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Emerson

@emerson55

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The People Make The Company

A growing company is in essence a team of individuals of varying skills who come from different cultures, creating a unique company culture by working together.

This beehive of individuals shapes the assumptions, beliefs and values of the organization, apart from the surface-level elements like branding, company benefits, hierarchy and the various HR policies.

@emerson55

The Cultural Life Cycle of Organizations

psychologytoday.com

Various people working together in an organization form groups that develop unique thought patterns and behaviour.

Internal interaction in many such groups can be collaborative, task-oriented or just a broad focus on the primary goal.

As new people join the organization, the company culture further evolves, leading to new challenges related to scalability, communication, decision-making and the various work-flow patterns.

As the internal integration clashes with the various external factors, the innovative and fast-moving qualities often turn into frozen, bureaucratic systems.

Culture is an ever-evolving, emergent occurrence. Leaders often take employees of off-site gatherings, read a book, or try to rewrite the company’s values and vision.

It will only be an eye-wash if it does not impact the employee's daily experience at work or if the leaders are not adaptive to employees needs.

Thinking of company culture as traffic, the leader needs to intentionally guide and shape the environment in which the culture evolves.

Example: Just talking about a flexible working environment isn’t enough if the lower-level employees are not given the discretion or choice.

Remote Work: Doing The New

Remote working needs to be deconstructed and distilled based on ‘first principles’ of what problem is getting solved, and how best a project or task can be handled by the entire team in an entirely new setting.

Instead of resorting to old habits (like making a phone call to colleagues for simple things) or insisting on doing stuff only for the sake of it, one needs to completely rethink about work interactions, methods and values.

Shifting to a remote mindset - Increment: Remote

increment.com

Remote work requires thoughtfulness, precision and planning. Things cannot be done ad hoc in office corridors and lobbies anymore.

Many colleagues share different time zones and cannot participate in a synchronous exchange of information.

  • In a remote setting, you have to critically think and plan ahead, and communicate a query with complete information and context.
  • You can refer to previous solutions to the problem in order to save the time of others, who might try the same thing.
  • While answering a query, you have to be well-researched, contextual, and thorough, even going to the extent of providing references and documentation to support the suggested solution.

Communication, especially the asynchronous, written variety, is the main pillar of remote working.

Communication tools like Slack are to be used smartly to be really effective, and not to be turned into dumping grounds of information that is hardly visible to all remote workers. When needed, one can use real-time communication to touch base with everyone, enabling connectedness and a sense of belonging, without being imposing.

  • Not everything that was done in the office is effective or even advisable in a remote setting where everyone is at home juggling work and personal stuff.
  • We need to understand the various subtleties and the many touchpoints of working closely with a remote team, and understand that it is not one-size-fits-all.
  • We need to adapt and fine-tune our interactions to facilitate a thriving relationship with our peers and bosses.
Personal Connection

A sense of connection and belonging are sentiments that are helpful for building “affective trust” – a form of trust based on emotional bond and interpersonal relatedness.

It varies from the “cognitive trust” – which springs from reliability and competence. Both are influential to performance, but affective trust tends to be more salient for a team at the beginning of a relationship, according to studies.

How to build social connection in a remote team

knowyourteam.com

Statistics On Remote Workers
  • Loneliness was reported as the biggest downside for 21% of remote employees, and one of the reasons that makes them more likely to quit.
  • Most remote managers say they’d be more inclined to stay if they had more friends at work.
  • Individuals who have 15 minutes to socialize with colleagues have a 20% increase in performance over their peers who don't.
  • Positive social relationships are correlated with better life expectancy.
Dynamic Icebreakers

If your icebreaker questions are intriguing, cheeky, humorous – the answers you receive will be, too.

Many remote teams will kick off their weekly meeting with an icebreaker question or insert it during their morning stand-up meeting. Even more popular is asking a series of icebreaker questions during the onboarding process when hiring someone.

Over-Emphasize Onboarding

With affective trust being so important to foster at the beginning of a relationship, onboarding new hires well becomes even more critical for virtual team building.

You can partner newcomers with experienced employees and have a formal onboarding process at the company, or at least a partially in-person one, with expenses covered by the company.

Build a Buddy System

Many remote companies offer buddy systems for onboarding. This is also a way for people to have fun and get closer, as well as to increase job satisfaction and commitment.

This can take the form of assigning an official “mentor” or a random employee, with whom they have periodic one-on-one meetings to get acclimated to the company.

  • Try regularly scheduling chats over video. Those work particularly well when paired with activities like coffee breaks, online gaming or topical discussion.
  • Create a dedicated non-work chat channel. This re-creates the “watercooler chat” you would have in an in-person office and it often becomes the primary mode of communication for online workers.
  • Invest in company retreats and make space for people to socialize on them.
Prospective Hindsight

After a project ends, team members often reflect on what worked, and what did not, something known as post-mortem documentation.

What is often overlooked is a pre-mortem exercise where a team uses visualization and second-level thinking to imagine the various scenarios which could lead to failure and then work backwards, using prospective hindsight.

Pre-mortem: how to anticipate failure with prospective hindsight

nesslabs.com

  • Optimism Bias is when we are sure about the success of a certain project or venture and do not take into account the scenarios of failure.
  • Temporal Discounting is a cognitive error where we make decisions taking into account the present condition, and not bothering about any future consequences.

Just one ‘Pre-Mortem’ meeting at the beginning of the project can uncover many blind spots, recalibrating the mindset of all the team members.

Anticipating the future also fosters honest and open communication, and quells any fear.

  1. Review: Discuss goals and explain the various roles and responsibilities to each of the team members.
  2. Set-Up: Anticipate a scenario where the project is over and was a disaster.
  3. Brainstorm: Each team member notes the reasons it could have failed, which is easier to imagine now that the failure has been established.
  4. Share And Discuss: Everyone shares and discusses, getting into the details of the failure.
  5. Improve The Plan: Now that the prospective hindsight has been utilized, one can review and improve the plan using the new information.
Longing For The Office Culture
  • Earlier a privilege for a few, work from home became a norm for most office-goers due to the ongoing pandemic and is likely to remain for the rest of the year.
  • The shift towards work from home, which became necessary for most companies, was thought to be blissful in the minds of employees, while the bosses viewed it with suspicion.
  • Employees are slowly finding out that it is lonely sitting in front of the screen at home and are missing the office culture, the sharing of ideas and socializing with fellow employees.

The quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home

theguardian.com

  • Though employees are happy to see the demise of daily commutes and parking hassles, they are finding out that there is no work-life balance at home.
  • Most workers live in apartments that aren’t suitable for 8 to 10 hours of work every day, as it was never designed to be a full-fledged office.
  • Many employees would want to get back to offices as soon as possible due to social and mental issues, like the feeling of loneliness at home.

Monitoring software that checks time spent on different applications, chat response time, and keystroke recording is now in great demand.

HR departments worldwide are fueling the use of technology to have a way to control the employees that are now no longer in the office.

The sound of the office, with printers, keyboards and coffee machines is something that is missed so much that many are a Spotify playlist of workplace sounds while working from home.

Employees miss the office so much that they are not finding the work from home forever model to be enticing, even after they are offered a bonus to stay home.

Asynchronous Communication

.. .is defined as working with tools that don’t demand an immediate response.

Remote work has its own set of challenges (like different time zones) and is filled with distractions. In order to keep productivity up within a working team while providing them the flexibility they need to take care of their families (and themselves), there is a need to increase the use of asynchronous communication.

The Simple Guide to Asynchronous Communication

inc.com

Asynchronous communication allows you to think and reflect before taking action. 

While real-time communication is all-important, the global crisis and work-from-home culture have made us realize the productivity benefits of non-real time communication.

Constant video interaction is great to look as if you are working but isn’t the best use of your time. Rather than being on the video call for everything, it’s better to make a video recording of the particular action (in your own time) and let others see it when they can.

Use asynchronous video to be able to show your face and expressions when needed, getting in touch the real way in a remote setting. This leaves time for your 'deep work' activities.

They are a great way to call someone and talk to them without disturbing them in real-time. 

A phone call is no longer polite now and sending a voice message while discussing an idea, feedback, or reflection is a ‘soft’ method that works asynchronously.

This is one of the oldest and most reliable means of asynchronous communication. 

Using email in conjunction with a text message or an attached video works even better. Try to be contextual and respect the other person's time.

Practice looking into your camera during video conferences when you speak, even for brief moments.
It's challenging to focus on your camera for an entire meeting, but know that you increase the impact of your points when you look deep into it.

How to Elevate Your Presence in a Virtual Meeting

hbr.org

Strong voices convey authority, credibility, and confidence.
Using a loud voice will also keep you from mumbling and from speaking too quickly due to the amount of breath required.

Make sure you have time before the meeting to pick your location and put your head fully in frame.
In a video conference, your head and the top of your shoulders should dominate the screen. Also, be mindful of your background. Distracting elements will pull attention away from you.

Be present

Resist the temptation to check your email or attend to other work, because you don’t want to be caught unprepared if asked a sudden question.
Close those other windows, turn your phone upside down, and remember that you’re on camera.

Be very aware of the power you have over your virtual and physical environments:

  • Stay on mute every time you are not speaking and unmute yourself only when you do speak.
  • Turn off your camera when you’re doing something visually distracting.
  • If you work with your kids and have to sustain a presentation, try to have someone supervise them in another room. Truly important messages require not only your colleagues’ full attention but yours as well.

Use it as an opportunity to emphasize your ideas and prove that you’re fully present. A few examples: 

  • When you mention an article or shared document, link to it in the chat.
  • If you run the meeting, put a link to the agenda in the chat.

Working remotely, especially when your team is distributed across the globe, means working asynchronously, that is, across time zones. This is a skill.

How to collaborate across time zones

zapier.com

Don't assume that others know what you're talking about. Provide some clarifying context. Then, re-read your question, trying to identify the places that you make assumptions, and anticipate any issues that may result.

Include links to your references to ensure they're looking at the same thing you are.

  • Change your settings in Google Drive and allow anyone in your organization to edit new files. Then someone can make a change before they lose their train of thought. You can always revert the changes you don't like.
  • Always include links.
  • If you use a group chat tool, communicate in public channels unless it's a personal or sensitive issue. A public database of chats allows teammates to find answers to their own questions.
  • If you have a video call, record and share it with others that weren't able to attend due to time zone issues.

Small talk allows people to stay in the loop with work projects. Posting updates about what you're working on allows for better alignment with the rest of your team. 

It will enable others to review any conversations they may have missed and contribute to in their own time. Be sure to have a system for it, like an internal blog.

If you are in Denver and the person you're asking is in Perth, waiting for approval or 100 percent certainty will slow every decision down by one day.

As long as there's no irreversible risk, act first. You can always adjust later.

Reframing the process

Most professionals know the value of networking, but due to time constraints, family obligations, or being introverts, they aren't able to build a network. 

The 4 strategies for people who have avoided networking in the past, to re-frame the process and enjoy it.

  • Understand networking
  • Identify trustworthy people
  • Recognize the pitfalls of lack of networking
  • Identify the vehicle of networking

Build a Network - Even When You Don't Think You Need One

hbr.org

Some people see networking as some sort of classless transaction.

They need to re-frame this activity as a way to make interesting friends and acquaintances in the long run.

Apart from the networking process, many people who shy away from networking are not trusting the people involved.

The solution is to identify the people you truly respect (maybe by making a list) and build a quality offline network, taking the help of professional networking sites like LinkedIn.

Networking can help us in unexpected ways, like peer recommendations, and this may be unclear to us at first.

One should assess their existing network to gauge its strength and take action where there is an opportunity for improvement.

There are countless ways and strategies to meet interesting people professionally.

Apart from hosting dinners or coffee outings, try to apply innovative strategies like interviewing people for your podcast or blog, or riding on some key conferences by scheduling your meetings during that period, leveraging from the hype.

Dr. Bruce Tuckman, a psychology professor, synthesized team development into four basic stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

Storm To Perform: The 4 Stages Of Team Productivity

blog.trello.com

Forming

This stage of teamwork is all about first meetings and first impressions.

What everyone needs most is a clear understanding of their part in the journey and a setup for building emotional connections. Setting goals together puts their skills and interests into the open.

Storming

Most teams go through the storming stage in some form or another because discord is inevitable. The key value to emphasize in the team is positive intent. 

A little conflict is needed to bring upfront weak spots in projects and to bring new valid arguments to the table. But constant storming leads to the destruction of productivity, projects, and ultimately, the team itself.

Norming

Getting to the Norming stage takes a healthy dose of observation, identification, and action on things that are working (and not working).

Teams that stay in Norming are constantly working out things like communication preferences, recognition of achievements, and workflows.

Performing

This is the stage when the synergy comes in:

  • Group norms have been accepted, and people feel comfortable to exchange ideas, without fear of misplaced judgment or rejection.
  • Team members have a clear understanding of where they can best serve the team’s needs, and everyone is highly motivated to get to the same goal.
  • Team members are interdependent, meaning they need little managing.

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