Remote Work
5 min read
August 3, 2020

How to Build a System Around People


Roman Urbanovski

Often, the question team managers ask is how should they fit people into a workable system. I think a much better question is, how do you build a system around people?

We all have quirks and individualities yearning for expression, and we all want to imagine the future of our work. These are the things that make-up and feed our ideas and support creativity. When bottled up or boxed in, it can cause frustration and drain energy that would otherwise stimulate productivity. Shifting our focus from a rigorous fixed system to the people and ideas that make up a team, will bring companies - large and small - into the next wave of innovation. It’s time for a mental reset.

People vs. Systems

Self-expression allows team members to feel empowered as individuals. They get to work on developing and adding their special sauce to the collective work instead of feeling like faceless cogs in a machine. Allowing for individual style produces satisfied and productive people in the long run and maximizes retention, which ultimately aids in more consistent growth. Mercer, the human resources consulting firm, conducted a study about talent trends. In their 2020 report, Win With Empathy, they found that two-thirds of the employees polled felt that flexible work was a crucial element.

In 2011, I led a team of new hires at a global remote company and chose to embrace the humanistic approach. Instead of locking talent into predetermined boxes, I started by seeking to understand the people and their natural skill sets. Once I had a clear view of everyone’s strengths, I put teams together based on what I learned. Systems are still incredibly valuable for the benefit of collaboration and knowledge sharing. For example, weekly team meetings are a terrific environment for people to share their discoveries with the whole team and kick-off new ideas. But in between scheduled meetings, there is magic happening on its own time.

Often, the first essential spark happens between two people who have a rapport, and usually days before a scheduled meeting. New ideas are often formulated from an organic exchange and then shared, thereby enriching the whole team. A system that supports these types of “meetings” allows team members to benefit and learn from one another. People and their ideas make a system work, not the other way around.

How Diversity Strengthens Teams

When it comes to building a strong and cohesive remote team, diversity and communication are key. Companies that work remotely can hire employees from all around the world - making for an inclusive work environment. This gives people an opportunity to be in a community with people from different backgrounds. Diversity not only benefits the employees but the company as a whole. According to Clutch, 23% of people agree that the main benefit of diversity within the workplace is improved employee engagement and satisfaction. At the same time, experts claim a diverse team can be “exciting and stimulating for employees.” Happy team = happy company.

Remote workspaces are also able to create and maintain open lines of communication with ease. With so many forms of communication - email, text, video chat - hiring, team building, and maintaining a positive work environment is done effectively, and remotely.

You can be more inclusive and exclusive in remote environments simply because there is a broader pool of talent to choose from. Barriers that may exist because of access or location dissipate when talent can access work where they live. The ability to work where you live reduces problems like Brain Drain, where talent all flocks to the few cities that provide access to their industry of choice, often starving cities of local revenue as new graduates leave to find work.

“Companies that work remotely can hire employees from all around the world - making for an inclusive work environment. ”

3 Key Takeaways For Managing Diverse Remote Teams

Encourage Small Teams With Core Mentorship

I like creating teams with a reliable and experienced core. Allowing a small group to work together within a vibrant and goal-oriented environment creates a spur of creative ideas to be distilled into best practices. Discussing those best practices facilitates a solid knowledge base and stimulates better articulation. New hires can connect with senior talent for mentorship, which speeds up the acclimation between onboarding and productivity.

However, the mentors must be students as well. Instead of requiring new hires to adapt to their “tried and true” methods of work, senior team members should study each person’s strengths. I’ve watched as new hires, bursting with loonshot ideas, were supported instead of dismissed. Seniors, embracing new and out-of-the-box ideas, then implement them and change the system for the better and at a rapid pace.

Embrace Conflicts In Approach

Conversely, sometimes teammates don’t mesh when working together. In those cases, they need the opportunity to understand each other. Encourage team members to schedule one-on-one video calls when new people join. These check-ins can be casual and open-ended, with no professional goal in mind, but rather for two people to familiarize themselves with each other personally. In my experience, this results in the pairs realizing the other is doing an excellent job despite having a radically different approach.

Let Failure Happen

Although easier said than done, it’s crucial to allow failure to happen. Failure is an incredible learning tool, and attempting to avoid it can be counter-productive in the long run. When we remove the fear of failure, people are less afraid of messing up or losing their job and more likely to experiment. Leadership can help guide teammates through learning from their mistakes instead of scolding them when things go awry. Trust the talent you have hired, and support the cycle of falling and getting back up.


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