Jennifer Paxton - Smile.io
About the author: Jennifer Paxton heads all things People at Smile. Over the past 10 years, she has developed a passion for building and scaling startups; giving employees the structure and support they need to flourish and grow. She loves coaching managers, fostering a culture of feedback, and creating programs that will help build a sense of belonging. Jen is a mom of two girls, loves being outdoors, eating tacos, and drinking her weight in loose teas.

Table of contents:
1. Asynchronous vs. Synchronous: Balancing Remote Team Communication
2. Reimagine remote working practices: The key to success
3. Building a compensation philosophy that attracts employees
4. Conclusion

Remote work has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, as I’m writing this I think of the song from Aladdin “a whole new world” (bear with me, it’s just the singer in me). We have seen that remote work has changed the dynamics of recruiting talent. It has given HR leaders the ability to hire great talent from anywhere around the globe that opens doors to new and previously underrepresented markets.

Such patterns of recruitment undoubtedly bring in people from more diverse backgrounds adding to innovation and creativity in organizations. What’s more, diversity in the workplace increases the overall team’s productivity and provides employees with a deeper connection to cultures around the world.

“Almost 50% of employees will continue to work remotely post COVID-19”

Building teams like this is hard work and takes a lot of time and attention to make successful. At every step along the way, there is a decision for leaders to make that will set up the foundation and cultural norms of how your team will work together moving forward, and formulating a well-designed remote work policy is no longer optional.

Remote working - work from home

The good thing to note here, especially if this is uncharted territory for you, is that this process can be fluid and you can continue to iterate as you go and gain new information. Remote work trends will have several key impacts on the workplace and HR leaders will have to bear some considerations in mind as they make decisions about the future of remote work in their organization.

Some of the biggest pitfalls I have seen and experienced working in a remote team revolve around communication, remote working practices, and compensation (Total Rewards). There have definitely been others, but these three aspects proclaim a company’s culture as a “great” or “not-so-great” place to work.

Insight #1: Asynchronous vs. Synchronous: Balancing Remote Team Communication

Have you ever played the game telephone? This could just be me, but growing up in Texas, at every sleepover, we would all sit in a circle someone would start off by whispering a phrase to the person to their left, and that person would pass the message on by whispering the phase to the next person, the phrase would continue to be passed on until it got to the last person who would say the phrase out loud and everyone would laugh at how much it had changed during the game.

Poor communication at a company reminds me of the game telephone. Remote work brought communication barriers and affected collaboration and transparency. But, the stakes are much higher and can cause irreparable damage through forced errors, especially to employee engagement and morale.

Using traditional synchronous communication methods where you could pull everyone into a room at the same time to deliver the same message and then answer follow-up questions where everyone can hear them and be on the same page is no longer an option for remote teams. In this scenario, remote teams can evolve their communication strategy to incorporate more asynchronous communication channels, so that no matter where an employee is located, they can get the information they need, process the answers, think through any additional questions, and leave any feedback that they may have without feeling the pressure or need to speak up in a synchronous meeting.

Communication barriers in remote work

This remote work communication strategy is more inclusive of different learning and communication styles as well as anyone who may not feel as confident speaking or understanding words in your company’s preferred language. With asynchronous communication, remote workers are less distracted increasing the chance of staying productive and focused. Employees put their efforts in the right direction, feeding their engagement and satisfaction levels.

Best practice: Instead of holding a town hall where everyone has to be at the meeting live or can watch a recording, you can have everyone submit questions, ask me anything (AMA) style using a platform like Slid.io. Then the leadership team looks at the questions, adds their thoughts into a working doc, and then when the answers are in a good place, posts them publicly for employees to digest, either in a Slack channel or internal Wiki, questions that need a more personal touch, the CEO or leaders can record a Loom video of their answer followed by their written response.

This is more work than a synchronous meeting but the level of clarity is unmatched. Leaders should also pay attention to listening to their employees. The most ideal way to understand their needs is through pulse surveys. Pain points and data in real-time will help leaders draw a map of problems for remote employees curbing high attrition and disengagement.

Asynchronous communication helps teams prioritize work and block out tasks that require deeper thought however remote work can also feel isolating at times so teams should also invest in synchronous communication when it comes to connecting with teammates. Build a relationship of trust with direct reports, and managers reflecting upon employee sentiments (critical employee feedback, promotions, HR issues, etc).

Best practice: We use a Slack app called Donut that will pair employees together at random so that they can have casual chats with each other every week. Topics range from what they did over the weekend to what their favorite food is and everything in between, this conversation is meant to be a social interaction where actual work is minimally discussed. The goal is to empower employees and build a genuine connection on a human level with your co-workers.

When it comes to communication you can’t make assumptions, tone can be misconstrued, and depending on the other person’s communication style misunderstandings can pop up almost out of nowhere. Start by being more curious,  asking more questions, and be willing to find different ways to communicate information to help build workplace diversity and inclusion, and psychological safety. If you are able to create different communication channels, some for more formal work conversations and also more casual social areas you give the power to your employees to decide how they want to show up. Giving them the flexibility and autonomy to make their own decisions will inspire them to achieve more and be self-fuelled.

Insight #2: Reimagine remote working practices: The key to success

Team norms around the ways of working are not specific to remote teams but shape the way employees interact and behave when working together and define the company’s overall culture. This can be critical for remote teams to document and market internally to avoid any misunderstandings or misalignments. It can also be seen as a tool to help showcase a company’s culture and Employer Brand. Having a strong identity around how you work and being transparent about it will help you to attract the right talent. People who are interested in your way of working and willing to contribute to your mission, vision, and values.

Remote working practices for successful teams

We can set up a space where individuals can work in the way they want as it provides a level of flexibility and creates a healthy work-life balance. Current regulations around how things should move forward are still being designed, the days of working 9 to 5 are over 100 years old and need innovation. The latest trend talks about 4 day workweek with utmost level of work flexibility. Companies can attract new talent by leaning into a more results-based way of working vs. a clock-in clock-out culture.

An easy way to start this process is to have each member of your team write down some norms that they have observed from the team and also other team norms that they would like to work on moving forward. You can take a deliberate approach by focusing on these areas:

  • Communication styles
  • Working styles
  • Decision Making
  • Meeting structure
  • Values

By focusing on these key areas you can start to have an open two-way conversation with the members of your team and highlight some blindspots around alignment.

Insight #3: Building a compensation philosophy that attracts employees

Employee compensation doesn’t have to be tied to the state or country that a person lives in. This way of thinking can help employees to be empowered to be borderless, it also conveys a sense of equity across the entire company, knowing that you are being paid for the work that you are doing and not discounted because you live in a lower-income area. This is a mind shift that some companies are starting to make and in my opinion, will become the norm as companies continue to hire employees from anywhere.

Compensation policy for remote teams

Starting the process on this, especially if you are spread across multiple countries may sound daunting but it can be done. Breaking each step of the process down into phases helped me to prioritize the work that needed to be done and plan for the work that was to come next.

  • Phase 1: Data Gathering- understanding where each team member is relative to their peers, defining the levels of the career ladder, and gathering benchmark data for the various countries you are in.
  • Phase 2:  Alignment- mapping our current levels to external data, documenting anyone who falls outside of the benchmarked levels.
  • Phase 3: Compare options-  define what you can realistically do from a budget perspective for the entire company, scope out a plan for adjustments, and how you will address any urgent gaps.
  • Phase 4: Present Compensation Philosophy, Internal Salary bands and start the process of adjusting salaries based on philosophy and career ladder leveling.  

It’s worth noting that getting your team to a state of equity might not happen overnight. If you are a smaller company with a limited budget, you will need to scope out a plan to get individuals to an equitable state over the next year or years. Being transparent about the entire process will help instill trust in your team and setting expectations for the timing of the adjustments will help managers and HR mitigate any assumptions by an individual.

Conclusion:

As many companies think about making remote work a permanent fixture of their culture they should start to address the most urgent and foundational needs of their employees. Thinking about how to evolve communication to be more inclusive, how to redefine the ways of working and cultural norms, and taking a look at your compensation packages will help employers to build a company that employees want to work at and will scale quicker with fewer headaches. Doing the prep work for this does take time but it will pay big dividends in the long run, and you will thank yourself for putting in the time and effort to get it done early.

The views and opinions shared in this blog are solely those of the original author.