Webinar on How To Lead a Virtual Organisation
Barbie Brewer is a passionate advocate for remote working. She is a Silicon Valley-based Chief People Officer and as CPO at LoveToKnow Media, former CPO at Git Lab, and former VP of HR at Netflix - two of which are fully virtual organisations - she has unparalleled experience of what it takes to lead a fully virtual organisation.
Making a virtue out of virtual: the opportunity in remote working
Some time in March 2020 most of us were thrown headfirst into working remotely. For some, it had been their way of working for years, but for the majority it was definitely fully clothed, in at the deep-end and we will throw you a float - when we can find one!
We were driven very much by need:
the need to get the tech working;
the need to sort the kids;
the need to find some space;
the need to ‘gather’ my people together;
the need to re-think the focus;
the need to get my comms shifted.
And now people are more and more being driven by the need to re-design the ‘new normal’ and even the need to get back to the office.
Barbie Brewer spoke much more about opportunity than need. She encouraged us as leaders to “put real headspace into making this great”, saying “plan as if this is permanent”. It might not be, but we definitely want to be grabbing the opportunity here for whatever design we go with in our increasingly uncertain future.
So, what were some of the opportunities that Barbie spoke about?
Opportunity 1: Attract Diversity
It could be time to really shift the dial on who works in your teams. If you work remotely you attract people who wouldn’t normally come near your door. Proximity and time zones are less of an issue. Virtual teams are significantly more accommodating of very different personality types. In fact, introverts may be way more comfortable operating remotely as our offices are usually designed for extroverts and those who easily ‘fit’. So does it give us the opportunity to really re-think how we build teams and the breadth of the pool where we fish for talent.
Opportunity 2: Inclusion
There’s no point having D without I. Barbie spoke about Zoom (other tools are available!) being a great leveller. The flat screen and lack of boardroom furniture hides all hierarchy, and properly facilitated you can get everyone’s voices in the room. You can even mute the loud ones (and say you did it by accident!). She had a great tip around presentations for remote working – send them out in advance and ask anyone who wants to annotate their thoughts in them. This brings the quiet voices into the room.
Opportunity 3: Invest in talent not rent
So many of our members have said they are more efficient remotely. Decisions are made faster, communication is slick, and focus is clearer. If you couple that with a reduction in office space and rent then perhaps encourage the exec to plough the extra margin into making sure you are developing your people, keeping them connected, and making sure they have top-notch tech.
Opportunity 4: Meetings to discuss not digest
Barbie had loads of practical tips. If you send out meeting material as pre-read then the meeting can be just about discussing points of view. We all know this but it’s even more important virtually. To this end, also making presentations more ‘text heavy’ than you might normally as people can read them before and after the session. This can help bridge language barriers too.
Also, get used to recording meetings so that people from other time zones or who couldn’t make it can watch it. I’m sure that might even have a positive impact on some of those meeting behaviours as well.
Opportunity 5: Away-days as simply social
Let’s face it, that’s what people really want them for anyway. If you use the Zoom for the work, then when you get together face to face then just use that to build the social and cultural connectivity of the team and organisation.
By the way, Barbie says Zoom is face to face...
Opportunity 6: Democratise communication
Again, we all know that comms shouldn’t be always top down, leader led, etc. Yet with remote working, ensuring there are multiple channels of communication is difficult. Barbie gave us a few ideas…
Group updates: every week different groups give an open update on their work that anyone can tune in to.
Always on: leaving your Zoom channel open for anyone to pick up and chat to you if they need something.
AMA: Ask Me Anything, a leader putting themselves on line at a set time to pick up any questions.
Coffee and Cab: a social time where people in different time zones can meet (this named because LA were drinking morning coffee whilst Spain were cracking their first bottle of Cabernet!).
Opportunity 7: Tap the trust – Feedback
Most people are saying that with the fast move into remote working the level of trust has really accelerated. Leaders no longer ‘looking over my shoulder’, or micro-managing to the n’th degree, with people being truly trusted to get on with it. It’s an acceleration of empowerment.
So, Barbie talked very passionately about introducing regular feedback into that environment of trust. Having regular 1:1’s to give two-way constructive feedback within the team. We are isolated at home so it’s even more important we nurture each other, and feedback is the best tool for this. It avoids us slipping into ‘bad’ habits that might otherwise be picked up in the office environment. The office is also a place of tangible and intangible hierarchy and ego, often barriers to great feedback. These are largely dissolved in the virtual model. It’s hard to be the big cheese when your kid keeps coming into the room and chucking teddy at you! Let’s tap this opportunity for good.
Opportunity 8: Building an amazing hybrid model
It is human nature to try and claw back ‘the old ways’, get back to normal, get back into the office, etc. It’s obviously whatever model best suits you and gets you what you need as a company, but it’s also clear that it may need to flex as our requirements as no one knows what will happen with Covid-19 in the future. I suspect most will opt for the hybrid model and Barbie had a few tips for you as you design your future:
Put plenty of headspace into making it great;
Invest in technology for your people (computers, cameras, microphones, connectivity apps etc);
Create ‘core work times’ when everybody is ‘in the office’. This might only be a handful of hours a day given work patterns and time zones but it is key team time;
Leaders should work at least one day a week from home and it must be a ‘normal’ work day, not a ‘shut away and get things done whilst not answering the phone day’.
"Re-define the phrase ‘The way we do things round here’. ‘The way we do things’ is changing. ‘Here’ is changing."
It’s a great opportunity.
Written by Matt White, Associate of Wavelength
Barbie Brewer is also part of SpeakersHub and one of our most sought after speakers on leading in a virtual world. To view her full biography to book her to speak at your own event please click here.