How to Succeed in a Remote Work Environment

Blog

March 05, 2020

How to Succeed in a Remote Work Environment

By Gus Curran

Manager, Member Services

When I was preparing to join the Humentum Learning Services team back in 2014, I was surprised to learn the team was 100% remote. How could that be? How can a small team manage the 90 plus member-subscribers, all the partners and benefits, convene webinars and live events, all without having an office? 

Now, six years later, I lead a small remote team, Humentum as an organization has gone virtual, and I'm happy to report that remote teams can be just as (if not more) efficient as traditional teams. Many of our member organizations are considering remote work as a short-term option as we move through the uncertain world of living with Covid-19. I’d like to share a few thoughts on what makes a successful remote team. 

Trust 

I heard someone say once that they don’t trust their employees to work from home. Huh? If you can’t trust someone to work from home, why do you trust them to work for you at all, anywhere? In remote teams, you have to trust your team to get the work done, and worry less about how and when that is happening. Everything to follow is built on this idea.

Building trust is not something I can cover in a short blog. I can tell you what trust looks like on our team. Trust means assuming good intent from others, speaking our mind respectfully, and trusting that others are doing the same. An example of this is how we schedule meetings.

In order to stay connected, we prefer shorter and more frequent meetings. Working from home can be a lonely business, and seeing each other (always using video- more on this later)  and checking in regularly is very important to us. Our HLS team is dispersed across 9 time zones, from Kenya to Guatemala. Through open and direct conversations, we’ve found that scheduling in our calendar blocks of time that allows us to step away for a few hours and return to work later once kids are settled or pets are fed means it is much easier to find time for meetings. Sometimes we need to stay late, and sometimes we need to start early, but it is important that the same person isn’t always making the sacrifice. Everyone should feel empowered to arrange their work schedule to fit their life, and should feel comfortable speaking up when scheduling conflicts arise.

Meetings 

Dispersed teams need to meet and mashing your idea of meetings is going to be important here. We suggest meeting more often, but for shorter intervals. Short 15 minute team check-ins happen almost daily. Regular one on ones between supervisor and direct reports (30 minutes, every two weeks) and weekly team meetings are our norms. I like to schedule meetings in 15 minute intervals, and most meetings I schedule at maximum 45 minutes. 

Always. Use. Video.

When I first joined this team, we didn’t use video, and I was fine with that. Suddenly, our new leader mandated video for meetings. The team groaned, but now I can’t imagine having a meeting without it. For one thing, you are more likely to pay attention. It is harder to check your Slack and email when everyone can see you. But more importantly, you can see each other. This is key. It is so easy to feel disconnected when you work at home, and having the video on really helps. I know this is hard at first, and it takes practice, but like everything else, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. If you are not using video as standard practice, I really encourage you to try it. It was a game changer for my team and for Humentum overall. Sometimes, if we aren’t feeling well or having a bad internet day, we will turn it off, but video is now the norm for us. 

Stay Connected, and Keep it Fun

One of the most common problems with working at home isn’t actually not getting anything done, it’s working too much. It’s easy to work for several hours without remembering to take a break. No one is going to tap your shoulder and ask you to get lunch, or drag you into the conference room to catch up on office gossip or tell you which TV shows they’ve been binging. 

Here at Humentum, we have several ways to address this. We use Slack, an instant messaging platform, to keep in touch and keep work moving. We also use it to stay human. We have a watercooler channel which is used to share family and vacation pictures, recipes, movie suggestions. Sometimes someone will share a picture of their lunch and how they made it. One day we had a long discussion about what kind of ice cream we would like to be eating. 

Occasionally, someone will simply share a zoom link in the watercooler with a quick note that says “Hey, I’m having tea and I’m in this room, join me” and a very nice little break ensues. 

Slack has a fantastic plug-in called Donut that matches staff up with someone they normally don’t work with, and encourages them to have a 30 minute call that has nothing to do with work. These chats are great and help us get to know each other, learn about a person you might only see in a team meeting once or twice a month. 

We’ve only scratched the surface here. Access further Humentum resources around remote working, including a recorded webinar on making your remote teams successful on March 10.

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