While I absolutely do not make light of the COVID-19 pandemic, typing this post while in self-isolation as the world locks down and millions fight...
The Guide to a Fully Remote Workforce
Remote work isn’t new. Millions of traditional companies of varying sizes, largely spurred on by their employees’ demands for a more flexible working environment, have shifted part or whole teams and/or divisions to some sort of remote work. (A pandemic has only added to the dynamic!)
Global or not, companies have their people work in multiple combinations of locations, across both full and partial remote time. Some work from home, others from remote spaces, or a combination of both. Most need to check in fairly regularly with teammates or leadership who may remain in their traditional bricks and mortar office spaces. Some employees report feeling disconnected. Others say they’re more productive.
In 2009, IBM reported that 40% of their more than 386,000 workforce, spanning 173 countries were working remotely. Other corporate giants like Yahoo, Aetna and Best Buy were doing the same thing. There is no denying that the benefits are huge—a win-win-win for the employee, the company and the environment. These include, just to name a few:
✔ minimized commute time
✔ a more satisfied workforce
✔ increased flexibility
✔ less capital expenditure on office buildings
In 2017, however, these giants pulled the plug on remote work. What?! Why? Forbes, Fast Company, and Business Insider, along with many other outlets, reported that the reasons for bringing workers back to the office included: “the need to work iteratively”, “collaboration required human interaction”, “improved collaboration and accelerated innovation.”
A global pandemic has certainly tested these claims.
Since 2015, we at WNDYR have been building out our fully remote (work from anywhere in the world you like) workforce. While we don’t (yet) have teams anywhere as large as IBM’s, we have had the good fortune to build things differently from the get-go.
When we understood that the world of work was broken and we made it our mission to bring about change, we used ourselves as a testbed, and still do today. So, unlike other companies that have applied traditional work practices to a remote team, we have built our entire business on a framework specifically tailored to remote work.
Our teams are engaged, innovative, nimble, and diverse. We are effective and collaborate and communicate with each other, while building deep friendships with one another, despite the fact that some of us have never even met in person.
“WNDYR is such an outstanding example of the positive experience, innovation, intelligence and cohesiveness that can be achieved even across borders and in a virtual world. In 30 years of practice, this has been the most pleasurable and satisfying client group of people I have had the chance to work with. Even when difficulties arise, the stress is kept firmly at bay with humor and a constructive, straightforward approach. As a result, WNDYR is greater than the sum of its parts.” — Karen Wootliff | Lawyer (London, UK)
How do you set up a remote workspace like that?
There are multiple requirements to getting the foundation right. For starters, you can read our CEO Claire Haidar’s post, Going remote? Start here, which highlights five steps you can take to kick off your remote work journey. Claire says it beautifully, but let me have a go at providing a synopsis to get you excited:
1. Use a work management tool instead of email. I have only ever met one single human that actually likes/liked email. Simply put, email is a dump of tasks with no prioritization, lots of assumptions, and plenty of a cover-my-own-arse mentality (in other words, nothing good for modern work).
2. Choose a Chat (Instant Messenger/IM platform). Humans like to interact seamlessly in real-time. In a remote work environment, chat replaces the “watercooler” type of conversations, so it’s used for both work discussions and relationship building.
3. Choose a Meeting Application. Meetings don’t need to be in person to be effective. I often feel that virtual meetings are way more personal than onsite ones, as we connect, leaned into our screen—camera’s on—to get good work done.
4. Define Rules of Work. We rebel against rules, but they are important and these are good ones. This point is meaty, so please read Claire’s post.
5. Design ALL Workspaces. Things change, teams grow, and a solid (but iterative) structure is what keeps your team moving forward in the same direction.
Now that you have the bare basics in place, it’s time to layer in another remote work essential. I believe companies like the IBM’s, Yahoo’s, Aetna’s and Best Buy’s of the corporate world likely omitted this from their remote work setup plan and we already know where that got them.
Disclaimer: while we operate as a fully virtual team, the no bullshit behaviors are relevant, regardless of your company structure.
What is a No Bullshit Guide?
I wrote about how we got started with this some time ago here, back in the day when it was still called our “No Arsehole Policy.” Reading it again has made me smile because it’s clear, in retrospect, how pivotal this behavior guideline has impacted our virtual teams, bringing about modern work.
The long and short of it is: the No Bullshit Guide is a set of defined and intentional behaviors that we require the entire team to adapt to and adopt, in order to drive our company objectives for the year ahead. We have released them to the team annually, drive them daily and reward monthly. Here’s the breakdown on on our framework:
1. Get clear on the behaviors you need your team to drive:
Each year during Q4 (but start now if this is the first time you’re doing this), after setting our SOAP (strategy on a page) for the year ahead, the leadership team meets up to prepare our No Bullshit Behavior criteria for the year ahead. We have done this in person and virtually, so choose which one works best for you or the circumstance at the time. During this meeting, we:
- Take a critical retrospective look across the teams and discuss, high level, on repeat behaviours that cropped up in the previous year. Our chat streams are a good go-to if we need more context
- Review our SOAP and determine where the team lacks finesse and needs to grow, in order for us to succeed in our objectives
- Then we do a brain dump of all the behaviors we feel we need highlighted
- We group these into buckets and give each bucket a meaningful name and byline to bring clarity and context. We initially limited ourselves to 10 buckets but now have no more than 3-4 each year so the team can really focus
- We then send these off to our design team to populate in a simple one-pager slide, so we can share the info easily with the team
2. Communicate these clearly to the team. Clear, concise and consistent communication is a critical ingredient in remote work. So this is when we call the team together and present the No Bullshit Behaviors, additionally answering questions and providing clarity. This buy-in is critical. We sometimes have mass pushback, but we stand our ground. We set the behaviors with intention and the best interest of the business in mind, after all.
3. Bring everyone on board. Now’s when things start getting fun for everyone. Arguably, some will say this makes them feel uncomfortable. We have a little tradition of starting the year with everyone creating and sharing a Pinterest board of their interpretations and understandings of the behaviors. We share these on our chat stream to reinforce them once more. While I am not a Pinterest fan, this truly is one of my favorite bits and a pretty awesome way to start a new year. By the end of this exercise, every single super human in our virtual team can recite these in their sleep.
4. Embed them through daily actions. This year we created an internal hashtag campaign which the team added to their sprints or used to send some good vibes to their teammates in our love stream. Every time the hashtag is used, we are reinforcing the behavior. Likewise, when a team member’s behavior is misaligned, we nip things in the bud by bringing them back to the behaviors we’re driving.
Example: We have three behaviors this year: FLOP, ASTONISH, SAIL. Granted these are the most cryptic behaviors we have had to date, but they all back into a pretty cool story which helps us easily remember them. #flop #astonish #sail #SAF are the hashtags we use when reinforcing messages.
5. Recognize and Reward monthly. Every month we get to vote for our hero of the month. Who on the team best displayed our No Bullshit Behaviours over the previous month, and why they should be our Hero. Achieving Hero status is a big thing for both the leadership and the team. The physical reward is a voucher or item of swag or something similar, but the real reward is the open recognition, validation and all the pomp and ceremony that comes with it. Yup, we are a little competitive, which is a good thing (we even have a cartwheel competition going down right now).
You can use the same principles in creating your own, but I highly recommend the constant referencing and calling out to ensure the words are meaningful.
Why is the guide important?
1. Humans have an intrinsic need to feel meaning and purpose. The No Bullshit Guide helps bring everyone on the same page. Despite working remotely, they feel part of the WNDYR tribe, and that is a powerful thing (you’ll see this validated in our unedited team comments below).
2. Meaning and purpose aside, behaviors drive action. Too often, we make assumptions on our ability or delivery and assume we’re a-okay. Not always the case! For the record, I believe that most humans have a desire to do a good job (I don’t know anyone that deliberately wants to deliver drivel). Why then, do we so often get things wrong? Easy. We’re usually not aware of our own unhelpful behaviors, nor the impact that they can have on our colleagues and company. Unhelpful behaviors, once identified, can easily be nipped in the bud, bringing clarity and transparency.
3. The Guide provides an easy way to have hard conversations. It enables us to call each other out kindly. This is a proactive way to help individuals adjust and move forward, bringing the team in line with where they need to focus collectively. #flop
A few team opinions on the remote work guide
“Coming from a corporate background, what I desperately felt was missing was a guide into behaviors to cascade down at every level of the organization. Often, a set of aspirational values were conveyed to the teams, but without a real practical guide on the behaviors to adopt. And more than this, those behaviors need to be enforced for real (contrary to the “do what I say not what I do” mindset). WNDYR’s No Bullshit Guide’s impact to me is real versus told: it’s got application from top of the organization to the bottom and from the bottom to top. It’s concrete, as opposed to aspirational: a set of behaviors (and not values) that we have to stick to, as a team. We embody them on the ground, rather than simply on paper. We are reminded of these every single day. The rule that has had the most impact for me? No ego.” – Alessandra, Dublin, Ireland.
“In my role as an EA, the no bullshit behaviour I keep coming back to is from our 2018 set of guidelines – #detailsmatter – because, let’s face it- when you are managing multiple inboxes and calendars and sifting through reams of legal and statutory paperwork on a daily basis, it really is the little things that can make or break an executive’s day, or even the company.” – Trudy, Wellington, South Africa.
“Being a relatively new member to WNDYR, I found it refreshing to be onboarded with a company that didn’t simply tote some corporate tenets and slap them on the wall with a piece of proverbial tape. Instead, I was engulfed in a company culture centered around behaviors and accountability. One of our new expected behaviors is to ‘SAIL’ this year. This meant I was expected to be agile and navigate around issues, problem solve, and do it fast. I love it!“ – Sacha, Vancouver, Canada.
“For me, the guide has led to a work environment and culture that is the healthiest I have ever worked in. It has driven out politics and toxicity that is present in so many workplaces.” – Mitch, Montreal, Canada
It’s interesting how life just happens. Navigating multiple turns, highs and lows, oftentimes we are just trying to figure things out. When we at WNDYR landed on a piece of gold (AKA, our No Bullshit Guide), we had no idea that it would become the intrinsic golden twine that would so tightly and seamlessly connect our virtual team to our company objectives. It’s now a valuable ingredient to our remote work culture and, in retrospect, an essential remote work tool. My advice is to have fun with it—it will be worth it!