Build a Strong Remote Team Culture With Asynchronous Communication and Political Neutrality
If you have team members living in different time zones, you have to think outside the box when it comes to fostering a strong culture.
Software developers are increasingly looking for remote work opportunities. A recent poll found 75% of developers want to work remotely at least three days a week, while 60% are already working remotely full-time.
Employers who adopt remote working policies will have an edge over the competition in an increasingly competitive talent market. The skilled workers shortage currently sits at 40 million worldwide, but it is estimated that it’ll reach 85 million by 2030. A similar pattern is playing out in the software industry.
Going remote means managers can have their pick of the best talent the world has to offer. But, this comes with its own challenges.
Google’s Project Aristotle looked at what makes a team effective. First, they had to define what effective teams were. While executives were results-focused, team members felt team culture was the most important aspect of team effectiveness.
Then, they looked at the building blocks of effective teams. Demographics had little impact on general team effectiveness. What mattered was how teams worked together.
A strong team culture makes an effective team
In order of importance, Project Aristotle's building blocks of an effective team included:
- Psychological safety — Team members felt comfortable taking risks around their colleagues and knew they wouldn’t be punished for admitting a mistake.
- Dependability — Rather than shirking their responsibilities, team members completed quality work on time.
- Structure and clarity — Specific, challenging and attainable goals were set for individuals and teams as part of their job expectations.
- Meaning — Employees found meaning in their work, whether that’s financial security, self-expression or helping the team succeed.
- Impact — Employees who saw how their work made a difference to the company were found to be more effective team members.
Cultivating a culture that values transparency and encourages communication makes for an effective team. We’ve talked about how to give remote feedback sensitively and how to have intentional meetings here.
These are key to creating a strong remote culture.
But when your team comes from all corners of the world, you can’t simply recreate the office environment. You have to take things one step further and truly embrace remote work.
Get comfortable with asynchronous ways of working
Synchronous working creates a constant sense of urgency. When your staff gets an email or a Slack message, they may feel prompted to respond immediately, especially if they’re ‘on the clock’.
In a traditional office setting, a colleague might walk over to another colleague’s desk to ask a question. In a remote setting, this isn’t possible. But replacing constant office interruptions with instant messaging interruptions instead is counterproductive.
Did you know that it takes an average of 23 minutes to refocus on your task after any interruption? Going back to what makes a team effective, this could prevent your staff from achieving dependability and making the impact they wish to make.
One of the key benefits of working remotely is that your staff can focus on a complex task uninterrupted. They can achieve deep work and be more focused, more productive, and produce better results.
You can build a truly remote culture by embracing asynchronous ways of working.
Asynchronous communication, in its simplest terms, means people send messages when they need to, but do not expect a response right away. People respond when they have the time to respond and during their working hours.
When Gumroad implemented fully-remote, asynchronous ways of working, their founder, Sahil Lavingia, found the benefits were immeasurable.
The team communicated thoughtfully, as everyone had time to process emails and respond mindfully. People were able to build work around their life. Needless meetings were slashed in favor of text-based communication, making it easy for people to pick up work in someone’s absence.
It created a low-stress environment where employees were empowered to work mindfully rather than reactively.
What does that mean in practice? Do you tell people to work when they want? Do you set core hours when the team is expected to be available?
It depends on your organization’s business goals and needs. You may not be able to take the Gumroad approach just yet. But, to get you started, here are some things you could try.
Get the message out
Ensure your team members are aware that asynchronous work is encouraged rather than tolerated. You could include a message in your email signature stressing that people do not need to respond to your emails outside their normal working hours, for example.
Set an example
Culture change takes a while, so you may need to set an example. If you’ve blocked off time to work on a project, or if you’re taking a break, don’t be tempted to respond to queries that are coming in just because you heard your work phone ping. They can wait. Show people it’s okay to not respond right away.
Set clear expectations to cultivate trust and transparency
To implement a successful asynchronous policy, you need to start from a place of trust. No, your employees might not be online when you are. They might prefer to finish off some of their work in the evenings after they have put their children to bed. They might get up early in the morning so they can finish earlier than you.
What’s more, if you’ve truly embraced global remote work, they may be working in a completely different time-zone. This doesn’t mean work isn’t happening.
Cultivate trust and transparency by setting clear expectations, including:
- What outcomes you expect your employees to deliver within a specified time frame that is broad enough to take into account asynchronous modes of working
- How you expect your colleagues to communicate their availability, i.e. should they indicate they’re currently ‘on the clock’ or just get on with their work
- What updates you expect to receive from your employees on a daily basis when a project is likely to take a few days to complete
- Whether there are any core hours when the team is expected to be online and ready to collaborate
These are just some ways to implement asynchronous ways of working. Adopting asynchronous policies will make your team members feel trusted and valued. They, in turn, will have the tools they need to make a real impact at work.
Get Inclusive With Political Neutrality
When you’re managing truly remote teams, it’s no longer a matter of dealing with opposing views from people in your area. You could be working with people from every corner of the world; people with massively different viewpoints that you might strongly disagree with.
They view the world through their lens and you view it through yours. Voicing opinions on political issues could cause disruptions and fallouts in the team. So how do you address this?
Ari Shohat, co-founder of ReadyTal, has years of experience running remote companies. To him, getting inclusive means being politically neutral. This has worked well in the past.
He said: “There was an understanding that the workplace doesn’t exist to give a platform for any particular agenda. Rather, it’s a neutral space to let people be who they are and respect their differences.
“By largely abstaining from topics such as politics, religion, or the merits of masks or vaccines during the pandemic, we created an inclusive environment.
“Employees didn’t feel like they had an axe to grind or a topic to defend, there were no provocations to distract people and to get upset about.”
This approach has also been adopted by larger companies, including Coinbase. Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s CEO, announced their new politically neutral policy in 2020.
Armstrong was so adamant that this would be the company’s new way of working that he offered severance packages to employees who disagreed with the politically neutral policy.
In an open letter, he clarified that the company would not advocate for any particular causes or candidates that are unrelated to the Coinbase mission, leaving some room for discussion around societal issues that could directly impact cryptocurrency.
This can be tough to implement. At Coinbase, at least 5% of employees took the severance package option when the new policy was announced.
But when you’re working with an international workforce, not having clear guidance in place is a recipe for head-butting rather than productivity.
And if you want people to be laser-focused on the company’s mission, like Brian Armstrong, this is a recipe for disaster.
So how can you implement political neutrality sensitively? Here are some things to consider as you get started.
Involve people from the start
After Brian Armstrong implemented his political neutrality policy, he acknowledged that he should have involved managers early on, and definitely before the decision was shared with the wider group.
Involve key stakeholders from the start so you can shape a policy that will work for your company and take your employees’ concerns into account. Each organization is different and has its own complexities; there is no one-size fits all approach here so it is important to shape any policies with your staff in mind.
Be transparent about your reasoning
Avoid having your staff assume the worst by being transparent about your reasoning. Implementing a politically neutral policy doesn’t mean your company doesn’t care about important issues.
Explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it because you want to be respectful of your global workforce and their different beliefs? Is it because your company wants to focus on its mission rather than get bogged down with activism?
Make sure people know why these decisions are being made and how they’ll benefit the company and them as employees.
Set clear policies and allow people time to process
Get really clear on your policies. For instance, are employees discouraged from discussing any political issues? Or is it simply a commitment from the company that it will not back any particular campaigns? Are there some political issues that tie in with your mission and that are an exception to the rule? How will this policy be implemented? And what can employees do if they disagree with the new policy or have suggestions?
Make sure the policy is documented and shared with your staff before you implement it. This way, employees can get acquainted with the ideas and decide what action to take as a result.
Build strong remote teams through asynchronous communication and political neutrality
When managing a global remote team, the normal office rules no longer apply. The focus should be on adopting remote strategies to make the most of your new way of working.
You could make remote work truly remote by adopting asynchronous ways of working. This will not only make your team members feel trusted and valued, but it will empower them to take ownership of their work and deliver outcomes rather than clock hours spent at work. Remember, you’re building a remote-first work culture, and that comes with an appreciation for flexibility and a need for trust and transparency.
If you’re working with people from all over the world, there are bound to be different viewpoints on important issues. Rather than letting things escalate, adopt a policy of political neutrality in the workplace. As you formulate your policy, make sure you keep everyone in the loop to avoid a situation where staff assume the worst and feel left out.
Remote work offers opportunities to improve on the old ways of working. Make sure you embrace these opportunities to build the strong team culture that’ll make your teams truly effective.
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