“The key management skill for the 21st century.” – Stephan Kasriel
Motivating Distributed and Remote Teams
Stephane Kasriel of Upwork believes that leading remote teams is the “key management skill for the 21st century.” Upwork’s Future Workforce study found that over 60% of U.S. companies have at least one team member working remotely at the department level.
Distributed or remote teams, like any teams, work best when a strong leader is at the helm, someone with vision, empathy, and execution.
But distributed or remote teams have the challenge of less face-to-face time and in-person interactions. Products like Slack’s #random channel try to mimic the watercooler effect (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness), but they rarely can reproduce a powerful in-person brainstorm or problem-solving meeting.
This post describes a starting point for getting the most out of distributed teams with a gamification and human-focused design perspective on your design.
Doubling meetings to double productivity
Meetings are anathema to modern workplaces, but distributed teams need to meet to have face time, build rapport, and maintain relationships. Ultimately, a focus on results (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) will keep workers collectively progressing.
A weekly standup to kickoff the week combined with a weekly retrospective meeting to wrap up the week might be all you need. Here’s a detailed example of this process using Trello, which may also work for your team. Remember, the methodology itself is less important than the trust and accountability and productivity you are engendering in the team. Depending on the complexity of your dev or design projects, you might need something even more sophisticated. Here’s Postmark’s take on defining the regularity and type of meetings.
In the case of the Monday standup meeting, the session helps generate ideas (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback) and solidifies targets for the week (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) and ensures alignment on responsibility (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession). These meetings work best when collaboration is emphasized (Core Drive 5: Socia Influence & Relatedness).
The retrospective meeting layers a touch of black hat design to ensure goals are met weekly, while also giving leaders a chance to recognize wins on a regular basis.
If you’re an agile software development team, you might already have scrum kickoffs and weekly sprints, but be sure to add a touch of empathy into these meetings as well, giving the team a chance to share its human side. As a leader, these meetings are a place to live your team or company’s culture.
Communication in between meetings: interactions via apps
Problems and roadblocks arise in business. Ensuring smooth and effective communication in the inter-meeting intervals is crucial. In the presented model, the standup meeting creates the weekly vision (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling) and execution goals should be established (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment).
How much should you expect team members to be available online? With the culture you establish, it might be reasonable to ask certain team members to always be on, but you may decide this isn’t best for you, too. Some work requires sustained periods of deep work.
As the team leader, only you can establish expectations and overall culture for the team. How quickly should emails and Slack messages be responded to? What defines what problems are urgent or not? What autonomy does your team have to solve problems on their own? (This estimation requires self-awareness and empathy with the Player Types on your team. Knowing who are the Stars and who are the Black Holes is crucial.)
If your team already uses a platform like Basecamp or Trello for communication, all that need be adapted for is the style of communication that is lost when the team transitions from headquartered to distributed.
As the leader
You probably will want to ensure you are there for your team (you “work for them”) or create a culture where autonomy and independence is what drives creativity and productivity (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback).
You need to communicate effectively and give constructive feedback. Here is a detailed example of how remote leaders can give feedback effectively so as to inspire their team members and actually improve the skill sets and collaboration of the team.
Pay attention to the phases of your journey
You don’t need to dictate a shift to a distributed model. Instead, incorporate your team so as to make the jump to hyperspace together. What concerns does your team have in moving to this model? If you are hiring a distributed team as a satellite outpost, what concerns do they have?
Be sure to hire the right people for distributed teams. People who are self-motivated, excellent communicators, and accountable doers work best. You want people on the team who are willing to speak up, solve problems quickly, and ask questions when something needs clarification.
What questions are you asking new hires? Do those questions help you find someone with traits applicable to distributed/remote work?
As the leader, set expectations for a transition to a remote operating model or build a smooth step-by-step so new employees feel smart (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) as they get started on the team.
Notice how your team is reacting to the new system. If other projects are in flight, monitor them closely.
Is the team communicating effectively?
As the leader, am I responding to feedback about the system?
By now you’ve gone through several core activity loops in your model, whether that be a few weeks of sprints or a complete phase of your project. This is the time to take feedback to better design your system, from process changes through to communication alignment.
Are we reaching our product milestones?
What financial results are we achieving? (Acquisition, Churn, Revenue)
The hope is to create a working environment where your distributed employees and team would not go back to an undistributed model if given the choice. You’ll know you’ve reached this stage through constant communication and feedback and by asking what could be made better.
What is the vision for my distributed team? How do I design for this outcome from the start?
Designing distributed or remote teams with Octalysis
The success of your team will stem from your vision, execution, and empathy as a leader, but the 21st century will also be a world of teams connected by the internet. How you design your workflows and culture for this reality could be your competitive advantage (or disadvantage). You could even approach this from a Strategy Dashboard perspective.
At the Octalysis Group, we’ve helped 100s of companies use gamification and human-focused design to improve customer and employee engagement.
Contact Joris Beerda to get started: