To explore these concepts, Braintrust sat down with James Everingham, Head of Engineering at Facebook and remote work expert who recently virtualized tens of thousands of employees in as little as 48 hours.
James provided us with a wealth of insights, recommendations and tactics designed to support organizations that are new to remote; we’ve assembled some of those key takeaways and topics below.
For those just getting started, he outlined four critical questions and focus areas to consider:
Establish Your Setup: Every employee needs an environment where they can be effective and productive, and maintain some separation between “work” and “home”.
Wellness: How do we care for our employees mentally and physically? How can we help combat the impacts and challenges of isolation?
Communication: You have to change your communication dramatically in order for this to be effective. What practices can you implement company-wide to establish proper guidelines, channels and check-ins?
Productivity: How do you ensure people are productive? And how do you track productivity in these uncertain times?
There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Formula for Success.
There are so many highly sensitive variables coming into play right now—school closures, family members at home, illness, economic uncertainty, etc., all of which mean that there’s no one correct path to success when going virtual.
Organizations need to look at their own culture, infrastructure, workflows and processes to identify the ways in which they can successfully operate across remote and distributed environments.
Provide Clarity and Specific Guidance.
Ensure that leaders, managers and individual contributors are given clear direction and ongoing reinforcement of their core priorities, focus areas and goals. This includes not only the metrics and KPIs that are tied to their job description, but anything new or unique that they should be focusing on with regard to current events and the new need to support virtual teams.
Virtualize the Water Cooler.
Teams at Facebook have a 24-hour Zoom that’s always on, and team members can log in to socialize before or after meetings, during lunch or when there’s a bit of downtime. This helps simulate an in-person environment, says James, and if you build some muscle memory around it people will come to rely on it as an effective surrogate for face-to-face communication.
Focus on Structure.
Don’t hesitate to introduce necessary changes to support your team and accommodate remote employees during challenging times. Facebook, for instance, removed performance reviews entirely—acknowledging that many people have more than one job currently (teacher, caregiver, etc.).
The Facebook team has also gone to great lengths to communicate the protocols, objectives and do’s and don’ts for communication through various channels like email, Slack, video chat and even text messaging. They’ve made it clear there are flexible working hours in place, and success right now is about output rather than hours.
For additional accountability and structure James hosts a morning stand up with his team every day, going around the virtual meeting room and asks each person what they are going to accomplish that day and that week. This helps to hold people accountable and address it quickly if anyone is off track.
Lastly, leaders at Facebook encourage employees to lean on one another now more than ever. If you’re experiencing anxiety or having trouble meeting a deadline, raise your hand so your teammates can help you deliver.
Identify Your Remote Champions.
The more senior and the more experienced your team members are, the more focused they can be—and the more effective they’ll be at working remotely. Employees that tend to operate more proactively and are better communicators should be leveraged as assets to support more introverted talent or those that are struggling to adapt to this new environment.
James also reinforced that—for all of us—people are building this as a muscle over time. You can’t take your initial results and rush to make a judgement about whether this is working; you have to invest in remote as a long-term plan.
Motivate and Celebrate.
People need to feel like they are on an important mission. As leaders, we need to make sure people understand how the work they are doing maps to the broader mission of the company.
The mission should be inspiring, and you should be passionate about it; it will be hard to sell it unless you’re bought in yourself. People want to be helpful and want to contribute—emphasize that, communicate it, and translate it to work they can do. And highlight when they do it. Communicate wins.
Remember that in many ways, this is a giant experiment and test of our ability to work remotely and across distributed teams. As challenging a time as this is, opportunity comes out of hardship. We’re going to find what works, and this will open up new opportunities and ways of getting work done.
This is the second post in a five-part series dedicated to helping organizations successfully build, leverage and scale distributed teams. Read part one here.