Distributed Team Tip #10 – Remote First Culture

The reality of modern business is that many of our teams spread across locations and timezones. In some cases this is because we live and work in different offices; however, it can also be because due to flexible work arrangements which help us balance our lives.

This series covers the trade-offs we make to build active, efficient and engaged teams across the divide of location and time.

Tip # 10 Remote First Culture

The feeling of separation is similar regardless of whether people are working from home, from another building or another country. Taking steps to enable connectivity and inclusion across the whole team, will help. Remote first culture is a good step in bringing your dispersed and even local team together. These ideas are not unique to dispersed teams and can help to coordinate busy people, even when located together.

These are not novel ideas, it’s just good management.

What makes a Remote First Culture?

No one is remote; there is no “home” location

Thinking in terms of a Home location instils an attitude that including others is an additional overhead. Language often creates this concept by indicating that the team has a central, home, or head office and any other team member is a spoke to their hub. This can lead to a Us and Them way of thinking.

In teams which have a “Us and Them”, the “Us” is considered valid, the “Them” considered invalid outsiders, who by definition are not to be immediately trusted. This situation pressures each group to reassert competence and validity with every interaction. The more we remove barriers, the more we build trust and become one team who consider each other worthy of each other’s time.

Switching to thinking of Home as being your team, not a location, normalises considering the inclusion of others outside your own office.

All meetings are designed around people not being in the same room

While the opportunity to have impromptu meetings is great, we often lose time by not considering meeting objectives. The effort and time taken to schedule a meeting that includes remote team members, notifying of time and sharing an agenda, is returned through productive discussions.

A change occurs when team members move from, organising to include remote people as an exception, to including as standard practice. People go from exerting energy figuring out how to include everyone, to doing so incorporating effortlessly. The awkwardness associated with the connecting infrequently – wasting time due to people dropping in and out, technical issues with presentations and equipment – dissipates through practice.

People consider everyone’s schedules and local time by reflex

You expect me to be in a meeting at 9pm???? No I don’t, I didn’t think…

It is easy to consider other people’s time zones and working arrangements, however it requires consideration to become a habit. A remote first team has a good understanding of when people work, and what time of day works best for which discussions.

There are three ways that people can build this into their daily behaviour.

  • Document who works when on what day – put it on a wall in each location. Some low-tech solutions are highly effective with little effort to use.
  • Update your tools to include time zones – most calendar apps can have multiple time zones. Get individuals to show when they are unavailable – this can consist of where people start or finish at different times. The result is that any free time is available for booking. Don’t leave your teammates guessing!
  • Get together at least once daily – quickly confirm when a good time for side conversations. It provides a constant heartbeat of communication and alignment of who is in/ out.

Technology is used in a consistent and agreed manner

How many times have you attempted to join a meeting or discussion with people at another location and not been sure how you were going to connect? Is it a voice call? A video call? What software are we using?

How often have you heard people saying,  they don’t know the setting on their computer to get their microphone or video working. Meeting rooms where people are gesticulating wildly, indicating they can’t hear you or asking if you can hear them.

  • Put time aside to sort it issues out out, no one can problem solve when rushing for a meeting. The issues preventing connectivity are real and will not resolve without effort.
  • It could be a setting on an individual piece of equipment, other times it may be that the equipment is not capable of what you want it to do – understanding this enables you to put energy into looking at other options.
  • Agree how you will meet as a team and get it working. If an individual has issues, making them feel like they are less capable will not resolve the problem. Spend 20 minutes understanding their issue – there usually is one – it will be saved in the first week or two of regular catch ups.

What makes Remote First Culture work?

  • Take actions to organise yourselves – agree and practice how to communicate across space and time.
  • Adopt a collective mindset about being a team, in for the long haul – see making a phone call or posting a message as a way of collaborating, not an overhead.
  • Work in a way where everyone’s voice is valued is sought – embrace the flexibility which a Remote First Culture provides everyone.