A few weeks ago I attended Adobe Max. It was the refreshing push that I needed as a creative. There were so many takeaways from all the talks, but one has stuck with me the most.
Patrick Holly’s session on remote work, aptly titled “This Is How We Work Now: Establishing a Remote Work Culture,” has been on repeat in my head for the last few weeks. Not only because he’s a seasoned designer and leader (he’s currently an Executive Creative Director at Upwork and comes from the likes of Harley Davidson, agencies like AKQA and R/GA, and not to mention is Stephen Curry’s creative director), but also due to his passion and advocacy for remote work.
It was the session I was looking forward to the most. Anyone working now in the prolonged Covid-pandemic has been searching for that next edge. With nearly 1 in 4 HR leaders expecting over 90% of their workforce to be remote into 2023, it’s no secret that companies are searching for the best solution to get and retain top talent. Even here at Sift, over 80% of my team members work remotely or live outside of Michigan. We have the office space if we need to huddle up in person or for whole company events, but we mostly work virtually. I wanted to bring back something to my team that could keep us engaged while being so far apart.
Connect as people
Sitting in my seat and waiting for the session to begin, Patrick starts to ask the room questions, although a bit awkwardly. “How was your weekend? Did you do something fun?”
Something to break the metaphorical ice and get the audience warmed up for a dialogue, rather than a one-sided talk. All it took was one person to answer candidly, “It was fine, nice actually, thanks for asking,” for others to start joining in.
It was the first concept of many: begin every meeting with something not work-related. Patrick brought this routine to Upwork’s Monday Sync; for the first 15 minutes people give each other praise and recognition. He suggests starting any meeting with something completely irrelevant, like a snack review from a local grocery store or posting a picture of the inside of the fridge while folks guess who it belongs to. Anything simple and quick that allows you to connect with your colleagues on a deeper level.
We already do this at Sift. The whole company meets every Monday to go over the previous week’s work and the current week’s intentions. We always kick off with 15 minutes of Best & Thanks with three prompts: let us know a personal best from the weekend, give a business thanks to someone in the company for helping out with a task, and a completely random question that allows our team members to share a little bit of themselves they might not otherwise do. Rather than everyone silently waiting for it to start, we can begin on a collective note of positivity, and the feel good “thanks for asking.”
Work is not daycare
As we all navigate this space, fear of the unknown can soil a remote work culture. Patrick leans into the notion that managers don’t trust their people unless they have "butts in seats." They are so focused on the input rather than the output that it can ruin teams and talent. He describes instances of lack of accountability and connection with team members (both in-house and freelance) when he first took on his current role. A new study by Airspeed finds 75% of executives surveyed believe their employees would give up a lot to work for another company where they’d feel more connected.
But we can build connections virtually and in-person. Patrick’s team meets up at least quarterly, whether it’s the whole team or as leadership, to get in that face-to-face time. Work isn’t talked about at all. They book retreats and outdoor activities to connect with each other offline and out from behind a screen. They find a food truck and eat too many hot dogs while giggling with each other.
Because of this intentional connection, empathy for each other can start to grow and you see a coworker as a person, not just Janet from Accounting. When it comes time to have serious conversations and tough talks with someone, it doesn’t feel like you’re talking to them for the first time. You’ve been building that vulnerability and trust, person-to-person.