7 min read
The remote working strategy no one's talking about
April 20, 2020
We've seen the internet flooded lately with remote working articles and tips. We've read some good ones, especially from organizations similar to ours, where employees worked remotely for years. They provide solid advice, including the integration of video meetings, social chat rooms, and more into their daily working life. We agree it's important to have the right tools and wow, could we ever delve into the various ways they help us. But you've probably seen it all before. :)
As we sorted through dozens of remote working articles, we didn't see the one strategy that helped us the most while working remotely these last few years.
All those important new tools and tactics mentioned in other articles make a difference to your environment, but we promise you: they'll all fall flat, especially while working remotely, unless you're also developing an active, employee-led culture of listening within your organization.
Spread throughout five different continents, working from our homes, OnceHub employees still enjoy a strong connection together.
This article takes you through the process of implementing a culture of listening within your own organization.
One: Listen to everyone, even if it's their first day
Our CEO, Rami, speaks often on the philosophy of servant leadership. This concept prioritizes the wellbeing and professional growth of employees above power and materialism. It requires placing employee needs and perspectives at the forefront of one's attention.
But how do you know what your employees need and want? You can assume lots of things about them but at the end of the day, they often surprise you by wanting or needing something entirely different. Often, it's something you'd never guess. Give them a chance to voice their concerns and hopes, honestly and openly, and you'll really understand what they want.
At OnceHub, everyone has an open invitation to speak with the CEO, the Director of HR, or anyone else. Any team member of any rank or experience can speak up, provide feedback, and question why things are a certain way.
Employees encourage others to come up with new ideas and suggestions; to raise tough issues with the relevant people. We never fault the action of speaking up, so long as all remain professional in their conduct. Especially in a remote environment, you must ensure no one is above receiving feedback from anyone, whether under or over them.
You cannot understand employee needs and viewpoints unless you check your preconceptions, hear the other person out, reflect honestly, and most importantly: be willing to take different actions than before.
Two: People engage when you invite them
Sometimes, they still don't cross through that open door. It can be awkward for employees to make that first step.
It's kind of like Twitter. You can @ anyone in the entire world, but you may still hesitate to reach out. You're blocked by that invisible boundary of etiquette and convention.
There's a remedy for this awkwardness: invite others to engage.
You've opened the door and called their name (metaphorically speaking), and they can walk through the door that much easier. You must provide constant opportunities for engagement among the ranks and with fellow peers.
At OnceHub, we try to create the right environments to enable this, including:
- Specific chat rooms for groups and socializing
- Meetings that encourage communication and transparency
- Informal get-togethers with the CEO
- Quarterly and annual meetings with all employees
- Biannual company retreats in person, with the whole team
As you develop that mutual respect and connection, employees will start to feel more comfortable crossing that bridge.
Three: Build a strong foundation for remote workers
Opening that virtual door and inviting someone inside are both key actions. However, the most significant work happens after they cross the threshold.
Unlike in an office environment, remote working employees have less to fall back on when there's no meaningful connection. When your fellow employees live on the other side of the globe, you can't go out together after work for a meal or drink.
In a remote environment, the connections must be genuine. Otherwise, you've built an organization on top of a cracked foundation that can shift everything without warning.
Jessica, our Director of HR, emphasizes active listening as a key element of successful connection while remote working. "Oftentimes," she says, "it's like an iceberg: What you hear them say is just up here, above the water. It's everything underneath you need to get to."
How do you dive down and reach sight of the hidden iceberg beneath? It's impossible without building trust.
You should take an interest in each employee, no matter where you or they stand on the corporate ladder. As you listen to them, you should try to pick up body language cues and facial expressions. Use all your intuition to sense their moods and what they're not saying.
Ask clarifying questions to understand what they're truly talking about and feeling. Make sure you've understood them by reviewing what they say and asking them for confirmation. You can lead the discussion by framing it with your questions, but it's vital when trying to understand another's perspective that you let them speak more than you do. You're learning from them and their perspective should take center stage.
It all seems simple but people rarely make the effort, preferring a surface-level interaction with their own ego at the helm. This lack of connection weakens your entire organization, causing misunderstandings and retention issues. In a remote working environment, this is doubly true.
Four: Talk less and listen more
The antidote: taking a genuine interest in what others have to say. Your fellow employees can usually sense when another person doesn't invest in them. This has an exponentially negative effect on the way they interact with you and others throughout the company. If you don't care about them, why should they expend the effort to care about you and others? They're here to do their job and they'll do it…until they don't.
Maybe they'll leave. Maybe they'll never reach their true potential. Maybe their heart just won't be in it and they'll stop being as effective. This influences everyone in their sphere. The foundation has many weak points and the company can shift unexpectedly and suddenly. This results in more dissatisfied employees and customers.
The opposite is also true: When someone actually cares about listening and learning from others, this can spread from one person to another. Everyone starts to understand that their perspective has value here and that others want their opinion.
They'll start considering their opinion more. They'll begin to speak up. They'll demonstrate their worth to themselves and others around them. They will be able to influence change and develop professionally. The employees all reinforce each other, providing the company with a stable foundation and the means to build itself higher.
This has to start at the executive and director level and become a culture of listening, totally ingrained within your organization. It's up to each individual employee to recognize the worthiness of fellow employees. They should invest their time and focus on listening to others.
Take the time and effort. Usually they'll pay you back multiple times over as they all invest in you, too.
- Keep the door open and listen to everyone, even if it's their first day.
- Create opportunities to invite your employees inside.
- Build a strong foundation with genuine connections.
- Talk less while listening more.
- Watch the culture of listening spread.
You can have the best tools and home office setup in the world, but unless you prioritize a culture of listening as you develop your remote working strategy, those tools won't sustain themselves. Your fellow employees will feel unfulfilled and may not even realize why. Team effectiveness and retention will suffer. You can prevent all of it.
Your employees need to understand the channels open to them and must be given the ability to speak in their own voices, confident that others will hear them. When you open your door and invite someone in, through your new video meeting software and your virtual chat rooms, don't give them cause to regret crossing the threshold.
Care about what they say, learn from them, and grow with them.