Transitioning from a single office to a global and remote team environment
FFW has experienced many phases of evolution, growth, and learning while expanding into a full global agency with offices and remote workers across the Americas, Europe, and Southeast Asia. The company originally found roots in a small, local office environment, then rapidly expanded.
Learning to adapt to a not only remote, but global work environment, brought many new challenges. It has also provided a wealth of experiences and opportunities. It’s taken years of work building, but our team is now stronger than ever.
Here are some of the key things we’ve learned about making this work setting an opportunity, rather than a challenge.
Leading a remote team requires adjusting many core facets of your business
An in-office environment provides the luxury to peer over desks at what the team is all working on, call a group together to collectively solve a problem on the spot, and share ad hoc ideas as they come to mind. With a remote setting, this dynamic changes; and your leadership approach has to change with it.
Tip #1: Still work on building relationships. Relationships can suffer if they are not effectively nurtured and taken care of. In-person happy hours and lunch meetings at a moment’s notice are no longer an option. It takes a proactive approach and constant upkeep in order to keep people engaged and performing their very best. And if you’re in a leadership role, it also requires frequent travel to build those connections and unify the team. Since business travel is no longer an option with the recent pandemic, other methods of communication are needed -- like virtual communication tools.
Tip #2: Use virtual tools to stay connected. Communication tools are a necessity to bridge the gap in a remote setting. FFW relies on Slack, Zoom, and others to keep the team connected. These tools help us work in concert with one another.
Trust is vital to making a remote team work
Trust is crucial for all relationships, but it can be challenging to build a team that trusts its leadership (and one another) when daily, in-person interactions aren’t available; especially when that team is rich with diverse languages, cultures, and locations around the world.
However, building this trust is one of the most important things you can do to establish a positive company culture. If employees don’t feel a sense of trust with the team, they start to pull for the individual side. People need to know they are in a safe space to share ideas, identify strengths and weaknesses, and ask for help.
Tip #3: Focus on the team more than individual successes. One way to accomplish this is to have everything centered around team activities, rather than focusing on individual accomplishments. Give shout outs around projects, team collaborations, and client success stories.
Tip #4: Have a place to feature big wins. FFW has a channel in Slack where everyone can share big wins and achievements. These are focused on projects that require multiple people throughout the company, instead of one individual or department.
It’s human nature to trust people you identify with and who are similar to you, and it’s natural to feel wary of those who differ. With a global company, it’s necessary to break down any barriers put up due to differences.
FFW’s core values transcend past these disparities and have allowed a foundation for our global teams to stay united. Common values and how we define ourselves is the glue that bonds us together. Having a clear set of values that are believed in and acted upon helps people find a commonality that increases trust.
Tip #5: Let people know it’s ok to make mistakes. Messaging also greatly impacts trust. Repeatedly sending the message that the environment is open for trust and mistakes can help foster a culture of honesty. We are human beings and mistakes are going to happen. People need to be able to come forward with their mistakes to reach a resolution, otherwise deception creeps in and the culture of trust starts to deteriorate.
Holding a remote team accountable, despite being countries apart
How can you hold an entire organization accountable when you no longer have the ability to see what they’re working on in-person?
Tip #6: Have individual goals come from the top. One of the best ways is by helping employees create individual goals that originate from corporate goals. This begins by defining the metrics used to measure corporate growth and financial goals, and breaking these down so each person in the organization has goals that originate from the overarching objectives of the company. These are segmented by sales and marketing, customer satisfaction, operations, delivery and efficiency, and workplace and employee satisfaction.
When goals are funneled down from the overall direction of the organization, it helps provide employees a north star to direct their own efforts and better prioritize.
Tip #7: Create a regular rhythm of meetings. Another important way to hold people accountable is to establish regular and predictable communication and meeting cadences. Including:
- Weekly 1:1 with manager to discuss personal accomplishments and challenges
- Monthly meetings with teams regarding team goals and idea sharing for successes and failures
- Quarterly all hands meetings to share top level business progress, along with wins/losses, focus areas and initiatives, and cross team information sharing
Regular meetings help build relationships and keep everyone informed of progress.
Remote work is not for everyone
This is one of the most difficult things we’ve had to learn while adapting to a remote environment. Not everyone is a fit for remote work and not everyone enjoys it.
Learning this has prompted us to modify hiring practices and the characteristics we look for in applicants. Any candidate who will work remotely has to be a self starter, proactive, able to reach out when they need help, and has to provide indicators of shared values.
Tip #8: Watch out for people not adapting well. If your company has been unexpectedly thrust into a remote work environment, it’s important to look out for formally good employees who may be struggling with the change. Frequent check-ins, continued personal development work, and offering buddy systems can help them adjust. Try pairing an employee who is having a difficult time with one who is thriving in the new setting.
Look out for your team’s health and wellbeing
Tip #9: Encourage healthy breaks. Encouraging breaks might feel counterproductive, but it actually helps create a healthier work environment.
Many remote employees are glued to their screens throughout the workday, extending into their evenings. Providing the opportunity to get some fresh air, take a walk, or do a workout allows a much needed break.
Tip #10: Advise managers to also look out for their team’s health. Encouraging managers to look out for their team’s mental health is also important. Many employees work long hours in a remote setting, and burnout can jeopardize their health, relationships, and quality of work.
Always be open and transparent -- even when it’s not good news
At the time of writing this, the world is experiencing a global pandemic that is impacting nearly every individual in the world. Many are scared for their livelihood, futures, and families. In times like these, it’s tempting to try and paint a happy picture that everything is normal.
No matter how difficult, acknowledging the problem and speaking truthfully about it is the best way to rekindle your team’s trust.
People become the most nervous when they don’t understand what’s going on. In a remote environment, they will feel further isolated and fill in the vacuum with worst case scenarios.
Addressing the problem, then showing the path forward, will help employees feel safe when they need it most.
FFW is here to help you navigate any uncertain territory
FFW was built to exist and thrive in a remote, global environment. The ability to coexist and function as one core team across cultural differences and millions of miles is part of our company’s core DNA. If you find yourself needing help adapting to a remote or digital environment, give us a call. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
Insights from Nancy Stango
Nancy is FFW’s Americas CEO and Global COO. She specializes in helping global teams collaborate seamlessly to perform at their highest capabilities, despite distance or cultural differences. She has effectively led her team through a full transformation into a global agency, which began with humble roots in a small, in person office at her previous company, Blink Reaction. That company eventually evolved into FFW as it exists today. She has won several national fastest growing business awards that reflect her adaptability in a changing work climate, including INC 5000.