In the first episode of One Quick Thing, Scott Berkun shares best practices for running a distributed team. Berkun is a technology executive and author of the book The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work. Five takeaways from the conversation follow.
1. Limit Meetings
When first switching to remote work, Berkun says, teams tend to take all their meetings and move them to virtual conferencing platforms. “You’re now copying from one world and [putting it] into another, expecting it to be the same,” he says. Berkun cites staff meetings where 30 team members might have previously gathered together. “People throw that into a Zoom call…and it doesn’t work. There’s just too much stuff going on. … But that big staff meeting [in person] was probably not all that effective.”
Instead of large meetings, Berkun recommends that teams create a collaborative document that people can add to and read on their own schedules. For brainstorming sessions and creative work, Berkun suggests that teams stay small. “We need more intimacy so our pace can be faster, to compensate for having less physical interaction in the same space,” he says.
2. Delegate Social Activities
With a sudden shift to remote work, daily social activities — like chats around the office kitchen or happy hours — can disappear. In order to preserve camaraderie between colleagues, Berkun says leaders have to intentionally create opportunities for connection.
According to Berkun, managers should allow their socially-inclined employees to lead these activities. “A manager might not be the best social initiator. [It can be] that person in every office who’s the happy hour person, who’s always running around talking to people,” Berkun says. “The manager’s job is to figure out, ‘Who is the person on my team that’s going to make that most effective?’ And give them the charter of, ‘I need you to run this happy hour every Tuesday at six.'”
3. Foster Daily Rituals
According to Berkun, the blurred boundary between work and home life presents one of the most common psychological challenges to remote work. Children, partners, and pets are now integrated into everyone’s office space. Berkun recommends that employees develop a ritual to signal the start of the work day. “[Some people] wake up. They do their morning routine [that] they would do before they start work. They leave their house and walk around the block, and when they come back in, it’s like entering the office,” Berkun says.
4. Embrace Employee Autonomy
Working from home grants employees more autonomy over their schedules, giving people the freedom to take walks, work outside, and play with pets. Berkun cites this flexibility as beneficial to employee mental health. “With a document you want feedback on…you say, ‘Look, I need feedback on this by 3 PM.’ Do you care whether they give you that feedback at 1 PM…or 9 AM? Whether they’re walking outside or on their back porch when they did it?” Berkun asks. “If [you] can trust…employees more, and give them clear instructions…they…have more ways to [preserve] their own mental state, and psychological happiness, and motivation…because they’re in control.”
5. Give New Hires Time to Acclimate
“Whatever the philosophy is behind your onboarding process normally, it’s the same philosophy. It’s just the tool choice…is going to be different,” Berkun says in regards to onboarding new team members virtually. He suggests adding new employees to the company’s internal messaging platforms and giving them time to observe the company culture. Pointing to his experience at WordPress, Berkun says, “When you start…they introduce you to the company through [working on customer] support. So you actually answer customer tickets for your first two weeks. While you’re doing that, you are observing the culture of the company and seeing how decisions are made. So little by little, over those two weeks you’ve acclimated.”
This episode of One Quick Thing was sponsored by Captains of Innovation, CIC’s internal boutique consultancy. This full-spectrum corporate innovation program helps organizations develop innovative products, services, and technologies to remain competitive in today’s business climate.
Captains of Innovation is hosting a series of fireside chats in conjunction with Venture Cafe Cambridge. On April 16 at 4pm ET, Carrie Allen from Captains of Innovation and Scott Kirsner from InnoLead will discuss how corporate innovation teams are changing amidst the COVID-19 crisis. They will also share advice on how to innovate when your whole team is working remotely. Register for the virtual event.
The Biggest Challenges of Remote Work
InnoLead asked webcast attendees to choose their three biggest challenges when working remotely. Over 100 participants shared their answers. Difficulty brainstorming and doing creative work, keeping teams coordinated on complex projects, and distractions at home were most often cited as challenges.
Links Mentioned in this Episode
- Download a free, digital copy of Berkun’s book The Year Without Pants.
- Miro and Mural are two platforms that allow for ideation and brainstorming between members of remote teams.
- Read this rundown on how COVID-19 could change the world permanently from Politico Magazine.
- Manage your different software apps with Blissfully.
- InVision allows members of distributed teams to design digital products.
- Event Advisor can help your team discover virtual alternatives to your in-person events.
To participate in upcoming episodes of One Quick Thing, sign up here.