CEO, Contentstack | Founder, Built.io | SF Business Times 40 Under 40 & | 50 Women in Tech Dominating Silicon Valley www.nehasampat.com
We’re six months into the coronavirus pandemic. Business owners and entrepreneurs have likely created contingency plans, shifted their business plan or delivery model at least once, and worked tirelessly to assure employees that their contributions are being recognized and valued.
Many employees now work remotely out of necessity due to Covid-19. According to PwC, this practice will likely continue long after required out of practicality and preference: 83% of office workers want to work remotely at least one day a week even after Covid-19 isn’t a concern.
But remote work has added more complexity for managers striving to keep their teams motivated, engaged and productive. They have been forced to make this transition quickly and, for the most part, without training. A recent Harvard Business Review survey found that roughly 40% of the 215 supervisors and managers who responded said they had low self-confidence in their ability to manage their remote teams.
My company has always had employees and direct reports dispersed globally. The majority of our engineering team resides in India, where we have offices in Mumbai and Pune. In addition to our San Francisco headquarters, we also have U.S. offices in Austin, Texas and San Diego, and remote employees dispersed across the East Coast and Midwest. Our Amsterdam office serves as our headquarters for employees in the Netherlands and the U.K.
Throughout the past few years, my company has expanded globally, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons on how to best approach remote management and motivate employees virtually.
Employees are not one-size-fits-all.
This unique period in time is not without its challenges, and every person is dealing with it differently based on their own work style preferences, personality traits and family/living situation. This means that you cannot implement a one-size-fits-all solution.
Some individuals are thriving at home, enjoying the flexibility of a work-life balance, while others are struggling to find peace in a multigenerational home, balancing the facilitation of their children’s remote learning with their own Zoom meetings.
The same goes for each employee’s preferred management style. Many team members love to collaborate, ask me to attend customer meetings and then message me immediately for feedback. Others prefer autonomy and very little oversight. It’s important to figure out what works best for individuals and then give them the tools and space they need to succeed.
This is especially important now. Brainstorm how you can help each employee based on their current situation — whether it’s a better headset or a remote happy hour for a little extra human interaction — and do your best to make it happen.
Add a new twist to standard culture favorites.
Maintaining a thriving culture is the cornerstone of any thriving business. This becomes more challenging in this particular climate because employees are no longer chatting deskside in between meetings or grabbing a quick coffee together in the afternoon.
Don’t let this distance dull your culture. Think about ways to infuse creativity into your everyday activities to keep your culture alive and employees engaged. For example, we’ve organized virtual happy hours, chai tea hours or even team book clubs. This gives team members a much-needed moment to connect as colleagues and friends.
Several of our team members have also organized weekly remote exercise classes to ensure the team stays active and connected. I’ve started personalizing my Zoom backgrounds for one-on-one meetings to recreate favorite meeting spots, from a favorite local coffee shop or the wine bar down the street to a park I walk to during meetings with a team member.
Give everyone a seat at the table.
When employees were asked what they loved about working at my company, one of the most common responses was that each team member felt they had a voice in the organization. I’ve found that giving every employee a seat at the table to offer their ideas and constructive criticism builds trust, employee satisfaction and ultimately retention. This helps ensure that the people who helped create your company culture will stick around and help maintain it.
Giving everyone a voice also helps integrate new employees and bring important ideas and observations to the surface, especially now that we’re not bumping into one another at the espresso machine. As we hire new team members, we want them to know that they never need to apologize for trying to make the company better. New team members can offer fresh perspectives and novel solutions. If our team members don’t feel like they can speak up, we will miss out on brilliant ideas, easy fixes and warning signs that can prevent bigger problems.
Take advantage of the opportunity to rethink ‘culture fit.’
Many growing companies consider culture fit to be an important factor in hiring. But as you expand your team, it might be time to revisit that idea. It’s important to not only hire people who “fit in” or “fit comfortably” within your organization, but also to hire people who bring new viewpoints and experiences.
Research shows that a more diverse team leads to better performance. Look to hire candidates who share your work ethic and values, but keep in mind that those qualities come in different forms and from different walks of life.
The changing workplace norms during the Covid-19 pandemic have created an opportunity to explore new candidates. This might be due to location or interest in a career shift. For example, a recent hire was formerly an elementary school teacher who shifted to virtual learning last year. She applied for a summer internship to assist us with virtual training and quickly excelled in the role, and we hired her full-time as an instructional trainer. Her skill set, while not an obvious fit, is the perfect complement for our training program.