by Nina Baliga, interviewIA Head of Inclusive Strategy and Design

We’re seeing a major shift in how people work especially now that the pandemic has forced many workplaces to go remote. Remote work comes with real benefits and some companies are now considering remaining remote indefinitely. 

We at interviewIA have been a remote company for many years. It didn’t start that way, though. We learned lessons from trying out different types of work – coworking spaces, our own office space, shared office space. Like most companies, we believed in having a place where our team could gather and where customers could meet with us. We wanted to host events and have a downtown address, right in the middle of all the action. However, we slowly began to realize the costs of maintaining the space, not just in cash but in time, time that was taken away from building our company. We knew eventually we would be a remote-first company. 

Creating a Remote Culture

Creating a culture where everyone feels seen, valued, and heard is always a challenge. Creating a similar culture in a remote-first company is even harder. These challenges are different than those we faced in a typical office environment because there is a lack of in-person interaction both casual and formal. Virtual interaction with each other has created a new point of vulnerability for us, having a window into each other’s homes and personal lives like never before. For some, that’s okay. For others, not so much. While most humans are social creatures, remote-first companies need to think deeply about what it means to support the interactive needs of everyone, whether they are an introvert or extrovert or somewhere in between. To support your employees, no matter how they bring themselves to work every day, we’ve outlined some solutions that give everyone a chance to still feel like they belong and are accepted, even in a remote-first culture:

 

Traffic Light Check-ins

Every person’s brain works differently and can’t always be 100% every day. A team member might show up as a fraction of themselves on occasion for various reasons. It could be because the person is neurodivergent or because something is happening in that person’s life that has diminished their cognitive load for that day. It’s unlikely that a teammate can be 100% engaged after being up all night with a screaming baby, having lost a loved one to COVID, or during a big household move.

To allow teammates to share their engagement level without going into intimate details about their lives, we use a form of code. At the beginning of our all-team meetings, we each go around the “room” and say what color we are – Green, Yellow, or Red. Green means “I’m good to go, and ready to hit the ground running.” Yellow means “I’m struggling a bit but can still get my job done.” Red means “I’m really overwhelmed and could use some graciousness or support.”  

By exercising the Traffic Light Check-in, we’re able to connect to each other, human-to-human, without having to be intrusive into other people’s lives. It’s a way for us to build empathy and improve communication with one another. 

Regular 1:1 Check-ins 

We’re still a small team but it’s possible to go a long time without talking directly with teammates outside of group meetings. Having one-on-one check-ins with various people at the company helps to build relationships. The CEO does one-on-one monthly 30-minute meetings with every person on staff. His goal is simply to listen about anything the team member wants to talk about, whether it’s personal, professional, about inter-personal relationships, opportunities for growth, or new ideas for the company. 

We also conduct weekly one-on-one 1-hour check-ins between team members and their direct supervisor. The purpose of these meetings is leadership listening and co-creation of action plans to address each employee’s needs. This helps leadership maintain a pulse on the needs of every employee, and makes every employee feel seen, valued, and heard, no matter their role. 

Quarterly Off-Site Meetings 

Especially in a remote-first environment, personal interactions help build relationships over the long-term. So, we have scheduled quarterly all-day meetings where we can work face to face with each other. During the pandemic, we’ve been careful to do this with everyone’s safety in mind, in a location where we can control our environment (and maintain 6 ft. of space between us) to create that safety and comfort. We enjoy our meals together and have a happy hour at the end of the day for a bit of levity and comradery. We use the day to be creative and visionary together for the future of the company. We are intentional to make sure that everyone has a voice at the table.  

Transparent Asynchronous Communication 

A traditional office environment requires people to respond to all communication right away. This isn’t necessarily the best way to communicate information. Environments, where responses are expected immediately, can create false urgency, which detracts from truly urgent work. Asynchronous communication changes the expectation.

Asynchronous communication is not just about responding later, it’s a different type of communication that’s agile and efficient. The expectation isn’t for teammates to respond immediately unless an immediate response is requested. Teammates are expected to be clear about needs and deadlines. 

The benefits of this type of communication are that they allow employees time to deeply focus on their work without unexpected interruptions, so they can be more thoughtful in their responses. Asynchronous communication requires technology like email or other text-based services, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, which create a record of all communication and are easy to search for quick access whenever needed. Finally, asynchronous communication provides the freedom for people to not always be “at their desk.” Instead, work can be done from whatever location suits the work habits of the employee. Every person works differently and shows up to work wanting to be their best selves. Asynchronous communication provides the flexibility for people to succeed in a way that works for them and the company. 

Measuring Performance, Not Time 

Even with the plethora of productivity measurement tools out there, we’ve actively chosen not to document or track the work hours of our teammates. Every person is empowered to decide how to best utilize their time. This doesn’t mean counting clock hours sitting at the desk, but rather, what are the goals of each person individually, and how does that align with team goals, and company goals. This provides every person the flexibility to decide how and when they can best accomplish these goals with their teams and creates an accountability system for everyone.   

 

Creating a remote-first culture requires a great deal of intentionality. We are continuously learning to find ways to help every employee feel that human-to-human connection with everyone they are working with. More tools will come to market, and more innovative ways to be there for one another will arise. What’s most important is that the company leadership is thinking through these as part of their overall people operations plan.