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Making Your Remote Team Feel Part of the Company

Remote
Salary / Work Conditions
Team reaction

15 August, 2019

Javier Lopez, director of engineering at Patreon, talks about how to create a sense of company-wide belonging in remote teams.

Problem

We opened a new office in Dublin, Ireland to expand our payments team at Patreon. When we started the remote team, we basically had them maintain the systems that we had at the moment with the idea that they could be on distinct schedules and help us while we were sleeping. In doing this, we quickly encountered the problem of teams not feeling as if they belonged to the company. Their complaints arose from the fact that they were only being giving projects B and C so to speak, rather than a more desirable project A. Unfortunately, this was true. I couldn't pretend that they were receiving projects of high importance. The reality was that the main office was participating in the main project and had the remote team do other things during the down time.

Actions taken

The first thing I did was seek out advice from CTOs and directors of other companies in Dublin. Their advice was presented to me in a two-fold fashion around how to motivate the remote team.

  • Make your team understand the importance of what they are doing.
  • The only way we found to ensure our remote team understood this was to share the stories of what they had actually created through their work. We went directly to the source, which in this case were our creators, or the team's clients. We told them that every first day of the month, the operation is to pay. We have a certain amount of accounts and we generate a certain amount of dollars a month which we then distribute to the creators.
  • I went on to explain the importance of their involvement in this. If they as designers and devops do not fix the database, it will have an impact on the final user, again in this case, our creators. Instead of paying them at 8am and we pay them at 12am, they can miss the opportunity to pay their rent for example. Although dramatic in some cases, the important part of the story is that they now have an exact idea of the type of importance that their work holds.
  • Make the rest of the company understand the importance of what that team is doing.
  • In our communal meetings, both weekly and quarterly, we recognized the work of the remote team so that every other team knew what they were working on and its value within the company. While the advice given to me is significantly true, it is not sufficient. Again there are two options here for taking remote teams beyond motivation.
  • Find a way to get the team more relevant projects.
  • As a leader, I recommend you search for the most motivating challenges for your team. In this case, the projects that you think they can be most helpful with.
  • Help the team understand that as a business, it is not always possible to give them the projects that they want.
  • Speak with the team and tell them the reality of the situation is that these are the types of projects that they will be working on. Tell them to let you know if they are not okay with that and you can help them find something that is more suited to what they are looking for, either here or at another company, the latter being the final option of course.

Lessons learned

  • Remote teams need to have something to work on where they feel a sense of belonging. Even though you might not always have the most important projects to allocate, you have to find a way to get them to understand that what they are working on is important to the company.
  • It is critical that things are made clear to teams on both sides of the spectrum. You do not gain anything convincing your team that what they are doing is important if nobody else knows about it.
  • Identify your teams and truly understand what motivates each person because everyone is going to be different in that respect.
  • The easy part is motivating your remote team, because you will always figure out a way to show them that their work is important. The difficult part as a leader comes in looking for and including your team in the more important projects or moving people to different teams/outside of the company. This is difficult because you do not feel good if someone on your team is not enjoying the work they are taking part in. In most cases, we end up realizing that they just aren't right for the team. What you need to say is that it is not your support that they need as a leader, because they aren't truly facing any obstacles. The best thing for them to do then is to continue developing in another team where they can better utilize their capabilities.
  • It is necessary to find a way to give your remote team projects that are more relevant for the company. We originally hired our remote team because they are smart and aware of what the company is trying to achieve. It is therefore impossible for them to not see that the local teams are receiving the more relevant projects. Your main challenge as a leader has to be finding those projects for them. The motivation that comes through seeing the importance of their work will not hold them over in the long term like identifying with a real project will.

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