Everything we learned in one year of remote work life, Part 1: Key insights
It’s been over a year since the sudden shift toward remote work. This is Part 1 of our key insights.
It’s been over a year since the pandemic necessitated the sudden shift toward remote work for companies worldwide, including most of our client base. This change had far-reaching effects on a lot of companies. Our situation was unique because we are who companies come to when they have questions about how they manage and relate with their teams.
The transition was easier for some than others. As a company, the change to remote work for us at 7geese wasn’t without its challenges. Like many of our clients, our tech stack and tool kit meant that we could continue without any service interruptions. 7Geese has had a flexible working location policy and has been remote-ready since 2011. In the beginning, most of the friction had to do with helping people get adjusted and set up comfortably to work from home.
We quickly discovered that our transition was not the only one we had to concern ourselves with. We have to create soft landings for our team as we adjusted, but we had to serve as a best practices example for our clients and act as a hub of information for things that we are were not working among our own clients and beyond.
Learning and sharing “on-the-fly”
We chose to respond to this need to take a bit of a war-time approach to our performance management. We received loads of questions from our customers, everything from adjusting to Zoom calls to how to maintain performance; we set out to answer them as honestly as possible.
Responses were formed from our own present and past experiences and data coming in from companies worldwide. Now that it’s been a whole year, we thought we would compile all of those learnings into one epic remote-working advice post.
Our process was simple. At the onset, our Chief of Staff published a post covering the key points about making the initial switch to working from home (WFH). Then, we switched things up. Our YouTube channel became the place where we could answer your questions with a personal touch. In fact, in the past year, we released over 60 videos.
5 key learnings from a year of remote work during the pandemic
“We practice what we preach and collect data from thousands of customers to be able to inform the industry best practices,” says Wendy. “As a company, we too must keep our team aligned toward common goals and achieving growth together. Our tools and methodologies are industry-tested and proven to be effective — not just by our customers but by our own team.”
Here are some of the key insights we learned over the past year of remote work during the pandemic.
1. The answer to worrying about a lack of accountability is not micromanagement
The biggest fear many companies had in the shift to remote work was the lack of visibility. If it’s the first time a company or individual manager has experienced a remote work environment, it’s common for them to assume that productivity will suffer when they can’t actually see their team members in the office. Not only is that false — Harvard Business Review research indicates that knowledge workers are more productive from home — but it can also be detrimental to productivity and company culture to adopt that kind of mentality.
“Some companies implement a policy where staff must notify their manager if they are going to be away from their computer for over 10 minutes, and to be available for video call anytime between 9-5,” says 7Geese Chief of Staff Wendy Pat Fong. “We don’t do this. We believe rules like this can erode trust with a team and risk treating adults like children. Instead, we recommend a series of required team check-ins to boost transparency. They should be quick and simple with obvious agendas so that in the event of a video-call breakdown, you can move the update to email or Slack.”
Our client Julie Lachapelle, People Operations Specialist for Webflow, agrees. “Micromanaging is a symptom of lack of trust and lack of clear expectation around delegation,” says Julie. “There’s a really great tool called ‘Five Levels of Delegation.’ Level one is ‘assess and report’ — asking the person to assess and report back to you. Level five is full delegation. You make your own decision and come back and tell me how it was. You must know where that person stands within those levels and articulate that expectation so they don’t feel either micromanaged or abandoned by you. That way, you can have clear communication, but you’re not tracking someone’s tasks or how they’re working every day.”
The 5 levels of delegation
2. With WFH, recognition might be even more important than ever
Since way back in 2012, we’ve known from a Bersin by Deloitte survey that companies who were in the top 20% for building a “recognition-rich culture” had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates.
At 7Geese, recognition is a key component of our organization’s growth-mindset, and it’s a feature within our product. The giving and receiving of recognition is a ritual that we wanted to keep strong during COVID-19. We wanted to make sure that team members’ number of times acknowledge one another’s contributions did not fall off simply because we were not working side-by-side anymore. That’s why even we were surprised by what happened.
“Even with the sudden shift to remote work and the various adjustments our team has had to make, our recognitions are up 30%, when compared to our monthly average,” says Wendy. “At a time when it was perhaps more important than ever, our people are stepping up to recognize and support one another.”
3. Virtual team meetings and events can be fun and rewarding
As companies began to adjust to working from home, we heard more and more stories about creative ways to bring some fun and collaboration to their meetings. In our interview with Julie Lachapelle, she shared how the team at Webflow has made their virtual connections more fun by adding themes. “You dress for the theme, or you have a background that reflects your next vacation or something like that,” says Julie. “We start with a short show-and-tell about it, if the meeting allows. Obviously, if it is a serious meeting, maybe you don’t want to do that there, but that’s been very helpful for us. Also, I love Snap Camera. It’s a Snapchat tool you can download on your browser and add a filter to Zoom.”
Across the board, we heard reports of increases in tools like Slack and Discord for connecting teams via text or voice chat. Planning holiday parties, quarterly kickoffs, and other team-building events took a new shape as well. “We’ve also heard about companies that have sent snacks and groceries to their team members’ homes, instead of the snacks and such around the office,” says Ashleigh Mysercough, Senior Performance Coach at 7Geese, a Paycor Company. “This could be from the same budget previously allocated to stocking the office kitchen.”
4. Zoom fatigue and feelings of isolation are very real
Not everyone made the shift to remote work seamlessly. The adjustment came with a lot of challenges. For most knowledge workers, remote work meant a lot more video calls, and all of that, paying attention on camera can be tiring. Meetings that could have been an email reached a new level of tedium. Leaders began to realize that it wasn’t always necessary to have everyone appear on camera, especially if they weren’t comfortable doing so.
As the months wore on, conversations and strategies about caring for team members’ mental health became more common. In response to a question about how to provide psychological safety for people during the pandemic, Robert St. Jacques, our GM of Professional Services, advised leaders to “take care of yourself first. Similar to the instructions you get before every flight on an airline. If the oxygen masks fall, you need to place yours first and then place the masks on the other folks who may need help. Make sure that you yourself are in a good place; you’re taken care of. More importantly, you yourself shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. You need to make sure that you take care of yourself first before you can take care of others.”
To help their more introverted team members connect, Webflow came up with an interesting approach using Slack. “We have a project my team member started yesterday called an introvert daily connection,” says Julie. “It’s a Slack channel called ‘15 Questions.’ She’s going to post a question, and all of us introverts that are not wanting to go on Zoom to connect, are answering in a written form. That’s just one different way that we’re exploring how to connect with our team.”
Julie and the team at Weblfow are very conscientious about how their meetings and team check-ins are attended, based on a person’s personal preference. “I think another note is to not ‘Zoom shame’ anyone if they don’t want to put their video camera on, or they prefer commenting in the chatbox,” says Julie, adding that text-based chat can still keep off-camera attendees engaged. “Keep that active. I think that’s a very kind thing to do. If your team has a strong feedback culture, you’ll hear about ideas in the way they prefer to engage. Don’t dismiss those. It’s really great to partner with your team members all across the company to really get ideas and make sure they’re feeling comfortable, empowered, heard, and seen, but in a way that they’re comfortable with as well.”
5. Remote work is now business-as-usual, and we still have communication gaps to fix
Even once the pandemic is behind us, as it seems it will be by the summer of this year, many companies will remain remote or adopt a hybrid approach with some in-office and some WFH home days. Now that we have seen that the remote model can be successful, we can begin to divide ways to improve upon it. Even though many of us are as productive or even more so in a WFH environment, we are still missing some of the magic possible with in-person collaboration.
“All of the really great high bandwidth communication that used to happen is now much rarer than it has ever been,” says Ben Kaye, Director of Product at 7Geese, a Paycor company. “High bandwidth communication is usually face-to-face; the reason why it’s high bandwidth is that so much information is being transmitted. It’s not just the words coming out of my mouth but also my facial expression and other non-verbal cues. There’s a ton of information that gets transmitted when you have a face-to-face conversation. When you have low bandwidth communication — things like email, chat, or asynchronous video — a lot of that gets lost. At 7Geese, we spend a ton of time thinking and talking about how to help companies have better conversations and close this communication gap. What makes for good conversation is really no different than our personal life.”
In part two of this series, we’ll offer tips for helping close those communication gaps and how to have better remote work meetings, especially performance management-related meetings like reviews and 1-on1s.