TALKS & CONFERENCES
Maintaining Authentic Team Bonds In A Remote Setting | WordFest Live July 2021 Talk
Forming team bonds in a remote setting can be tricky especially if almost all team members are new and have not met each other personally. With this talk, see how are team was able to overcome this obstacle.
Hi guys! Welcome to our quick talk on Maintaining Authentic Team Bonds in a Remote Setting.
Hi guys! Welcome to our quick talk on Maintaining Authentic Team Bonds in a Remote Setting.
Just a quick background, my name is Dielle Kapunan and I co-manage Gambit Technologies together with my husband.
Our focus is on creating page building tools, the most notable of which would be Stackable – Page Builder Gutenberg Blocks.
When we started Gambit, we didn’t just set out to make a business.
We wanted to build great products; products that are inspiring and truly helpful.
And we wanted these products to be the way that we made a difference, and a way to have an impact to the world.
But we didn’t want to build just any other thing – we wanted to build a work family.
We didn’t want it to feel like it was all about work. We wanted people to work with us, and to also share our passion and to be invested and committed to our goals – on a deep level.
Pre-pandemic like most companies, we maintain an office but we allowed a few work from home days.
We tried to give some leeway in terms of working hours but for the most part, we emphasize the importance of being at the office.
We thought it was the only way that real collaboration could take place. We thought that the fluidity and ease of communication afforded by being together is just something that was crucial to building the type of office culture that we wanted.
We are pretty proud of our pre-pandemic office team actually, we felt like we were able to foster good relationships within our team.
Like we were with people who not only worked together but who also genuinely liked each other, and who enjoyed spending time together as peers.
We spend a lot of time chatting, having dinners out, having team building activities and celebrating as a team.
In fact, we felt that office togetherness was something that we really aced.
But then the pandemic happened. Needless to say it was a big shock to our system because we’ve always kept the health and safety of our people one of our top priorities, we made sure to transition from our work from home set up. Even prior to government imposed lockdowns, which came about a few days after we started.
We have to think and move fast. Our plan was simple, we were confident that we could transpose the in-office setup to a remote environment.
During our first week of work from home, we thought great, all systems are go and this is how we did it!
Pre-pandemic our office hours were 11am to 7:30pm Philippine time, so we decided to keep those working times and to monitor each person’s deliverables and hours on a daily basis.
We started doing daily, instead of weekly alignment meetings, we felt that this was important to stay on the same page.
And because we were so used to being together at work, at the same time, we wanted to be able to just jump on a Zoom call throughout the workday.
We realized after a while that we spoke too soon about all systems go.
We started feeling the fatigue of what seemed like perpetual zoom meetings.
We started realizing that we were starting to falter with keeping everything in check, and keeping everyone moving and delivering good quality work.
The pandemic was really taking a toll on all of us – and one by one, our work family members suddenly had to make their exits.
We found ourselves having to recruit new talent amidst the pandemic – a feat that is not easy.
But we knew the real difficulty was in keeping the talent that we do get.
We have to ask ourselves, how do we go back to providing an environment that is exciting, fulfilling, and sustainable?
We realized that we approach things the wrong way. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that we thought that we could simply transpose our in-office set up to a remote environment, and call it all systems go.
But then we chalk this up to being pressed for time and to grappling with something completely new to us.
We realized that to really understand what sustainable work from home should look like, we needed to recognize the need for a paradigm shift.
Working from home is a very different thing, which requires a very different system.
To come up with a new system that would actually work, we realized you had to go back to basics and re-examine our core principles on how we worked.
We needed these things to start with – a new system for delivery and accountability, better remote tools for a better workflow, accepting that balancing work and personal life is now the new norm. And finding a way to keep company culture at the core of our new system.
First of all, we realized that we needed to change the way that we measured how people worked.
In-office, it was easy. You see people working since you could physically see them at any given time. We realize that this is just not possible in a work from home setup – being on our perpetual zoom call just won’t cut it.
We realize too, that we don’t need to peer over people’s shoulders to make sure that they actually worked.
And work from home will need us to have even more trust in our people, that they will do their jobs and do their jobs well, even if they are not on the clock.
We essentially embraced a new way of doing things. We decided to follow a work wherever you want whenever you want system, with a few conditions:
They have to show up for meetings. Deadlines must be respected, and they must respond to urgent matters ASAP.
It was a drastic change for us and not being able to count hours worked also meant that we needed a new way of measuring work.
So we shifted our focus to KPIs and output.
With respect to measuring work, our new policy was so long as you deliver good results, you’re good.
This gave people something that they needed to battle burnout and to be able to juggle work and personal responsibilities: Freedom of time.
This took out the guilt from not being able to focus on work during specific times of the day.
This also allowed people more flexibility to adjust to the pandemic, and to cater to health and family matters when they needed to.
Most importantly, this gave people the freedom to work during the hours that they were most productive.
We really don’t know why we didn’t do this earlier but we knew we were on the right track.
Of course, to support this new focus on more independent workflow, we needed to make sure that we had a way of keeping people on the same page.
We realize that for people to do their jobs well, they had to understand where they fit in in the greater scheme of things.
We needed to be able to share goals, so each of our team members could deliver on their respective parts.
To keep people on the same page, we now spend more time planning together, we take the time to flush out annual, quarterly, and sprint plans. So people always have a clear understanding of what they need to deliver.
To do this, we invested in different tools that would take the place of our physical office, we started using Notion as a virtual workspace and are now fans to the single source of truth policy.
We shifted to Slack and Zoom for real time communications. And we use a host of other technical tools to keep things moving.
This new system just works and keeps everybody in sync, even when working at different times.
Probably one of the most challenging things with working from home is figuring out a way to keep the company culture alive.
How exactly do we bond with people we’ve never personally met?
As I mentioned before, we needed to build a brand new team, and no one had been to our physical office or had met each other in person before. And we were just at a loss on how to even start personal conversations with these complete strangers.
But then we realized that we had to open ourselves up to the possibility of forming authentic bonds with these new team members.
It had to start with us, and we needed to set a good tone to foster team building.
To set the tone we spent a good amount of time with onboarding new team members. We take this opportunity to share company values, expectations and commitments.
This was our way of breaking the ice, of making new team members know that we value communication, collaboration, mutual respect, and being able to speak freely and share ideas.
Having new core principles in place also helped us develop new team routines that foster more personal interactions.
We now hold daily in-video stand ups which are quick and are meant to keep people updated.
We acknowledge that Slack is our new way of tapping others on the shoulder to share ideas or ask for help.
We encourage people to schedule mini meetings when needed, while keeping in mind that they need to respect each other’s chosen time.
These in-video meetings also give us an opportunity to see each other’s personal life – we see each other’s kids, siblings, pets, and get to peek at who our coworkers are in their everyday lives.
And finally, we found ways to kick back and relax together. Dinners became weekly game nights, in-office chats over coffee became virtual chats after meeting agendas are completed.
At the core of it, it’s all about shared interest in each other as people. We learned that that’s what make interactions authentic.
It’s understanding that despite interactions being purely online, they are still real interactions that bring value to each individual and the team as a whole.
So what will happen to our team when the pandemic blows over?
We plan to keep the team mostly remote. With a current setup, we found that we are more productive, less stressed, and we have more time for things outside of work.
But we plan to have the occasional in person meeting so we could see each other and work together and bond in person.
Thanks for listening and I hope you were able to learn something from this presentation. Till next time!