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Effective Remote Working is a Key Digital Transformation Skill

By | #COVID19, Digital Transformation, Future of Work, HR | No Comments

In a digital world, remote working provides businesses with tangible, cost-saving advantages; from reduced overheads to a larger employee talent pool and greater workforce diversity. When done right, remote working evidently boosts productivity and employee wellbeing and is proven to drive profitability.

A digitally transformed workplace may naturally have the tools, processes and systems to support a remote workforce. However, while technology makes digital transformation possible, it’s the ability of an organisation to embrace this way of working that will be key to success. 

Research shows that while 30% of organisations provide training for virtual working, the training focuses on how to use the software and on understanding policies. The real skills gap lies in enabling employees to work productively beyond the tools. Only an effective remote workforce will be set to exploit digital transformation to gain a competitive edge. 

How do you measure your remote team’s effectiveness?

Through our digital transformation practise and experience in leading and working with remote teams around the world, we identified 6 stages that teams go through on their way to remote working effectiveness. Each stage carries with it various levels of organisational risk and advantage.

We designed a 10-minute Remote Working Maturity assessment to measure what stage your team is at. The assessment is based on reported behaviours so results get richer as more team members complete the assessment. Share the assessment with your team to quantify your team’s effectiveness.

TAKE THE ASSESSMENT

Guillaume de Smedt

Mastering Remote Work: Startup Grind Interview with Guillaume de Smedt

By | Digital Transformation, Future of Work, HR, Recent Posts, Remote Working, Talent, Team Culture | No Comments

While many businesses have opened up to the world of remote working, the burning question is: are they doing so effectively? We have noticed a growing desire for expert advice from business leaders who’ve been mastering remote work. We spoke to Guillaume de Smedt, VP of Community for Silicon Valley-based Startup Grind, for his insights on successfully managing a remote workforce. 

Startup Grind is the world’s largest community of startups, founders, innovators, and creators. They bring like-minded and diverse individuals together to connect, learn, teach, help, build, and belong. They do this daily through local events, flagship conferences, startup programs, online events, partnerships, and online media and content ‒ collectively reaching over 2.5 million individuals worldwide.

Guillaume oversees the global community for Startup Grind across more than 600 cities around the world, ensuring those cities are hosting events and doing what they do best. Currently managing a team of 6 full-time staff and 600 volunteers based in global corners from Beijing to the USA. Guillaume has years of experience in leading, and working with, virtual teams around the world. 

Q: You’ve been working remotely for quite some time, what’s your secret?

A: It isn’t really a secret but I would say it’s that I am constantly learning. At Startup Grind, we also use technology to automate a lot of our processes, and we use processes to ensure the work gets done on time. But really I think success will come from these three things: 

  1. Hire the right people: I usually hire people from within the global Startup Grind community; but if you don’t have access to a talent pool like I do, I would say it’s important to look for certain attributes in the people you hire for remote work: Are they willing to learn? Are they willing to work together in a team, and across different time-zones? Are they self-motivated or self-disciplined and can manage time effectively? Do they have a positive disposition? Are they able to handle working remotely and the solitude that can come with that? Because remote working is not for everyone. 
  2. Onboard them correctly: Give new starters clear tasks, clear training on systems, and have a repository (like Google Sites or Suite) where people can find information quickly. When new people come on board or join our team, we assign them a digital buddy ‒ someone in the same time zone ‒ to help get the new person set up. 
  3. Use a project management system that works for your specific team:  Take advice from all sources, but then distil the information and use what is suitable for your own team – don’t feel pressured into doing what others do, but do what is best for your circumstances. Whatever you choose to use, it’s preferable that the entire company is using the same system (from a budget, transparency and simplicity standpoint). 

Q: Do you have an agreement in place ‒ for your team or company ‒ around working together remotely?

A: Yes, we have a company document that is sent as part of our onboarding process which has things like when you’re expected to work or to be online for international team calls, how to get set up for remote work in your home office, how to access data and set up a Google Site, and so on. It could be more detailed but the document actually took us years to put together through our experience and trial and error. That’s one cool thing about DYDX’s remote work ebook is that it has templates and formulas which are a really great start for a team or company just starting out.

Q: What’s your top tip for remote team managers?

A: It’s not about the time behind the keyboard, but rather the output of the job. If a team member wants to watch a movie on Netflix or go for a surf half-way through the day, we don’t discourage them. It doesn’t matter how a team member manages their time, as long as the work is delivered on time and we’re happy with the quality. The second bit of important advice would be: delegate your tasks properly and make sure the correct people are doing the right tasks. 

Q: How do you make sure the correct people are doing the right tasks?

A: Many teams use productivity tools like Monday.com, Trello.com or Airtable.com, and there are so many suitable tools out there. But as amazing as these tools are, you have to spend time updating the data on them. Unless the whole team is consistently doing this, the tool just won’t work for you. That’s why we predominantly only update our tools (and tasks) in meetings. 

Every Monday we have a team call and we spend the first 15 minutes going through the points the team has raised. Each team member puts on the project list what they want to talk about before the weekly stand-up. We then look at the tasks for that week and delegate and update them right there and then on our project management tool (we use Airtable (due to api’s), however notion.so is another good one to look at). Then we look at last week’s tasks: if anything from last week is incomplete, we move it to this week’s task list. 

This way we can see last week and what was achieved, as well as this week’s upcoming tasks. 

And not only do I know what my team is working on, but everyone else in the company knows, too. 

Q: How do you effectively manage your time?

A: I also use WorkFlowy, it’s my favourite tool for keeping my personal to-dos up to date. Regarding emails, I will only mark it as read if I can action it.. This also shapes how other people in my team send me emails ‒ they put the action point right upfront.

Q: Is there anything that your team regularly does together online to make you all feel part of the same team?

A. I think human interaction is so important ‒ especially in remote teams. Because our team is so spread out all over the world with different time-zones, we don’t do a lot together socially in person, but we do make sure we regularly check in with each other in either stand-ups or one-on-one calls so everyone feels connected. We do little exercises like “about me” sessions so that people can learn about their team members in a personal capacity. We meet in person at our annual team retreat and at our major annual conferences.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received about leading and managing a remote workforce? 

A: As a leader of a remote team, try to understand the subtext, nuances or undertones of what people on your team are saying. Each individual handles stress differently. What is the root of it? A team member could be asking for a raise but what they’re really trying to tell you is they’re unhappy about a completely different issue. Being on the pulse of your team is so important ‒ if you’re not, your team members may not come to you with small stuff and this can cause issues down the line. The team lead must work really hard to extract this read from their teammates and make time to truly understand what’s going on inside their team. 

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As a digital transformation practice dY/dX, helps businesses adapt and grow in rapidly changing environments. Through our experience in Culture and the Future of Work, we have worked with remote, distributed teams across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India. We fervently believe that we can make the future of work, better than today. 

We have created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure remote working capabilities and quantify remote team effectiveness. Also available are our free guides to building team culture, The Culture Canvas and Me.We.Us – Remote Team Management, where we provide overviews on how to promote better behaviours within teams as well as toolkits to support doing so.

Honest Chocolate

WE PUT THE REALITY BACK INTO VIRTUAL WORKSHOPS

By | #COVID19, Future of Work, HR, Remote Working | No Comments

The first crack of breaking chocolate. The scent of a roasted cocoa bean. And then pinning the flavours you taste on a flavour wheel with 18 other people… is not what most people are expecting when they join an online event.

The global shutdown has most businesses and event organisers scrambling to make their events ‘virtual’. Every meeting is a Zoom call and conferences all converted to a plethora of free webinars. But simply recreating what we used to do in the physical world is a recipe for boredom.

We couldn’t meet our favourite clients face-to-face over dinner and we couldn’t stroll down to Honest Chocolate for an after-lunch hot chocolate. So, we brought the two together. Partnering with Honest Chocolate, a Cape Town-based artisanal Bean-to-Bar chocolate factory, we invented the Honest Chocolate Virtual Tasting!

Boxes of chocolates were hand-delivered to everyone’s front door with strict instructions to keep their hands off them until the event which 70% of them managed to do.

After introductions and agreeing the etiquette for the session, we kicked off with an icebreaker exercise. Everyone logged into a shared online doc and dragged their flags onto a world map to show where they thought the most cacao beans are produced.

interactive map

West Africa: (Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire) is correct by the way.

This is the same mechanic we use for online brainstorming and interactive learning workshops. We learn by doing, not by sitting back and listening and being remote, sitting back includes answering email, helping kids with homework and shouting at the dog.

With a Zoom Poll, everyone answered a few questions about personal flavour preference proving that we experience tastes differently. Through the rest of the experience the co-founder of Honest Chocolate, Anthony, took us through a journey of different experiences – a live video tour through their factory, a bit of history about cocoa, the Bean-to-Bar chocolate-making process, and tasting nine of their chocolates in between.

Tastings were also mic-on, camera-on, interactive moments when we chatted and pinned what we tasted on the flavour wheels. In many cases, this showed again how we could all interpret the same flavour in different ways.

Honest Chocolate Coconut Blossom

This was a fun experience that involved a lot of chocolate so not a lot could go wrong; but 5 years of working for clients all over Africa, Europe and India with a distributed and diverse team prepared us well for the remote working. Forced by lockdown to cancel client workshops and group training sessions, we converted easily into shared online whiteboards and immersive, interactive ideation sessions.

Part of a ten-week Design Thinking course with Red&Yellow we adapted a full day workshop into two three-hour online sessions. By switching modality between talks, slides and interactive boards—with sticky notes and voting mechanisms—and applying tight time constraints, the workshops feel quick, energetic and highly productive.

One of the biggest learnings from this is that all of the tools you need are readily available, taking advantage of what simple tech can do and changing what’s perceived as acceptable and normal is where teams and companies need help.

And don’t be afraid to experiment!

Remote Working resources:

To support newly remote teams, we published a free ebook and a Remote Team Maturity Assessment:

Me.We.Us ebook: Download the ebook

  • ME. Mastering Self: organising your workspace and headspace for optimum remote performance.
  • WE. Mastering Remote Social Interaction: learning to communicate effectively within a remote team.
  • US. Mastering Teamwork & Managing Distributed Teams: using the “Remote Team Agreement” and “Meeting Formulas” to unlock your team’s remote working potential.
  • We provide you with a toolkit of practical templates that you can use to improve your team’s remote working capabilities.

Remote Working Maturity Assessment: Take the test

  • A snapshot of your team’s remote capabilities
  • A benchmark for your team’s remote working capability
  • Highlighted areas at risk

 

The future of work requires a rethink on economic “productivity”

By | Future of Work, HR, Talent, Team Culture

Adam Smith was 43 and lived with his mother when he wrote “The Wealth of Nations”. His concept of the circular economy (people work, earn wages, buy stuff, which in turn creates work, so we hire more people) ignored the fact that children had to be raised and cared for. It assumed that they magically appeared in the workforce (almost like Smurfs), and also missed that the effect of increased production could pollute and deplete the planet’s resources. Somehow, arguably even against his recommendations, this became our dominant way of thought.

Basically put, almost everything men did was productive, while raising children or looking after frail parents was not. Increasing rent due to scarcity is measured as productive even though it requires no additional work and produces zero new goods or benefits. So the productivity that has been defined is clearly linked to monetary value versus social return or more goods in the marketplace. Largely speaking, more money equals more productivity.

But why does our definition of productivity matter? Because it is a frame against which we evaluate our days and what we consider to be work. We now view the productive parts of the day as those where we earned a living and those parts of the day where we cared for others (or ourselves) as wasteful or a hassle from a productivity perspective. For a future of work scenario that delivers a different outcome both economically, ecologically and socially, we need to rethink the fundamentals of what productivity is. This rethink will allow a lot of the issues we struggle with currently, such as the time spent at work versus the productive value of that time, to be simplified. 

One of the key challenges of the Future Of Work is balancing the growing demand for shorter work days or better work life balance with the need to meet shareholder expectations i.e. profit. These shareholders are often not faceless multi-nationals bent on money grubbing but everyday people who rely on the profits as a way to support their retirements or buy a house, so we need to respect that this is an important outcome. 

Currently many firm’s only way of managing staff cost is through work-hour agreements and not productivity to cost agreements i.e. you will be here x many hours per day, and if you aren’t there is an issue. 

However, this doesn’t mean that firms and their shareholders don’t want (and increasingly will want) to value the greater social impact that they have contributed to over financial return. This is the same social fabric that makes their lives better. A busy executive who might earn less but not be required to pay for an au pair may prefer to finish earlier and pick kids up from school.  Perhaps with a different view of productivity, governments will reward companies whose staff are raising kids or supporting the elderly with incentives to contribute to the fabric of society as this reduces society’s burden. Companies will focus more on productivity measures that are not linked to time (i know this did go horribly wrong in the beginning of industrialisation, but maybe society is better now). 

Our experiments with this have been mixed, but generally speaking, people that have kids and want their own time to pursue passion projects, side-gigs or just gig with us really like it. It increases autonomy and the quality of work is great. For some this is a life choice and for some a phase of life. Where the model suffers is where the expectation is more like a corporate environment i.e. work as many hours as possible to earn as much as possible. While we love this too, output based work is much harder to manage in those environments because people naturally tend to overwork tasks to fill the time and their focus is a little on distraction versus purely output. Looked at in another way, when you give an experienced specialist who is now a stay at home parent (or whatever the situation) the chance to work through some complicated issues, they spend more time on actually doing the work and feeding back than somebody who is doing 10 tasks because they are in the office and distracted by endless meetings. It means more people, each doing smaller chunks of work but at higher quality output because they spend more time actually working.

In many ways we have been trained by remuneration models to behave in a way that justifies time spent in an office, so it’s a deeply ingrained system from industrial age working habits. New ideas feel outlandish and dangerous (at least, they do to me because I am old according to my kids), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be exploring them. If we don’t change the way we work to meet the requirements of the new digital era, we will keep on using industrial age models which miss the point. Working different is critical for doing different (and better) work.

By Nevo Hadas – Nevo is the founding partner of DYDX and has led the development of “The Culture Canvas”—an open-source framework that makes work culture actionable for businesses to shape their team’s behaviours—as well as the latest ebook “me.we.us – Remote Team Management”, which is available for free download, and the 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment tool designed to help companies measure the effectiveness of their remote teams. 

How do you keep top talent if your company doesn’t want to “change the world”?

By | HR, Talent

There are thousands of articles about how you attract the best people by having a company mission that will change the world, which galvanizes and acts as a true north. But what happens if you don’t?

It seems common wisdom that smart dedicated employees want to feel they are making a contribution to something bigger than themselves.

Sometimes, companies end up with Franken-cultures that use “changing the world” as a way to convince people to “work harder for less so we can make more money and change the world… maybe” but counteracts it with a “we care about your personal wellbeing and have a masseuse in-house for when you are feeling burned out, but there is a long waiting list as many people feel burned out (including the masseuse)”.

“Change the world” is, like many other constructs around work and remuneration, an ego trip. Who wouldn’t rather say at parties, we are enabling small businesses in developing markets to grow vs we run a loan sharking operation providing money sourced from low-interest rate countries intended for social upliftment at onerous interest rates to the impoverished while we have masseuses in our offices. It is the new golden handcuff designed to keep employees engaged in the work they do because it has “Purpose”. I am not against changing the world (for the better), but perhaps I am cynical.

From personal experience, I was far more ruthless and focused on returns working for a large corporation controlled by a charity (effectively our dividends funded schools in Africa) than I would be for myself. Every dollar earned went to a good cause and the means justified the ends. There was never a sense of enough profit because the need to do good was so great. While I am just one example, I know many similar organizations that work people to death for a “good cause” or extract unfair fees because they have ended up with a government licensed monopoly or grant due to their “for good” ethos.

“Good things, that solve hard problems, when done at scale, often create the next set of hard problems.”

This belief, however, is counterpointed by the rapid growth in small, lifestyle-focused, businesses that pursue more free time and a better quality of life for owners and employees.

So how do you engage great employees that aren’t working at companies that are changing the world? One option is giving them other forms of self-actualization that helps them to change themselves.

While I know there are many formulas and answers, what we have experimented with is increasing individual freedom by taking core assumptions people have around “loyalty” i.e. a mission, and turning them on their head.

We don’t expect or want lifelong loyalty and don’t want to gamify the work experience around that. To quote the famous saying “our best assets walk out the door every day”, which is funny because they aren’t OUR ASSETS. They are their own assets (some of these assets even have names and little asset families, with asset pets).

We want the focus of everyone to be on the quality of what we deliver to clients, which means taking some strange decisions:

  1. Permission/freedom to switch off — this is work, you do it for the rewards it gives you — like money, new experiences, positive reinforcement. We prefer people who work partial weeks and would rather add more team members than have people work themselves to death — the quality of work suffers and it’s not worth the extra margin to do crap work in the long-term.
  2. Have a side hustle — really, we don’t mind. consider it your 20% time. A lot of our people are entrepreneurial in the true sense and work with us while they are working on a small business part-time. It’s one of the things that makes them good at what they do — curiosity and drive. I hope they all make it big and what they learned/experienced with us helped them get there. It definitely makes their work better.
  3. No career progression — we don’t have titles, we do have responsibilities (to others) that the roles entail. There are no perks, no special meetings etc. roles change per project so you can be a leader in one and a contributor in another. This keeps the politics to zero and really flattens the organization.

P.S. These are some of the things that have worked for us and we find that resonates with (most) people that work with us. Everyplace is different. We aren’t here to change the world, but (hopefully) to empower people to change their worlds and change our client’s businesses

By Nevo Hadas – Nevo is the Founding Partner of &Innovation, now DYDX. Nevo led the development of “The Culture Canvas”, an open-source framework that makes work culture actionable for businesses to shape their team’s behaviours. The latest ebook on managing remote teams, “me.we.us” is available as a free download and a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment, designed to help companies measure the effectiveness of their remote teams.