‘We Ask Our Team What’s Important to Them’; Managing a Remote Workforce

“Bringing people back into the office full time isn’t the answer—workers don’t want to give up the flexibility that gives them greater control of their lives,” wrote Alexia Cambon, a research director of the human resources practice at Gartner, wrote in The Guardian last year. “They want systems that work for the environment they are operating in.” Every organization has its own way of handling our brave new remote world. Here are some tips.

“We created Industry Dive’s culture of teamwork and collaboration when it was just one location,” Terri Travis, Industry Dive’s vice president for human resources, told my colleague Tony Silber recently, as part of our BIMS Speaker Preview Series. “In the past two years, we have evolved to a remote workforce of more than 400 people spread across the country, and now internationally.

“We routinely ask our team what’s important to them to get a sense of where things stand. We ask, how do we meet them where they want to be. Are there specific times, events, trainings and other things that would maintain the level of culture and cohesiveness they’re looking for?”

One of the panel discussions we’re most looking forward to at our upcoming Business Information & Media Summit, Feb. 23-24 in Orlando, is the one about the Future of Work, where Travis will be joined by Nick Schacht, chief global development officer, SHRM, and Kevin Turpin, president, National Journal. So many questions need to be answered.

CEO (U.S.) of Edelman public relations, Lisa Osborne Ross, also spoke about the importance of reaching out to your staff and colleagues. “We do a thing called ‘P-Can’ [phonetic]. We were doing it every three months during the pandemic, and then we started doing it generally [every] six months. But it was asking people, what are your needs? What are your tech needs? What are your emotional needs?”

Here are seven tips for negotiating this brave new remote world:

Know your time zones and cultures. “Workplaces will need to remain flexible to recruit and retain team members,” Travis said. “Video calls, messaging and other engagement platforms, or other technologies, will be an integral part for companies to keep a strong level of employee engagement with their teams spread across the country and globally. We have expanded our team internationally, and team members have the flexibility to work from where it best suits their needs. But along with this comes more consideration needed for local time zones, regional and international workplace culture and habits, and communication.

Be intentional. “Organizations need to take an intentional approach to address this issue,” wrote Washington Post tech at work writer Danielle Abril. “That means creating onboarding processes that offer several points of connection and give new employees the chance to meet both their co-workers and other people across the organization. And when employees join, managers should make sure new hires feel like they have some ownership in the company’s culture.” Our association has been flying new employees in to take part in a monthly in-person staff meeting. This helps to build relationships, even if it’s just a one-time thing.

Widen your hiring pool. “The world has changed,” Anne Holland, co-founder of cannabis content and event platform MJBiz, sold last year to Emerald for $120 million, told me. There was a time prior to the pandemic when MJBiz employees had to come to the Denver office 10 am to 3 pm Tuesday to Friday. That seems eons ago. The virtual tools “have become much more part of the mainstream now.” After the first month [of the pandemic, working virtually] felt normal and natural, and we were able to hire people outside of Colorado—to really go out and get the best of the best. The only requirement this time was that they had to be available for meetings during Mountain Time.”

Think out of the box. “In essence, we need to stop designing work around location, and start designing work around human behavior,” Cambon,said. “Employees will work better, stay at their organization longer and keep healthier if they are placed at the center of work design—trust me, we have the data that proves it. This is what we should be asking ourselves: if 9-5 had never been invented; if ‘office’ were a foreign term; if the concept of a meeting sounded like gibberish—in short, if today were day one of the history of work—how would you design how you work?”

Create virtual “connection points” for employees. “Is there a platform in which employees are encouraged to chat with each other?” Abril asked. “Are there regular calls? Are there opportunities to team up with employees from different teams for something that might resemble a virtual water cooler?” “The shift to remote work gave employees a lot more power and control,” Travis said. “If companies do not provide flexible workplace environments, they will not be competitive in the market and will suffer from a retention perspective. We have already seen this on the front half with our recruiting efforts.”

Break bigger meetings into smaller groups, randomly sometimes. About a year ago, I joined one of Rob Ristagno’s virtual CEO Campfire Chats. After a short introduction, Ristagno broke the audience of 20-25 people randomly into smaller groups for a 5-7 minute, get-to-know-you chat. Suddenly, it became myself and two others in that small Zoom window with featured guest, entrepreneur Sam Yagan, vice chairman of Match.com and co-founder of SparkNotes. It encouraged greater participation and familiarity than the large window of 25 people, where the boldest and loudest tend to stand out.

Consider structuring unstructured time, said Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor and author of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere. Perhaps “starting every meeting with some personal connection time, versus jumping right into the subject matter at hand.” He suggested that 10-15% of meeting time could be allowed for the group to chat freely. “Starting in a personal way increases group cohesion and group performance. You have to build in the informal to get to know one another.”

Encourage two-way conversations. Edelman’s Ross spoke a lot about the importance of “two-way conversation” during the pandemic in her conversation with The Washington Post. “I think managers had to change. Managers had to realize they were not managing for work, but you’re managing for people, which again, is something we should have been doing all along.”


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