S2E14 – Tactics for Remote Work (Remote Work Series – Part 3 of 3)

Show Notes

 This episode marks the third and final part of a series focusing on remote work, where Andy and Mon-Chaio delve into tactics that you can use when working with remote teams. Specific topics include maintaining company values and culture through computer-mediated interactions, the role of rituals and symbols like custom emojis and the importance of maintaining weak relations for innovation and career development. Additionally, the episode emphasizes transparency, manager roles in fostering connections, and the necessity of in-person interactions for remote teams. The conversation is rich with tactics, including promoting asynchronous communication, ensuring information transparency, and the critical role of trust and weak ties in remote team dynamics.



Mon-Chaio: Andy and I are here for part three of three of our remote working series. If you are like me and often forget what happens the previous week, let alone the previous two weeks, the first part of our remote work series talked about anecdotes, in our remote working journeys, as well as those that we’ve heard from other people, in order to bring out some things that we thought would be interesting to investigate more in depth in the latter two episodes.

The second episode touched on the science of remote work. Given the themes from the first episode that we pulled out, what does the scientific research say about why those themes might be happening around the mechanisms, whether it’s social or biological or something else, and trying to put numbers and evidence to the qualitative behavior that we saw,. And that brings us to this episode.

As we think about tactics, I think we, Andy and I decided that we wanted to think about them in terms of these five attributes. of building strong engineering teams.

Is that, is that a right way to put it?

Andy: Yeah, I think attributes or, or components, these five parts of, of engineering organizations that, that we think are foundational.

Mon-Chaio: Right. And we touched on them in the the end of the season summary last season when we did our five part series on building your engineering organization. And we pulled a lot of these from that, but they’re not exactly a one for one match. First, I think is basic values and culture. The second one is building and sustaining trust. The third one is about structure, which is like roles and tasks and hiring and filling roles, that sort of a thing. The fourth one is about delegation and guidance.

So this is that manager’s job of how do you steer your team. Making sure that they’re performing well, making sure that they don’t drive off the wrong end or into a dead end, that sort of a thing. And then number five is around evolving the organization, which is how do we get better as an organization?

How do we figure out when things aren’t moving? How do we evolve it in a more holistic sense rather than just a specific process which isn’t functioning well? Where do you think we should start? Andy, do you want to just start at the top

Andy: Let’s just start at the top. Values and culture. How does remote working, work from home, telecommuting, hybrid working, time zone, and asynchronous, how does all of that come together and what does it mean for, for maintaining or creating company values and culture?

Mon-Chaio: mhmm,

Andy: and I think right there there, there is some interesting stuff. So let’s, let’s take it from the standpoint of

you’re working and so your interactions are going to be mediated through a computer. I think that’s the first thing to keep in your mind, is that a lot of your interactions are going to be through your monitor, through Teams, or Slack, or Zoom, or something like that. And one of the things we talked about in that episode was about rituals and symbols. And this is a thing that comes up a lot when you think about how do you build culture, is you have these rituals and symbols. Now some of that stuff can exist pretty easily. You’ll have like an employee handbook that that is a symbol.

It has it has the holy text of how that, how shalt thou behave, what, what, what do you need to do to get time off, that kind of stuff. And that is one thing. And so how that is maintained can have a big impact. So I think for most of us, we don’t even think about how it’s maintained or how it gets updated.

But I found a very interesting thing some stuff talking about how GitLab operates. And their employee handbook, and this is why I’m bringing up an employee handbook, is because this was mentioned in that, in this article. What they mention is that the way GitLab maintains it is it’s just an open Git repo.

And it gets modified in the same way that they modify their source code. And so it, right there, they’re also signaling their culture in that this is how we operate. This is what we do. This is how we think about the world. And it’s GitLab. You can imagine the way that they operate. They do a fork and a pull request, a fork, a branch, a commit, and a pull request.

And then they do asynchronous communication around that to, to decide on it. But it’s the selection of doing that for how they maintained their employee handbook. is a cultural symbol.

Mon-Chaio: And, I would say, at least in my opinion, this is to me, a perfect use of Pull Requests.

Andy: Yeah, actually, I was like, oh, this is a great way. I would love to see Congress use this as a way of designing laws where we could do that.

Mon-Chaio: Right. I mean, I think both of us are on record as saying we think pull requests are generally a terrible way of working in terms of software development, but for something like the employee handbook, I think it actually is a great way to work. I like it.

Andy: I really like it. And, and I like that they have said that we agree with this so much that we want it for this as well as for how we do our software development.

Mon-Chaio: Mm

Andy: Now there was another thing that I saw in this, and they mentioned custom emojis as a cultural symbol. That I think it was GitLab, again, they had created in Slack custom emojis for reactions to messages that related to, like, values that the company espoused.

And they made use of that, and those become rituals and symbols to reinforce the culture. I actually think that this is a much more Interesting way of putting those symbols to use because they make them an active thing where you have agency to put that symbol to use versus a, a poster on a wall.

Mon-Chaio: I do agree that there’s something there because it does require active employee engagement. So it’s not just the leader or the CTO or the CEO saying, these are the values that we espouse. These are the values that matter to us. But seeing them in use as reactions to messages can show leadership and not just leadership, but the rest of the team, that these are things we buy into by using these emojis.

These are things we buy into.

Andy: Yeah. When I worked at Tim group, we had a similar thing. I think I’ve brought this up before that we had, we espoused eight behaviors for smarter teams. And we had in, when we use Slack we had custom emojis. You could tag things like, Oh, this is rule one, or this is rule seven. So that not only could people respond saying, I recognize what, what you’re doing, but also you could put the emoji on your own message to tell people, even if I did this clumsily, this is what I’m trying to do.

And it, and it became a very useful thing. And it reinforced that we care about this stuff. And then we moved to Microsoft Teams. And at least at the time, I don’t know if it does now, there weren’t any custom emojis. We couldn’t do that. We lost a cultural symbol. And actually that stuff then fell out of use.

It was, it was really interesting to watch. So as a tactic for remote work, pay attention to how your technology, and even not remote work, even in office, pay attention to how your technology allows you to make those symbols usable so that they’re not just passive, but they’re active things.

Mon-Chaio: I like that tactic. If we go back to sort of the beginning around culture and values, right? The thing we said once was you need to have your basic set of values, the core smallest set of values possible. And that makes up your culture.

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: makes it really easy. And I think if you were to implement the emoji strategy, I think I might have even talked in that culture series way back in season one about the company that I was talking to that had like 15 cultural values, right?

You’re going to be able to see that as you try to create custom emojis for all of those. And maybe it’ll inform you like, good God, this is a lot of work creating custom emojis. Actually, it’s too much work to maintain those values in general. So I think there is that. But I like how you mentioned rituals and symbols. Because I think to echo again how you build culture, rituals and symbols are super important. And oftentimes when we get to remote work, one of the things that employees tend to like is this concept that they end up communicating just what they want to communicate. things that are relevant to their work at the immediate time that they’re relevant to them.

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: And so stuff like the emojis, or what GitLab was trying to do, I think is really important. You have to find ways through the computer, like you were saying, of still maintaining those symbols and the rituals. Now we haven’t talked a lot about rituals here. I wouldn’t say that the GitLab, you know, changing of the handbook is necessarily a ritual.

I think maybe that’s more symbolic. But try to think about the rituals that build on your cultural values. And the tactic is whether the remote version of that ritual focuses on the value the same way that the in person part of that ritual also does. So I will give you an example. A lot of people’s rituals is the daily standup meeting. Now, whether that’s a good ritual or not depends on your values and how your ritual enforces those values, or whether that’s just to use the Scrum term, a ritual that’s not a cultural ritual, right? Which we can differentiate. And for some folks, when they moved remote, they moved to asynchronous Scrum updates. The tactic and the question you should be asking yourself, is not do I continue to have that ritual, or for some people the process, but whether it fulfills the same goal in the same way that connects back to the values that you care about. And if the value that you care about is that people communicate daily, then I think the answer is probably yes. But if the value that you care about is people help each other solve problems in the quickest way, I would say the answer probably, not all the time, but probably is no. The other point I wanted to bring up for culture is this concept of transmitive versus cultural communication. So much of cultural communication can happen serendipitously.

Or even when it is planned, it ends up being tacked onto something else. That’s how cultural communication often works. It’s around the words that you use and the way that you communicate. And often when people have moved to remote in all of its forms, whether it’s hybrid work, whether it’s fully remote, whatever it is, the first thing that gets cut out is cultural communication.

Andy: Yeah, and it gets cut out because, well, it’s hard for us to consider it work. It’s like, I’m gonna cut those down, I’m gonna remove that.

So yeah, I, I think it’s a thing to think about is how can you keep that going using the GitLab as an example. Again, they do several things, even though they’re spread across the entire world and they’re the work from anywhere and whatever time zone, they have various practices to bring people together at certain times within regions.

Where they do have some overlap, they bring them together. And also, they do a yearly bring everyone together to try to create some more of of those interactions, those less planned well, planned but not structured. Like, we are gonna bring people together, but they’re not really structured. They’re not saying, okay, now you’re gonna have a conversation about this.

Mon-Chaio: Right. And I think I want to touch on this real briefly, but I think that this starts to then go into the next part

Andy: Exactly!

Mon-Chaio: about, which is building trust. But yes, it’s that plan, but not structured portion. And I don’t know if you’ve heard it, Andy, I’ve worked at bigger orgs, and maybe this is a bigger org thing or a big tech thing. When we used to gather, gather everyone together. I used to hear from my leadership a lot. Well, what are we going to accomplish? And some of this was finance based, right? Can we accomplish this remotely instead of in person? And so often our in person meetings, as we submitted our plan to be approved by the VP for why we all needed to travel to a certain place, included days packed with meetings, right?

I need to solve this problem. I got to get this problem. And then, oh, you know, at the end of the week, we’re going to have a group dinner and a group social activity. And

Andy: that they don’t really even want to talk to each other, and they’re just ready to go home.

Mon-Chaio: they’re just ready to go home. And even with group social activities, which we’ll touch on in other episodes, I’m sure, how many times have you ever gone to a group social activity where building culture was the intent and the design of that activity? Versus how many group activities you’ve seen, especially as I’ve worked with larger and larger groups, my entire organization of 50, 80 or 100 people, do you get these group activities together where people are just hanging out with their own team?

Andy: Mm

Mon-Chaio: And they’re just doing that thing with their own team. As we get into building trust, I think this intentionality of the design of getting people together. Is really important because if you don’t intentionally design it that way, all you’re going to get is that transmittive communication part.

Andy: Yeah. When I’ve designed, when I’ve brought people together for this stuff, I use, that utilitarian aspect of we’re here to solve this particular problem as a foil, as a way of focusing.

That is actually an aspect of building trust as well. That, cause that managerial structure has to have that trust to allow those things to happen too. And, we were just talking about the purpose behind that work. Organizing those get togethers, organizing that, that activity.

There was an interesting thing that I found about GitLab. And they say, “All remote and asynchronous companies have particularly high costs of information omission. Absence of information needed to perform a task takes more time to be compensated in remote and especially asynchronous organizations. Hence, full transparency of information is a strategy to minimize risks of information omission errors, and their consequent costs.

However, this strategy is viable only when risks and costs of information comission errors are particularly low or absent, i. e. Where making information available to everyone implies low risk or cost, be it competitive or legal, for the organization.” What they’re talking about, to some extent, there’s other aspects to this as well, what they’re talking about though is, can you say things, and do you have enough trust from people, that even if they don’t immediately understand, it’s not catastrophized, it doesn’t cause issues.

Is it, is it safe? Is it psychologically safe, that trust? Is it safe for these highly remote, highly asynchronous organizations to put enough information out there where they don’t suffer from their problems of information omission, that they can make the mistakes of information commission safely?

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: And so that’s really important for building and sustaining trust.

One thing is doing that, doing the information commission is a tactic for building trust. Omission is a tactic for removing trust.

Mon-Chaio: And in our first episode on remote work, we talked about asynchronous communication. And I think I relayed an example of how posts and written information, often allows leaders to do these drive by snipings of comments and suggestions without knowing the full context. But Andy, you’re right. This concept of information commission is super important because I do agree with the authors. Absence of information is almost worse than publishing the wrong information the first time.

Andy: Too much information omission means that the thing that we’ve talked about in the past, the briefing, back briefing starts falling apart.

You don’t know enough about what’s going on, so things kind of, trundle on down the road. And then only very late, after a whole bunch of stuff has been done, possibly damage, who knows, do you start finding out that it’s not going at all the way that you thought it was going, or even what you thought you were trying to do.

So that, that’s why the omission. And, and so that building of trust. Now, I didn’t find many tactics explicitly at building trust, though. Like, one to me is information commission actually does help build trust from a leadership perspective,

Mon-Chaio: Sure. That you’re not hiding anything.

Andy: that you’re not hiding anything and not punishing someone who commissions does an information commissioning act.

So that can help build trust. But I, I, have you found any others? Any other ideas around this?

Mon-Chaio: Not specifically on how to build trust when you’re in a remote organization. The way that I think about it is it comes back to in our trust episode, what we said was the basis of how to build trust. And if you’ll recall, we talked about a couple types of trust, but I’m going to simplify it because it’s not that episode. There’s calculus based trust, which is the concept that you know your partner is doing what they say they’re going to do. And the way that that trust is built is often through things like processes, a history of actually doing the work like having penalties in place. that will punish people for not doing what they’re going to do, what they say they’re going to do, and seeing those penalties actually applied in those situations. But calculus based trust, as we talked about, is never going to be as powerful as identity based trust. And we said, yes, not all teams need identity based trust. You can be a high performing team without it. But you will never be as high performing as a team that has identity based trust. And if you recall from that episode, the way to build that is actually to get to know that person as a person. And that requires, again, a lot of the serendipitous interaction Because a lot of your interactions, especially in a remote world, are going to be these transactional relationships where you’re interacting with a person because they have information or work to deliver to you. And so the tactic here is really to be on the lookout, especially if you’re looking to build relationship based trust, on how you’re going to be able to relate to that person as a person. Not just as a transactional member of your team. I do want to turn to, there’s this one piece of research from Microsoft.

They, they try to use Teams data that they mined as well as surveys in order to figure out how remote work was going. And one of the things that they said in their surveys was that half of employees say the relationships outside of their immediate work group have weakened,

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: and just under half say they feel disconnected from their company as a whole. Now, the disconnected from company as a whole thing I think is important, but I’m not going to focus on it here. That outside of their immediate work group stuff is really, really, really important. And I think at work, in person, a lot of that happens through serendipitous lunch interactions, running into people in the hallway seeing them come out of a meeting room. So as you turn to more remote work, the tactic here is remember that if you’re building relationship based trust, you have to get those types of interactions. And even if they’re not serendipitous, even if you plan it, Understand how that’s working, right? A lot of people plan game night that’s attended by two, six people out of the 50 person organization.

Is that working right? Not just for not just for like the morale of employees, but are you actively, do your employees actively know those in their work group and outside of the work group? Because if they don’t, relationship based trust is going to be very difficult to build.

Andy: Mm hmm. And I think with that, we’ve also now touched on the next point, which is structure, roles and tasks and hiring and kind of like how you, how you have all these things formed. And for that, I actually want to go back to Microsoft. Because Microsoft, yeah, they, they did this research off of Microsoft Teams communication.

So their, their instant messaging system, I hated it so much. But what they did was they, they took, they had information from before the pandemic and during the pandemic, and what they looked at was. The people that were interacting. And were they like a closed group? Or were they interacting more with these boundary cases?

With these weak, these weak relationships? And what they found was that when Microsoft went remote because of the pandemic Their interactions became much more to their tight relations, so their teams, and much less to their weak relations. Except the thing is, and this is, this is the thing that I want to point out, there’s a lot of research that says that those weak relations are incredibly valuable. That’s where new ideas flow through the organization. That’s where you find out that another group can help your team. That’s where you find your mentor who gets you on a, on a different career path and under, that starts explaining to you the way things work in a way that makes sense to you.

It’s those weak interactions, those weak relations that are really important. And I’m, I’m fitting this into this part of roles and tasks and hiring, because in a lot of cases, There are, there are people that sit at these kind of like nodes, these boundaries that span all of this, and help promote those weak relations. And I would say that as you become more remote, a manager’s job needs to be focused more and more on making sure that those weak relations occur. Because they’re not going to happen serendipitously anymore. That means that you’re going to have to focus less on your team is interacting with completely correctly and much more on your team is interacting with others and finding ways to get that to happen.

Mon-Chaio: right, and beyond these I wouldn’t call a foofoo, but beyond the less structured. Idea that that’s where new ideas come from and that’s also backed by research So I hesitate to say that’s not evidence based Backed, but it definitely is a little more difficult to understand in one’s mind, right?

You’re like, okay. Well, but maybe I can generate great ideas in a different way or whatnot

Andy: And, and you absolutely can. But it’s also the researches. Those are the people who are the power brokers. They, they get the promotions. They’re, they’re, they become known for their ideas, even though the ideas aren’t necessarily theirs. But they’re, they’re just the transmitters of it. And so they, they, and you may say that this is terrible.

But I would also say from a personal perspective, you have to be aware that this is what happens. And you do it yourself. Even if you hate it, you look to those people who just seem to know everything and know what’s going on. And you’re like, Oh, they’re great. No, they’re just in, they’ve just made sure that they have those connections and they know what’s going on.

Mon-Chaio: Agreed and you touch exactly on that. There is research that shows these are the people that get promoted These are the people that get noticed and you like you were saying, Andy, that can be bad. And you’re like, well, like I’m going to design a whole process. So that’s not the case. And more power to you if you’re over to overcome that part.

But I’ve worked at many companies, I don’t know, still small sample size, six, eight, maybe, Andy, you’ve worked at about that number in all of those companies, this is how it works. Those are the people to get promoted.

Andy: And there are reasons for that. I’m not going to try to defend it right now, but it also connects to the hiring. Because if you accept that those weak relations are important, and if you accept that this communication commission is important,

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: it starts changing who you should hire.

Mon-Chaio: Interesting. Talk more about that.

Andy: Now, so this is one of the things back to the GitLab discussion. that they pointed out that GitLab tries to hire very specifically to make sure that the people have the skills to not only work asynchronously, that they, they can manage their own time and do all of those things that they don’t need as much like direct involvement.

They don’t need to be surrounded physically by people to do their, their work, but also they know how to communicate in that asynchronous manner in a way that isn’t missing out on information that’s important. And, They are also able to reach out across those weak, those weak networks, those weak relations.

Because when you are asynchronous and you are remote, it is a much bigger skill to be able to have that on your own. Your manager may be six time zones away. And so you can’t rely on them to do it. And so that’s also why I was saying that as a manager, you have to promote that much more among your team is those weak relations, because for them to now get their jobs done, they need to do it much more themselves.

Mon-Chaio: I think that’s a really great tactic is that something that managers have to focus a lot more on.

Andy: And it implies a thing about how, who they’re going to hire. And it brought up a really interesting thought in this paper as well, which was, this implies, and I think this is something that’s true no matter what kind of organization you have, but I think it’s something we don’t always acknowledge.

This implies that the available workers, if you’re willing to do the asynchronous work from anywhere stuff, is not the entire human population suddenly. It is now, yes, you have access to most of the world, anywhere that has an internet connection. But you need people with, say, we’re talking about GitLab. You need people with, they’re trying to hire a software engineer.

They need to have a software engineering background. They need to have access to electricity. They need all of that stuff. They need access to the internet. They need all of those things. But they also need these particular behavioral characteristics.

Mon-Chaio: Right.

Andy: And so it’s not that you suddenly have access to all of the developers in the world. No, you have access to a subset of them. Just like if you’re going to work in the office, you don’t have access to every developer in your town. You have access to the ones that behave in the way that you want for your business.

Mon-Chaio: You’re right, and we can have that conversation around, well, okay, the number of people in your town that can fulfill an in person job versus the subset of the population of the entire world that are able to cross these and maintain these weak boundaries, you know, is one number necessarily higher than the other?

Maybe, maybe not. But I do want to touch on one way that managers often think about this, and whether they think about it explicitly or implicitly, they think, well, I know that in person work, if, if they think about it explicitly, they think, well, I know that in person work relies a lot on these weak boundaries, which research has also shown is very difficult to maintain in an asynchronous manner.

So they fall back on this concept of, well, what if I just get rid of that? And what if I make work more and more and more individualized, right? That, we know, doesn’t work super well in terms of, like we were saying, the great ideas that get generated. And as we move into the fourth part of what we wanted to talk about, delegation and guidance, I think a lot of managers have real trouble When they think, oh, well, I want to move more towards individualized based tasks, which are easier to track, especially in a remote setting. But I can’t. So how do I do it? What’s, what’s some guidance that we can give around remote work and how do we steer the ship? How do we know what’s going on? Is it different than in person work?

Andy: So I’m going to go back to the GitLab article. And one thing that they do is I, I, I love, I loved that they were apparently very explicit about this. They said we are a remote organization. We are not a flat organization.

Mon-Chaio: Aha, I

Andy: made it very clear that they have a hierarchy. And that hierarchy is how work gets distributed.

And at each point along the hierarchy, you get your task, and you break it down into parts for your subordinates, and you pass those along, and you have the expectation that they do the same. So that’s one thing. One is you just admit, yeah, the entire thing we have to do is lean into no interdependent tasks.

Mon-Chaio: huh.

Andy: And that’s the way everyone has to structure the work that they break down. The other thing that they do is everyone has to work in the open. So this is kind of like the the information transparency.

It’s, they, they don’t want people in private DMs sorting out how to do something. If you’re going to have that discussion, you’ll have it in a public Slack channel.

You’ll have it on the pull request. You’ll have it, you will, you’ll have it there. Because. Without that, it’s impossible for the group to help steer.

Mon-Chaio: Right. And this gets back into, I’m a big believer in that, then the question is how do you reduce noise for people that don’t have context? But I don’t think that that noise is a reason to get rid of that transparency. I think the tactic is, Put that transparency in place and then put processes in place to reduce the noise.

Not ignore it, but reduce it.

Andy: Yeah. Things like use threading in, in your chat system. Ask in a particular format in, in a way, or within particular channels. There’s all sorts of things you can do, but I, I agree with you absolutely. It’s like, first you make sure all of the information is available, and then you deal with the problem of how do we make it so it’s usable.

Mon-Chaio: Right. Or even things like a RACI matrix. So if someone comments, you know, Oh, they’re just part of the informed group. We’ll take it under advisement. We don’t have to start a whole long thread about that. Or something around if threads get longer than three, we need to take it to a high synchronous channel. Or whatever the case may be, but that’s not a reason to reduce transparency, right?

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: And the tactic I’ll add on top of that is, your groups are going to be working more and more independently at times, because your uh, synchronicity tends to be lower in remote work.

Regardless, even if you’re of the group that says, Hey, we’re going to be on. Teams , 8 hours a day on video all turned on. It’s still lower synchronicity than if you were in person.

Andy: Yep.

Mon-Chaio: And with lower synchronicity means more independence. And so that means that it’s even more important to structure your groups such that they can run independently. Such that they have authority, autonomy, and accountability for the things that they can control. And you really using back briefing as a tactic to figure out not Are they doing the right thing? But why are they doing what they’re doing?

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: Because if you don’t do that, and you still use delegation and your time steering to say, Oh, well, you shouldn’t be doing that.

Do this. I think of a different idea for here. You’re going to find that as your synchronicity gets low, those tactics are going to become less and less impactful.

Andy: Because if, if it’s all async and you’re not asking for what’s going on, you’re going to have a harder and harder time just observing what’s going on. Absolutely. Which gets us to our last discussion point, which is evolving the organization. And in some ways, I’m going to start this one out by saying I don’t think it really changes that much.

I might be wrong.

Mon Chaio might have lost his connection because his laptop died.

Mon-Chaio: Okay. I was able to find another machine.

Andy: Don’t drop again or else it’s going to be really hard for me to stitch this all together.

Mon-Chaio: This one has a lot of battery. I just need to make sure it sounds like I’m coming through on the mic.

Andy: Yep. Yeah, you sound the same.

Mon-Chaio: Okay, great. Okay. So you were just saying you don’t think it matters. Mm hmm. Mm

Andy: all right. Trying to remember where we were. So I think this, that we can now move on to the, the final stage that we have here, the final component, which is evolving the org. And I’m going to say, I don’t think remote matters too much if you’re doing some of these other things we’ve talked about for sensing

Mon-Chaio: hmm. Mm

Andy: not too much for changing things.

If you’re not doing these things, I think evolving the org will be nearly impossible, though.

Mon-Chaio: hmm.

Andy: But what do you think? How do you see it?

Mon-Chaio: To me, a big part of evolving the org, so as a leader, there are two parts, right? There’s the sensing part of it,

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: and then there’s the actioning part of it

I do think that we just talked about the sensing part of it in the briefing, back briefing. I think the sensing part of it is going to be a little bit lower in a remote organization.

It’s just going to be more difficult

Just that feeling, right? Like there was an article that I researched for episode two of this series that we didn’t get into. But it’s one of my favorite things to talk about, which is And to give you guys, to give all of you listeners a peek into behind the curtain, my laptop died.

And so now I’m using another laptop that doesn’t have all of my links. And so I can’t state any numbers or look into it. And I can’t even say the name of this article because I don’t have it in front of me, but we’ll link it in the notes. It’s one about how humans have more communication mechanisms than just speech or body language.

We talk a lot about body language and what’s left unsaid in remote work, but there are a number of scientific studies that have shown there’s pheromonal communication that humans do as well. And so this particular one touched on stress response, and they had people in different rooms. One person having a stressful event, I believe it was watching something like a scary movie, and swabbing that person’s sweat and then going into a completely different room and applying that sweat on another person to see if they had higher stress response.

And I can’t remember how they measured stress response. It may have been some scientific measure or may have not been. But this has been replicated in a number of different studies that human sweat conveys information. And so I think it is necessarily more difficult for a leader, even if you don’t know it, to sense in a remote setting,

Andy: The stress responses people are having, the, the way that they’re actually receiving what’s going on is you don’t quite get the same, the same information.

Mon-Chaio: right. And so maybe it’s micro interactions that don’t come through, maybe it’s pheromonal responses, and then there’s certainly the easier to understand thing of there’s simply fewer channels for you to engage with these folks on. All of that means that sensing is going to be affected.

Andy: Right. Yeah. Which, which would say that, that the, the tactic that you could use is you should be doing this anyway, there should be regular in person get togethers of people, even like GitLab that is the example that we have the little bit of articles about. They talk about that they bring everyone together on a regular basis.

Using those as opportunities to talk about these possibly stressful ideas might be a good time.

Mon-Chaio: And then the affecting part, I’m not sure that for a leader it necessarily changes how they can affect in terms of their ability to do the affecting the tactics that they can use.

But so much of evolving an organization doesn’t come from just the leader. It comes from everybody in their organization, which is something we talk about a lot. And then going back to the Microsoft Teams survey, they found a correlation between being remote and people feeling like they were learning and developing less. And I think it’s really important to pair that with some of the student studies and to understand that with the asynchronous nature of remote work, it can be more difficult for people to develop a learning mindset. And having a learning mindset is so important to being able to effectively evolve your organization. The tactic that I would give here is, one, to understand that, and two, to figure out, A, are you able to continue to have a strong of a learning mindset in, in asynchronous work, or, B, even though you are remote, maybe across time zones, Maybe just telecommuting. How do you bring more synchronicity into the way that you work to have a higher chance of developing a learning mindset within your organization?

Andy: Yeah. Now, the one about GitLab, it did leave it as an interesting open question about whether GitLab’s approaches, because those haven’t been extensively studied. And so they have, they have a question in there about does what GitLab does mitigate or remove the problem that they found in other remote organizations of professional isolation of remote workers. And that professional isolation leads to that lack of learning, that belief that the only way to learn is to move on and those kinds of things.

And maybe their tactics do mitigate this problem. But if they don’t, the, the mitigation on the, on the, whether or not theirs mitigate is to bring people together, is to bring, to break down those isolation walls, bring people together, have those discussions, create those relationships, and use that as a mechanism for organizational change and evolution.

Mon-Chaio: And I would also say that it’s not so much in my mind of whether the GitLab tactics overcome the other remote org tactics. Unless you believe that your competitors are all going to be similar to you in terms of remoteness

Andy: kind of. get better at it compared to other remote companies. You have to be better than a company that decides we’re not going to be remote. We’re going to be all in Toronto and that there’s an advantage to being all in Toronto that GitLab just can’t do because they’re in all around the world.


Mon-Chaio: that’s right and those questions like Andy said even compared to Compared to in all in person groups have just not been studied

right, I think a big one was Atlassian did this thousand days of remote work study and they published it. We will link it. You can also find it on their website. And they talk about, for example, how often you need to get together in order for employees to feel the same level of connectedness, which I think is an interesting study, and they had really good data about that, and I believe their number was something around you know, connectedness was higher, like right when you got together and it falls a little bit for three months.

And then the big jump is from month three to four or something. And so then they say, okay, well, you know, get people together every quarter or whatnot, which makes a lot of sense. And Andy, you were saying that you independently arrived at that without data. And

Andy: That I give people, is if you’re going to be remote, try to bring people together about three to four times a year. Minimum is two, but really you want to try for three, and if you can, four.

Mon-Chaio: I think that’s really good advice Backed by at least one data point from Alassian. But note that they didn’t compare it to what is the feeling of togetherness from people that are all in office all the time. So they don’t have a ceiling for that.

Andy: Or, for all we know, the togetherness feeling of people all in office all the time is pretty terrible because they’re like, I want to get away from these people.

Mon-Chaio: That’s right, that’s right. Or it’s equal to what they found when people got together on an interim basis and so you don’t worry about it,

Andy: Yeah.

Andy: All right. I think at this point. We can start wrapping up. We’ve gone through our five points, the values and culture, sustaining trust, structures, which is roles and tasks and hiring, delegation, guidance and steering, and then evolving the organization and, which basically I think we mostly view as learning, being a learning organization that not only people learn new things, but also the organization learns how to structure itself differently, how to operate differently. We’ve gone through a lot of tactics. I don’t know if I can even remember every single one of them to to try to say them here, but we we definitely went over briefing and backbriefing again, saying that that was really important and how much more important it is when things are asynchronous.

We also talked about symbols and using your technology to help you produce those symbols and propagate those symbols through the group.

Mon-Chaio: hmm.

Andy: What else have we gone over, Mon-Chaio?

Mon-Chaio: How you can build trust and the importance of connecting people not just to the work, but to each other.

If you want to be able to build relationship based trust, the highest level of trust.

Andy: Yep. You want to pay attention a lot more to the weak relations that people have. Promote having those weak relations.

Mon-Chaio: hmm. Exactly. And then maybe just beyond symbols, also the rituals and being very cognizant for what do you lose when your rituals switch because they’re now maybe more asynchronous or maybe they happen in a different medium that has less synchronicity. Wait, that is also asynchronous, the synchronicity part. But whatever it is, as you switch your rituals, how they change, and whether they still fully commit the values that the rituals are supposed to communicate on a cultural basis. This was a all tactics episode, essentially. But I think we can probably leave listeners there and probably tell them that there is a lot more to this.

There’s a lot more research we did. There’s a lot more tactics, and certainly a lot of tactics are going to be organizational specific. And It’ll be very difficult to summarize general tactics for your particular organization that are having trouble. If you happen to be in an organization that would like help with all of that, both Andy and I do that and we are happy to help. So drop us a note. Let us know how we can help you. You can hit us up at hosts at thettlpodcast. com.

And even if you don’t need help, I mean everybody needs help in some way, but you just like what you’ve heard, enjoy the episodes, we would love it if you could give us a like and a subscribe on your favorite podcatching platform. We’ve really enjoyed talking about remote work for three episodes. We could talk about it more, but I think next time it will be time to move on to a different topic. So until then be kind and stay curious.


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