Whilst generic remote working advice such as 'put on a shirt and get to your desk for 9am' may appeal to LinkedIn influencers, it doesn't answer the important questions:
- How do we ensure our teams are working productively?
- How do we communicate and collaborate effectively?
- How do we replicate the organic interactions of an office environment?
- How can I have confidence new hires will work well remotely?
To answer these questions and more, Will held our first Growable Live Stream with James Hirst - COO & Co-Founder of Tyk. They discussed James' experience scaling Tyk as a remote-first team to over 75 people spread across 6 continents and 25 countries.
How do we ensure our employees are working productively?
"Assume good intent and seek a culture of radical responsibility.”
How would your teams behave if there was never a boss in the room to keep an eye on them?
This is a revealing question. If you're thinking about how you can help your team become more successful working from home it's a good place to start.
It may be your natural reaction to try to track employee's work more closely. At best, this reports on what’s happening, at its worst in encourages perverse behaviour and avoidance of responsibility.
James spoke emphatically about the importance of autonomy and trust. Tyk assume good intent and work hard to communicate clearly, ensuring they are as transparent as possible about their standards and expectations.
“Rather than an Orwellian, controlling culture or using time sheets, we set clear objectives and clear rules of engagement, then just tell them to ‘go at it’! If we assume good intent, do due diligence during hiring, and put our trust in [ our staff ] , monitoring them becomes less important.” - James Hirst, Co-Founder @ Tyk.
If you’re working remotely, accept that the situation is different and perhaps imperfect when compared to 'the old way’ everyone was used to. Rather than micro-manage with Draconian tools, set clear expectations, focus on the outcomes, and hold your team accountable. Focus on gathering your team around the idea of constant improvement, both of what they are doing and of how they are doing it.
Most importantly, trust your employees to get the job done in the way that works best for them.
How do we communicate and collaborate effectively when remote working?
“Asynchronous vs synchronous communication.”
In a physical office space, communication between colleagues can occur naturally. It’s easy to lean over to the person next to you and ask for guidance when you're stuck. Or catch someone at lunch to clarify a minor point from an earlier meeting. Or check expectations about a process with your desk mate.
There are many benefits to this, but office-based communication has its own flaws. We can all think of a time when entire meetings have been wasted exploring an ill-thought-out idea? Or, when a good idea was shut down because it was presented before it had been properly explored?
Attempting to replicate the office atmosphere in a remote setting is recipe for disaster. You lose the benefits of quick interactions and double down on the drawbacks of lengthy meetings.
The answer is NOT endless Zoom meetings as this slows decision-making and frustrates everyone involved. Instead, we need to re-think how we communicate to suit a more asynchronous situation.
James explained how Tyk have a standard document for sharing ideas. This encourages team members to think through ideas and explain them in long-form, providing context before asking others to review. Consequently, they can filter out bad ideas and action great ones faster. This strategy also reduces the emotive responses that can arise when ideas are presented ‘out of the blue’ in a highly charged meeting room.
With reduced distractions and more deep-work, just think of the advantage this brings to productivity and decision-making.
How do we replicate the organic interactions of an office environment?
“Interactions need to be intentional when working remote.”
An obvious downside is losing the incidental human interactions that take place in an office environment. It’s much easier to see if someone is struggling, or to learn you have something in common, if they’re sat next to you.
When remote working, it’s very tempting to do everything via instant chat tools. Unfortunately, you will lose so much of the nuance and all the non-verbal cues that tell us how our colleagues really feel. It’s essential to actively facilitate ‘incidental chat’, encouraging video and voice calls wherever possible (and appropriate!) to reduce isolation and help improve mental-health.
Be intentional about interactions. Work relationships are mostly founded on commonalities other than departmental KPIs (shocker!). Encourage staff to find common ground outside their job spec. and speak to people outside their immediate team. It’s pretty easy in a remote setting for someone to go a long time without meeting someone in another department, even in small companies.
James spoke of a Slack bot they have set up which randomly connects people in the company, setting them up for a one-on-one conversation. This has helped build and solidify friendships across departments and demographics.
It also important where possible to initiate real-world contact (when it’s socially responsible to do so, of course!). That could be a company retreat or a monthly team meeting. Whatever the case, take every colleague into account and be as inclusive as possible.
Another idea that we’re definitely stealing is a weekly virtual ‘coffee break’, open to the whole company. This is intended to just see how everyone is doing - ‘non-work’! It’s a brilliant way to consciously make time to check-in and chat on a personal level: vital for the welfare of each team member.
How can I have confidence new hires will work well remotely?
“Hiring remotely offers a competitive advantage if you get it right”
Building teams remotely has enormous potential benefits. Depending on the distribution of your teams, you literally have the opportunity to hire anyone in the world. Imagine that!
However, remote hiring brings unique challenges and assuming that your prior success hiring on-site teams will translate into successful remote hiring is a mistake. Experienced hiring managers may not know - or be able asses - the qualities of a good remote employee.
James and his team found this out for themselves. Over time, they’ve managed to codify the attributes and experiences that are an indicator of a good remote worker. For example, they’ve found that experience holding down a side project is a good sign. It shows someone has previously balanced their own time effectively and were self-motivated to do so.
These are attributes key to remote working but there are others and undoubtedly there will be unique qualities pertinent to your business.
Before you take the leap to hiring remotely, take time to think about the people who’ve worked well away from the office and why. Explore the characteristics that made the individual so effective (and easy to manage) while working remotely. How can you effectively identify these qualities during interview?
Your hiring process only starts with the requirement. Therefore, it’s important you think through your approach to remote interviews and remote on-boarding before you start searching.
Building rapport with someone, technically vetting them and getting a sense of their feelings towards your company is different when interviewing remotely. Even more different is welcoming a new colleague and supporting them to become an effective part of your team.
Both are more about the applicant experience than yours. Whilst you need to know that they can do the job, make sure you set them up for the best chance of success. Equally, ensure you leave them with a positive experience regardless of whether you plan to hire them, or not.
Next month, we’ll be speaking in-depth with Tyk’s Recruitment Manager, Michal Peleg, about their approach to remote interviewing and on-boarding. She will be sharing insight from successfully doubling their remote-first team over the last 12 months.
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