When Work Goes Low (Touch), How to Keep Performance High

Back in pre-pandemic days, some businesses made a conscious decision to switch to a remote, distributed style of working. They planned it, and they spent weeks or even months figuring out how to make it work. In 2020, much of the business world took an alternate approach. We became part of the great global experiment in learning by doing and quickly found there is much more to successful remote work than mastering the art of Zoom.

To provide business and IT team leaders with proven insights (a great many gained from the 2020 slog) on how to maintain high performance standards no matter how tech teams are distributed, Mojo Trek recently hosted a leadership roundtable: High-Performance Hiring / Building a Tech Team in Highly Unusual Times. With the help of three successful technology executives Kayne Grau – President of Uptake; Chad La Joie – Director of Application Architecture and Development at Domino’s and Jason Weiss – Chief Product Officer at VelocityEHS we explored the lessons learned in driving performance from a distance. You can read their insights below and/or view the full webinar recording here.

Communicate with Clarity & Creativity

Outside the buzz of a typical office, it is easy for the members of a distributed team to become isolated. That’s why leaders need to be visible, generous, and goal-oriented in their communications. But what should they communicate and how? Here is what the expert panel advised:

  • Kayne Grau: “Communicate a clear vision that excites you and your team. Identify the goals for the company, the team, and the individual.”
  • Chad La Joie: “To help the team align, connect the dots from the work you do to the ultimate impact on the business and the customer.”
  • Jason Weiss: “Pop into chats when you are least expected. People appreciate your interest, so look for opportunities to replace the in-person experience wherever you can do it.”

Power Everything with Trust

As Jason told the audience, “Performance is a team sport…and the goal is trust.” A high level of trust in any environment, but especially in distributed ones, will minimize friction among team members and maximize delivery. Leaders can foster trust-based remote connections in several ways:

  • Make it clear that people can come to you with sensitive issues and should have a high-level of comfort that you will fix things.
  • Avoid snap decisions. Employees look to leaders for forethought.
  • Spend more time developing high performers than managing poor performers. It’s both an acknowledgement of their contributions and trusting them with greater responsibilities.
  • Give people a chance to prove themselves, but do not be afraid to make the tough decisions about people who are toxic to a team.
  • Be clear about roles, so everyone can perform in sync, like a racing pit crew or a Navy Seal team.
  • When something doesn’t work? Give teams permission to fail fast and adapt quickly.

Strong connections across remote teams also require alignment. Everyone should be aligned to organizational goals, and there should be little to no tolerance for prima donnas or bullies who have their own agendas. In the end, business survival is more important than any individual employee. Aligning everyone to the same goals is a way of trusting the entire team with the company’s most important mission—to endure.

Embrace Levity & Lax Time

Corporate culture is both formal as demonstrated by values and norms and informal. The latter is often defined by water cooler conversations in the traditional office. Once you go remote, how do you facilitate convivial, personable connections in a virtual setting?

The panel suggested finding new, virtual ways to ‘walk around the office’ to connect and converse spontaneously, such as introducing new IM channels for non-business activities (music, TV series, board games and other special interests) and setting time aside for employees to chat informally (during electronic coffee breaks or group dog walking). Encourage team members to connect through collaboration tools, daily meetings, frequent calls, and to get creative with virtual happy hours, lunch ‘n learns, and other events to keep everyone engaged.

Hire Self-starters while Avoiding Echo Chambers

Working on remote or distributed teams requires self-starters. Jason spoke to the importance of hiring “professional adults,” who are used to doing their own thing and delivering it professionally. The panel underscored that successful remote and distributed teams require people who have the desire to get work done and who will be champions of the ideas, processes, and culture you want to see.

They also encouraged attendees to see remote hiring as another tool for stamping out homogeny. Distributed and remote workplaces offer a unique opportunity for many companies to hire from just about anywhere. There has never been a better opportunity to hire people who look, sound, and think differently from you.

“Remote work puts you in competition with every other employer anywhere in the world, but it also creates an opportunity to source talent in underrepresented communities, helping you build greater diversity into your teams. You can look for people in places you might have missed before, e.g., rural areas or more ethnically diverse communities,” said Chad.

Don’t create an echo chamber. Be a self-aware leader and encourage your teams to actively check bias at the door. Jason advises, “Rely on word of mouth to build your team: When you find great people, they will bring more great people to you.”

One final, important piece of advice from Kayne was to be sure to find strong mentors for the self-starting, high-performing employees you find and hire to work remotely. Keep them connected to the business, to growth opportunities and to knowledge with mentors who will help shape their development.

The Pandemic Will End, Remote Will Endure

The 2020 pandemic has pulled back the curtains on remote work. Businesses can manage large-scale remote workforces under duress. As that duress fades, the desire for remote work opportunities and distributed teams will endure. Leaders will need to remember the workforce communication, trust, engagement, and recruitment lessons the pandemic taught. Where we work can change, but those lessons should remain.   

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