Leading a remote team
One of our favourite podcasters, Jacob Morgan of the Future Organization, interviewed Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO of Zapier, a company that allows you to connect apps in order to automate tasks and save time. Started in 2011 it now has 200 employees globally and over 100,000 customers.
All employees work remotely from different locations, they don’t have office buildings. Some managers may worry about leading a remote team, but Wade says there’s really no difference between leading an in person team versus leading a remote team. Whether or not you can see your team, the only way to know if your team is getting work done is to see the work, not the people themselves. You may have employees showing up to an office space every day, but it doesn’t mean they are being productive.
You need to trust that 'out of sight' staff are doing the work, and doing it well; this requires a results-orientated mindset. One of most difficult challenges is to balance the sense of autonomy that often comes with remote work with accountability to the team. Getting the best out of remote workers needs a focussed approach that harnesses the power of technology and a range of communication methods.
Being a manager in a remote environment is not so different than being a good manager in an office
Wade says that when it comes to building company culture Zapier works hard to make sure employees build relationships with one another: “If you kind of already know the person and you know them on a human level, it just makes it easier to connect with them when you get into the trenches and have to solve something really, really tough”.
In the UK, there are more than 1.5 million remote workers and the number is climbing rapidly. In a survey conducted last year by Upwork among hiring managers, these managers predicted that 38% of their full-time permanent staff will work mainly remotely within the next 10 years.
Wade points out that hiring the right people is key, they identified two of the values that really mattered as part of the hiring process:
"We wanted self-starters – you know, if these are folks who are going to be working from home, they didn't have a boss or a supervisor sitting around to kind of help them figure things out, we needed folks who could kind of have that motivation, that self-starter, that go-get-it-ness attitude already."
The second thing was transparency and communication skills – if you're going to ask that folks default to action, that they be a self-starter, that they solve problems, you need to equip them with the right information. Everyone on the team has to go a little bit further than maybe they're used to, in terms of documenting their work, the decisions that they make, and sharing that with their teammates and with the broader company.
For the organizations looking to incorporate a remote work program Wade says: “Don’t overthink it. Being a manager in a remote environment is not so different than being a good manager in an office. A lot of the things that you need to do are the same. So, find the remote equivalent of those things and make it happen”.
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