The remote work model is becoming the new standard, thanks to COVID-19. Virtasant's Head of Talent and Community, Roman Urbanovski, shares insights on how to manage remote teams when everyone is out of the office.
The work paradigm has slowly been changing right before our eyes. The old standard of being expected in the office has slowly been shifting towards Slack and Zoom calls. In the past decade, this has been common at tech companies and start-ups, but COVID-19 has brought remote work to the traditional forefront. A Gallup News survey found that 62% of working adults made the switch to remote work out of their concerns about COVID-19. Can we face the undeniable truth that people don’t need to be in a shared office space to succeed? Working in a distributed model may push businesses to thrive and help employees be healthier, happier, and more productive.
The positive impact of remote work isn’t news for me. I have worked remotely with and for teams over the past ten years. Initially, I worked in a flexible hybrid model -- part home, part office. Then, a decade ago, I made the switch to fully remote and never looked back. Along the way, I have learned three undeniable lessons about this work model.
Lesson #1: Embrace The Nothingness
Dr. Barbara Oakley wrote Learning How To Learn, which teaches kids and teens how to master difficult subjects in school. In her book, she talks about the ‘diffuse mode.’ The diffuse mode is your brain’s relaxed state, while the focused mode is your brain paying attention.
“Diffuse mode is when your mind is relaxed and free.”
explains Dr. Oaklaey
“You’re thinking about nothing in particular. You’re in diffuse mode when you’re daydreaming or doodling just for fun.”
While we need both modes to learn, it’s during the diffuse mode that creativity generally comes into play. So, when people are working continuously for too long, their energy is quickly depleted, and they are unable to process thoughts effectively. The brain needs to pause and rest when it’s tired to combat burnout and creative block. That pause allows us to shift from our focused mode to the diffuse mode so that we can continue the learning process.
In turn, the brain can connect nodes in the background. Even when we take breaks in an office, we do so within the office cosmos. Working from home, you can sweep your front porch, or play with your dog and let the synapses fire off in the background. Many creatives get their best ideas when unfocused - working on a hobby or even sleeping. During these times, it is not uncommon for those eureka moments to happen as we jump back into focused mode. We can return to a problem, refreshed, and full of ideas.
From my experience, this spurt of creative energy rarely happens in environments where there are limitations and boxes for people to fit. Make time for your brain to relax throughout your workday, the downtime will reward you.
Lesson #2: Communicate Responsively
The last few years have revealed that a new culture is evolving—a culture where opportunities, cross-cultural cooperation, and understanding of multiple mindsets and work styles thrive. New practices developed, and people simply started to create the kinds of workplaces that they liked. This evolution brought the office dog, the open floor plan, the beer-packed common fridge, and the ping pong table into the office forefront.
But we still clung mercilessly to the calendar and took the access that the office afforded us for granted. Remote work, especially on a global team, means working across time zones, family environments, dinner plans, and sleep schedules. Here, time is a precious commodity. If you miss an opportunity to engage with a college about a problem, you may have to wait a while before they are available again.
The mindset then shifts from: let’s schedule something for next week.
To: let’s get this done here and now.
This kind of responsive communication is the secret sauce for keeping teams connected. Encourage openness and a mutual sense of understanding. It makes working over miles, and time zones feel less restrictive. Suddenly, your remote team is sitting right next to you! Everyone wants to achieve the same goals on a team. Whether conversations are scheduled or impromptu, they are the pivotal material that solutions are born from.
Lesson #3: People Need People
One of the problems with working alone in your space is that there is not much physical socialization. In an office space, we get to shoot the breeze with other people and exchange energy. To compensate for the difference, you need to build a local community around you.
As soon as I started working remotely, I connected with other remote workers and began to join them on other small projects. Eventually, we met spontaneously to share stories about our family, our work, and our thoughts on life.
Once on a remote conference call, I met a woman named Anna Chiara Bellini, a product manager at Google. Her approachable energy inspired me to extend an invitation to a conference happening in my town of Zagreb. Not only did she attend, but she got to know the people in my community. It was similar to her hometown, Bologna - full of people who are open and kind. Eventually, I made my way to Bologna to visit where I met my next boss.
This one exchange led to more opportunities to share our communities, and exchange conversation about our collective culture. Unexpected connections like this are magic and just as important as the connections you make in an office. This community of friends I met through remote work continues to evolve. We get to work and travel together and share how our cultures feel and think—all of this born from one Zoom call.
When you have a virtual meeting, understand that it’s a window into another person’s world. We are all inviting each other into our homes. Create meaningful connections that evolve into collaboration and even friendship. We are a global community.
Out of Office: A New Way of Life
When people ask if I would go back to working in an office, my answer is always, “absolutely not.” In a remote environment, you can be attentive to people and focus on the tasks in play—the team’s interpersonal dynamic changes in a way that I think breeds innovation and ideas.
You are enriched in the remote environment because you can focus on people and learn about who they are rather than what they do. The remote environment can also be highly efficient. Our minds get the clarity to solve problems better when left to its own devices. Remove the pressure, trust the talent around you, and watch how things grow.