Lockdown Nation: What to Manage in Times of Social Distancing
Learn some remote management key tips from a company that was born in lockdown. Social distancing was never a problem!
It’s been almost a year now. Remember? Companies weren’t sure if they had to let employees go home. They may have started giving one or two weeks, depending on how bad infection rates were doing in their countries. But March and April went by and lockdown started to become the norm. Remote working was the way to go, like it or not.
Freelance workers were already used to this from the before-times, but more traditional companies had to adapt. How does effective entrepreneurship take shape in the midst of a global meltdown? Isn’t social distancing the opposite of dynamic teamwork?
If we were to think of productivity in a regular company before COVID-19, most of it would actually consist of a mix of online and in-person practices. Everyone shared files and worked on them digitally, but needed the occasional nudge from a coworker in the other desk to clear things up. Meetings were arranged on Google Calendar, but face to face interaction was essential to close deals or motivate your team.
But we’re here to talk about how modern companies have learned to skip the physical part of the equation. With little to no downside, that is.
Let’s take a look into our own experience. Ollie Ventures is a company that never really got the morning sales pep talk or the water cooler Monday catch-up. No offices, no break room. Everything is done remotely, with teams spread worldwide in Philadelphia, Florida, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, or Mexico City.
Where to start with remote management
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the first step is to assess. A company has to determine if they can step into online territory without losing assets or compromising momentum.
ILO’s guide of assessment actually agrees with the principles of Ollie Ventures: ensure mechanisms of connectivity and understand each worker’s physical and mental situation.
Now let’s see how both aspects play with our brand new real estate company.
Stay connected during lockdown!
The biggest and most obvious challenge is personal interaction. Whether your company lies on the mechanical side or you’re working creatively, meetings and brainstorming sessions are fundamental.
As Juan Camilo Medina, Ollie Ventures marketing leader, points out, “creative processes in marketing teams demand personal connections and interactions when we have to build customer-oriented processes every day”. He manages a team of six people spread around Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Cancún, Mexico City, and Madrid.
He focuses on a feasible shortlist of goals, while keeping every team member in the loop with daily morning meetings. Facilitating communication between colleagues, he makes sure everyone is invested in future projects and finds ways to make them part of the decision making process.
“At Ollie, international growth and team diversity pose unique challenges, such as time-zone, cultural and communication differences. Nonetheless, I believe that working in international teams can also offer many rewards and benefits”.
According to Juan Camilo, the keys to communicating effectively from a distance are:
- acknowledging cultural differences
- communicating frequently and regularly
- maintaining open lines of communication for everyone (it is quite easy for a team member to feel left out!)
- most importantly… establishing trust
Strong relations make strong company culture
“The issue has not been around productivity or technology. Rather, it has been a people-focused challenge around maintaining company culture, team cohesion and open collaboration”, says Marianne Dahl, Microsoft’s vice president of sales, marketing, and operations in Western Europe.
In their 2020 innovation report, Microsoft signals important changes in most leadership roles. The biggest one is more acceptance of hybrid models of productivity and office management. However, a lot of the companies they surveyed were having trouble maintaining company culture during lockdown.
“Among leaders, more than one in three (39%) admit to struggling with creating a strong and unified team culture as remote work has become more common”.
Microsoft innovation report
Ollie Ventures took this challenge head-on and started implementing a culture-oriented strategy from the very start of the onboarding process. New recruits are often interviewed by the CEO to hear what the company is all about. If that can’t happen, they will still meet Travis Robert-Ritter by the end of their first week.
Also very helpful: Ollie’s Slack board is full of daily snippets and brisk quizzes to keep the whole team engaged. Agustina González, head of Human Resources, understood the importance of making everybody feel listened to and connected.
“We’re implementing different strategies that allow all the teams to connect. Team building activities can be internal or company-wide, like Friday Flight Nights, Coffee Time, or our International Women’s Day event”, says Agustina. “Our people take ownership and feel that connection to Ollie Ventures, and that’s great!”.
It’s Lockdown Nation
If there’s something to be learned from these trying times is that union is always feasible. No matter what. We have more than enough tech to stay connected, focused, and aware of our mutual needs (even if the guy that used to sit next to you is now texting from another continent).
After all, “trying” stands for challenging or difficult, but also points to experimentation. Smart management has to remain open to new ways of effective communication, and see where the road takes them.