to ensure you are utilizing your resources effectively.
After a month of applying new ideas, present your team with a similar survey. See how effective the changes have been, areas where there has been difficulty and an open opportunity to suggest ways of improving the system. Maintaining evaluations is crucial. Investing in feedback will be a clear indicator of issues that may not be noticeable through a virtual setting. Staff will appreciate the opportunity to be heard, and feel empowered by the collective initiative introduced by management.
M - Mindset
If a leader is not whole-heartedly committed to the ambitions of the company, it is detrimental to the well-being of the entire organization. Working remotely requires an “all in” commitment. Employees are receptive to the way in which a leader presents their dedication, especially through times of change. This is where adopting an adaptable, optimistic and passionate mindset is a necessity for a leader guiding a remote team. With any form of change, there will be unforeseen conflicts that arise and need addressing. Your team may begin to have doubts when working through a process remotely for the first time, and it is your responsibility to lead by example and maintain professionalism.
The structure of the remote environment will hold less of a focus on rigid monitoring, and be more based on trust and progress. In a collocated workplace, it is easy to track and monitor the progress of your employees. You have direct access to tangible work, opportunities to observe tasks and the ability to track the attendance of your team. Although this structure may have benefited your team in a collocated environment, it is your duty as a leader to adjust your mindset to that of a successful remote environment. Over-managing your employees will do more harm than good. Heavily monitoring tasks can take away from the productivity of the team, and gives the employee less opportunity to take initiative over their duties. If the productivity of the team begins to struggle, this will increase stress within the company, and ultimately deteriorate the culture and trust of your organization.
Here at Metadot, we are focused on results and outcomes over micromanaging and monitoring. In other words, we are more driven by progress. We utilize a spreadsheet we refer to as a “Sprint” which is an easily accessible document where employees can list their goals for the week. We begin each week with a meeting where we discuss our goals and our methods to achieve them. This includes our color-coded system where we can indicate our progress. Green means our task is on-time, and close to completion. Yellow means we have faced a challenge with our task and need support, or are waiting for the assistance from another team member. Red means that the task will not be completed, but will be prioritized in the future. There is no rigid structure, just a simple spreadsheet for reference as we navigate through our week. Each team member knows they are responsible for their project, and have the independence to work freely. When a team member has a task in red, our CEO Daniel Guermeur has a prominent responsibility. He consistently demonstrates positive leadership by taking time to understand the difficulties that have impacted completion of the task, then offers his support, and ensures they have the necessary resources to accomplish the task. Maintaining his mindset of adaptability, optimism and passion towards the goals of the company - he drives the success of his company culture. He is perceived as approachable, which makes addressing conflict smoother - further increasing the productivity of the company. His management style builds confidence within the individual to be more successful in their role, and to enjoy the content of the work.
O - Organization
Documentation is vital, especially when your team is remote. Developing a “Handbook” is an easy and effective way to track the ways in which the company grows. This handbook includes company policies, core values, growth goals and other important information. Having an updated, public handbook allows employees in different time zones to have access to information regardless of their working hours. It also supports the onboarding process, and provides a clear set of expectations for new employees. The blueprint for a successful remote company is in the accuracy and specificity of the handbook.
Another effective strategy is to develop a “Buddy System” when onboarding new employees. Each new team member is paired with a veteran team member who has strong knowledge of the company. The veteran team member is a resource for asking questions, helping locate information and for ensuring that the onboarding process is successful. This includes holding one on one meetings each day for the first three weeks, and introducing the new employee to the team. The buddy system is a documented process, with its own guidelines listed clearly in the company handbook. During my first week at Metadot I was assigned a “Buddy.” Being the new member to the team is never easy, but knowing I had an immediate support system relieved much of the stress of the onboarding process. My connection to the team gave me so much insight to the culture of the company, and it smoothed the transition of my collocated work experience to my remote environment. When leading a team, establishing a Buddy System is not only effective for the new employee. The system keeps veteran employees grounded in the foundation of the company and helps keep their view fresh. A new team member is seeing what we are comfortable with and through a new set of eyes, keeps us from becoming complacent. Once the company polishes this process, it simplifies our ability to replicate the process as we experience future growth.
For communication purposes, your organizational strategies should be top priority. This begins with confirming that each department has access to necessary software, and verifying the safety of this software. Your team will be significantly increasing virtual activity and cyber security needs to be a primary focus. It will also be beneficial to select a software that possesses cross-functional collaboration, so multiple departments have access to relevant information. Next, it is your responsibility to establish a secure and easy platform for communication. This platform should have features that allow video conferencing, private discussion rooms, newsboards to post information and streaming capabilities. There are many affordable programs available, at Metadot we use “Discord.” Discord allows us to connect via video conferencing, stream or screenshare, as well as have private and public chats. An effective addition to Discord is its “Channel” feature, which allows our team to mimic the conference room environment of a traditional workplace by communicating over video conference calls. Not only has this increased productivity, but also limited the feeling of isolation that is common in a remote environment.
T - Transparency
Communication is vital. Working in a workplace where information is hard to access, the intentions of management are unclear or the communication is minor - is not a sustainable, nor healthy environment. When a leader is transparent, this boosts the confidence of the team. Transparency is not to be confused with revealing all company secrets. Transparency is a leader’s ability to respect each member of his or her team by giving access to changes in the company and context to clear goals and guidelines. You want to not only talk about your company values, but exemplify them through your actions. For example, if you are pushing for your team to invest in their mental wellbeing, it would be a strong suggestion to encourage them to take time off. To be transparent, be clear and open about times you are deciding to take a break from work to indulge in a vacation. You are giving the green light to more reserved employees that it is acceptable and recommended to take time away from work. This also means demonstrating humility in times of error. If your employees are exposed to a leader who can admit mistakes without anger, they will know that the workplace is a safe environment to come forward with their faults. Transparency should also be utilized from a business perspective. If you have important information that needs to be shared with the company, call a company wide meeting. Prepare a presentation and review your notes thoroughly, as well as be ready to answer questions and address any uneasiness that may arise. Even with tough information, the team will be respectful of your transparency and openness, and to receive the information directly from the source.
E - Empathy
One of the greatest threats to the success of your company will be facing “burnout” in your employees. Burnout is when someone begins to exhibit behaviors of exhaustion, irritability and frustration - often from being overworked and a lack of socialization. Not only could the signs be seen emotionally, but within their quality of work. When employees are experiencing burnout, you may see a pattern of incomplete tasks, or work quality that does not reflect their previous habits. Unfortunately, this is a prominent issue for remote companies. Many people prefer the familiarity of an office and specified schedule, and are easily overwhelmed with the lack of structure in remote work. As a leader, you will need to face these problems head on, and establish an appropriate relationship with your team. This means investing and understanding their personal and professional goals. This can begin by holding 1 on 1 meetings each week with a different member of the team. Learn more about their ambitions, what they are looking for, what motivates them and the steps they have taken to reach the goals. Take notes. Know whether they live alone or with a partner - or a pet! Know about their children. Understand their work environment. Once you have a better understanding of who they are, offer your support and see how you can be of assistance. Help them understand the work/life balance. For a team member living alone, this will be different from a team member juggling work and a family. This could be as simple as sharing informative articles, shifting portions of their work more towards their aspirations or even checking in with them to make sure they are being held accountable. Repeating these meetings every few weeks will demonstrate your leadership and empathy skills, and will hold a positive impact as you invest in their wellbeing.
Another investment would be to develop a package with your finance and HR team that puts funds towards the mental and physical health of your workers. For those expressing interest in counseling, you could offer benefits to cover some the expenses of a therapist. For those who want to improve physical health, covering the costs of a fitness membership could help reduce the chance of burnout. As a leader, you are responsible for not only openly communicating about the importance of mental health, but also ensuring you are leading by example. Having these conversations can bring awareness to the issue and encourage individuals to avoid overworking and isolation. Arrange remote team building events! At Metadot, Daniel encourages the team to establish a healthy balance of work and play. Each week, the team comes together for a virtual stretch class, or fitness class. Every Friday, the team meets in a virtual room on Discord to have a “Happy Hour” and share non-work related conversations. These efforts demonstrate his investment into our mental wellbeing, as well as ensuring we are taking care of our physical health as well. Empathy should be a prioritized attribute when being a leader. Although your relationship with your team is in a professional setting, understand that your workers are human and face challenges outside of the workplace. When someone isn’t performing, avoid criticism - empathize first. When you invest in the mental and physical health of your team, you invest in the company.
Strong leadership is one of the keys to success for a corporation and individuals alike, and at times is a practice of trial and error for even the most experienced. This new culture of leading remotely is changing the face of leadership across the workplace and we are constantly learning how to perfect the task. Possess the self awareness to learn from your mistakes, be confident in your abilities to lead. Commit to embodying the foundation of being a R.E.M.O.T.E leader and your team and organization will be well on the way to success.