Building trust in remote working
15 September, 2021
Engineering Manager at GlobalLogic
"Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important." - Stephen Covey
2020 was hard for everyone, the first quarter was unprecedented and we have seen major shifts that would have never happened at such a big scale - if that was not the only option. Work from homes and remote culture has been there in the IT industry for years but the adoption was limited, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it became a necessity to run normal business operations now.
Except for a few remote companies the majority of the tech industry has not been used to operate in a remote mode prior to 2020. Of course, hybrid models are more common, but as we started working remotely for months in my company, questions and concerns were raised. During the initial months, I observed that there were trust issues, where people were not available, timings didn’t match, and I needed to have too many meetings as asynchronous communication modes were not used heavily by everyone.
We still have some problems, however, things have improved after working in this mode for over a year now.
So, what I did was set strategic goals for people. For instance, if a person is building a product, we need to define some long-term plans for them, which are more strategic in nature. We would give them a timeline of 3 - 6 months so that they could achieve their goals.
And for the day-to-day processes, we could not be setting a fixed mindset 一 that was where we were more tactical. The emotional quotient for everyone is not the same; some need more support while others are doing fine by themselves. I modified my approach for every situation. Often, managers would set some goals and forget about them, but I did take constant feedback from them to check on how they were running their part.
COVID-19 has shown us that anything can change at any moment. We cannot control everything, nor can we be too rigid. Earlier, we would set small deadlines for people and expect them to follow that. However, the remote setup changed everything; people had internet connectivity issues and did not disregard personal problems. Looking at these factors, I changed the way we communicated. Instead of saying, “We need to do this by Tuesday, 3 pm,” I would say, “We need to get this done asap, we are looking for a new release, when do you guys think we can finish this?”
In that way, people would consider their commitments and then come back to us with a date. Per my observation, when someone does not feel pressured to work towards a deadline, they are more flexible and motivated to work towards it. It also built trust and put everyone in line.
Also, remote work has taught me that we cannot push everything. We need to inspire people and ask them what makes them pull things. I call it going vs pull, whereby I started asking more questions rather than assigning them responsibilities. Self-driven people did pick up the pieces. Although some team members did not enjoy being in the driver’s seat, I understood everyone’s motivation to work through.
For constant improvement, I asked for feedback more frequently. I asked them what changes we could make or make improvements. Nonetheless, I would also ask for the process, in general, 一 how they thought the company was doing, and where they wanted to see the company. Indeed, I would bring those feedback to my superiors to ensure they felt they were being heard.
One of the pieces of feedback I received was that our team did not have enough fun events. We did have catch-ups and meetings, but there were no virtual activities that were being done. I acted on it, and now we try to have some activities every month so that people feel included and don’t feel the loss of interest.
I started having brown bag sessions with my team. We would meet once a month and let the creative juices flow for everyone. Having all the brilliant people in my group, they would never stop learning. For example, someone started learning cloud programming, AWS, and so on, which enabled them to share some insights on how their newly acquired knowledge could help the team. Innovation is quite impossible in the remote field, and these are some of the ways we improvised to push creative ideas.
Last but not least, I started connecting with my team members on a personal level. Previously, there was a limit on how many unique questions we could ask our teammates, but my focus shifted a little more now that everything has changed. I noticed that there are people who have kids at home, doing their online classes and a hundred other things they might be going through. So, it is essential to have that connection in remote work and not make anyone feel isolated.
- It is tough to keep people motivated throughout these difficult times, but know that people have goals that are beyond the work projects. Let them focus on those as well while they keep up with the work.
- Know that you cannot control or change anything that is not in your hands. Instead, just go with the flow and alter whatever comes your way.
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