For a lot of people outside the tech sector, working remotely was an entirely new concept. I think it’s safe to say that it was a little easier for those of us lucky enough to be working at Slack, a workplace messaging app that was re-thinking virtual productivity even before all this pandemic business began.
That said: There’s a big difference between switching to remote work and joining a remote team for the first time.
5 Things I Learned in my 365 Days as a Remote Leader
When I came on board with Slack in June of last year, I became part of a 35-person team comprised of individuals that I have never met before, not a single one. I had to not only find a way to get to know everyone (which is hard enough as it is) but also gain their trust as a leader.
Now, one year in, I’m thinking about the tools, tricks, and philosophies that have made remote leadership not only possible but also a pleasure.
In the end, it’s about being “graceful” within the confines of the limitations that have been thrust upon us. We can deploy the quality of “graceful” while embracing the new tools and technologies that have cropped up along the way.
Here are five things I’ve learned:
Don’t let productivity get in the way of team development
I didn’t know how much I relied on the soft meetings – in the elevator, casually at someone’s desk, etc., to build the base-level trust needed to operate as a real team. During the pandemic, the loss of these “watercooler” moments has been viewed as a sad but necessary sacrifice to keep people safe.
In the post-COVID world, the hybrid workplace is here to stay. That means that it’s on us as leaders to make room in our messaging for those natural moments to occur. If a casual conversation emerges during a structured time, so be it.
When holding a meeting, know that it’s okay to let some of the more social conversations unfold. It’s okay that you’re not being quite as productive. What you’re doing is getting to know your team, and perhaps more importantly, letting them get to know you as well.
Remember: You can always schedule another meeting to discuss the things you didn’t get to.
Embrace the great “leveling effect” of remote work
In my last position at Boomi, my engineering group was based in Pennsylvania while the engineering group was based out of San Francisco. Anytime I had a meeting with engineering, I would Zoom into a meeting taking place in San Francisco, where everyone was together.
Once we all started working remotely, it felt like the playing field had been leveled. We all face the same frustrations and complications, and for the most part, we’re all using the same technology to get past it. That means that no matter where we are or what position someone is in, they have the same opportunity to tune in to the conversation as anyone else.
This equal opportunity is one of those things that we’ll need to pay attention to in the post-COVID working environment. As some workers remain remote while others go back to the office, it’s essential that we protect this leveled approach where everyone has an equal opportunity to jump into the conversation.
Believe it or not, the remote nature of our work in 2021 has led to the creation of a number of tools that make it even easier to develop team bonds.
Slack apps like Donut have given me a way to engage the team on a daily basis, without having it feel too forced. I’m a big fan of the conversation prompts in our team Slack channel that we get at the beginning of the day. My team seems happy to engage with something that is both lighthearted and directly integrated with their digital workspace.
Automate the important
Whether your team is remote or not, there are some daily (dare I say tedious) tasks that can’t be overlooked, no matter what’s going on in my day.
Whether I’m bringing a new hire up to speed with an existing project, or even just introducing them to the rest of the team, it’s critical that these messages get out quickly.
Using Workflow Builder has made it possible to automate all of our most important “maintenance” tasks. The automation tasks mean everything from onboarding and training to vacation requests.
Workflow Builder is about getting information to where it needs to be when it needs to be there.
As a bonus, Workflow Builder’s visual interface is a piece of cake. Anyone on the team can create a custom workflow in a matter of minutes, no coding required.
Be graceful with your expectations
We have to remember that when it comes to the concept of “work performance” there is really no benchmark for things like this. Saying this last year was not easy is an understatement. Our employees have faced spouses lost jobs, loved ones fell sick, and people across the country struggled from financial hardship.
It’s near impossible to discern what “high performance” even means these days.
From a leadership perspective, the invisible stressors of living through a global health crisis are hard to detect and even harder to engage.
This is where the personal connection becomes truly valuable.
If you’ve put in the effort to get to know your people, and you’ve given them an opportunity to get to know you, it’s much easier to share the things we’re struggling with and act compassionately. Because in the end, I’m a human being as well, and it helps a lot when that compassion goes both ways.
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