Guiding Principles for a Remote Organization As a fully-remote organization, TLP Education has seamlessly transitioned to the “new normal” created by COVID-19. As workplaces across the world adjusted their ways of working and interacting, we were able to maintain and strengthen our organizational culture due to the efficient and collaborative structures already in place. Leaning into practices of intentional team culture, consistent connection, and meeting norms, we as an organization are living our values of staying and the forefront of our work and putting people first. Based on what we’ve learned, we are sharing these guiding principles and key reflection questions for remote organizations aiming to build a cohesive, enthusiastic, and productive environment for employees as we navigate the months ahead. Have an intentional plan to build a remote culture, prioritizing human connection. Ask yourself: ● What do you want your culture to look like, sound like, and feel like during these times? ● What concrete steps can you take to build towards this vision? ● What options do your employees have to stay connected to each other and to the mission of your organization? ● How will you make your priorities consistently clear and accessible to all? It’s okay to structure your social time. ● When working remotely, people don’t naturally find opportunities to engage with each other. It’s important to prompt, structure, and encourage these interactions. ● TLP has a series of fun, optional activities that encourage team members to come together the way they might if they worked in the same building. For example: ○ Shoutout threads on Fridays via Slack ○ Watercooler Wednesdays on which people have a shared conversation about a specific topic via Slack ○ Opt-in donut/coffee chats in which people are randomly assigned to chat with colleagues they don’t normally work with via Zoom ○ Small group/sub-team social time via Zoom (examples include virtual coffee and virtual hang out time with kids/family members included) Empower people to set goals and boundaries that encourage their productivity. ● When you aren’t reporting to the office or heading home at a certain time, there can be a feeling of not knowing how many hours to work in a given day. For many, working remotely is a new and unknown experience. When you can’t see the work that colleagues are doing as you walk by their desks, a high level of trust is required. This is especially true in times like these, as employees are juggling multiple priorities, such as children at home, sick family members, and additional household responsibilities.
Be clear with your colleagues about priorities, manageable workloads, time frames for completing tasks, and supports to help employees feel more professionally attached. For example, some employees may be online during the day only when team meetings are happening, and then turn to the rest of their work after they’ve put their kids to bed. For example, we shared an Adjusted Work Schedule Survey with employees in March to allow them to request adjustments to their regular work schedules during school closures. This empowers our colleagues to indicate their scheduling needs, have time and flexibility for non-work responsibilities, and remain productive and focused during their working hours.
Provide differentiated support for employees as they manage their time and workloads remotely. ● Shifting to a remote working model means that people will need support in managing their work and time. Not everyone is accustomed to working from home, and it is important to ensure that all team members have guidance on time management and accountability at the onset of their time with your organization. Different employees will need different levels and types of support. ● At TLP, we proactively build this into our onboarding process for new hires because we receive frequent requests for insight on this topic. The approach should be differentiated: ○ Especially in the early stages of onboarding, managers work with their direct reports to build a weekly calendar and consistent cadence of check-ins ○ Colleagues keeping the Google calendars up to date and visible to the rest of the organization ○ We prioritize short, frequent check-ins to ensure team members have the support they need to manage their time and workloads Virtual meetings require norms and routines. ● As you can imagine, facilitating a meeting remotely doesn’t allow you to naturally get a pulse on the room. ● We’ve learned that some norms and routines can help: ○ Be flexible and lead with grace when establishing professional attire and virtual surroundings ○ Be deliberate about pre-work completion in advance of meetings to allow for maximum engagement and discussion during the meeting ○ Default to having all attendees turn their video on ○ Use informal “I agree” motions like thumbs up ○ Prioritize seeing faces and only share screens when necessary ○ Utilize the chat feature to encourage engagement ○ Breakout rooms allow for deeper engagement and processing ○ Short reflection surveys at the end of meetings help capture input ● At TLP, we begin each meeting with a pleasantry to set the tone for the meeting and encourage dialogue from the outset. Pleasantries could range from fun questions (“Who
is your favorite comedian and why?”) to topical conversation starters (“What do you hope to accomplish by the end of today’s meeting?”). ○ In addition, we set roles at the outset of each meeting (facilitator, time keeper, note taker). To encourage participation, we often randomize this role selection (“the person who had the most recent birthday is today’s facilitator”). Create different group arrangements for different activities. ● Rather than having employees divide into the same groups each time there is a break-out activity, create randomized or intentionally heterogeneous groups. This allows team members to engage with colleagues they normally may not have the opportunity to work with and learn from. ● For example, TLP created “Seasonal Squads.” ○ Seasonal Squads are groups composed of different team members which meet monthly in our All-Hands meetings to process organization-wide updates, discuss strategy, and share work. These groups have representatives from each team within the organization, and are maintained for an entire season. This allows team members to build cross-functional relationships and hear diverse perspectives from colleagues. Share agendas for meetings in advance, and utilize “pre-work” activities to prepare team members to engage. ● When working remotely, employees don’t run into each other in the hallways and have the chance to discuss and prepare for upcoming meetings in-person. In a remote setting, it is helpful to publish agendas 24 hours in advance to ensure everyone knows how to engage and what the expectations of each meeting will be. It also may be useful to ask attendees to complete a short “pre-work” assignment prior to the meeting to set expectations. ● At TLP our pre-work is clearly noted several days prior to meetings, and agendas are built with the assumption that pre-work is completed prior to each meeting. Schedule recurring meetings earlier in the week.. ● You may consider frontloading meetings earlier in the week to allow for more flexibility to do work and follow up with individuals later on. ● For example, we encourage teams to schedule their recurring meetings for Monday and Tuesday and reserve Wednesdays as “No Meeting” days. This allows team leads to share priorities and expectations for the week and gives individuals more time to complete work. Be creative with where meetings occur. ● It’s important to get a change of scenery when working remotely. ● For example, we encourage managers to take walks while holding informal check-ins with team members to help break up time spent on video conferences. This practice
requires that agendas have been reviewed in advance, and that there isn’t a computer needed to engage. ○ TLP implemented MoveSpring to create a space for fitness tracking and friendly competition among individuals and teams. This is important because it allows TLP to be intentional in work-life balance and wellness. Know your communication channels and norms. ● It’s helpful to have a wide variety of ways to communicate new information and share expectations with your organization. ● At TLP, we: ○ Send a Weekly Update each Wednesday giving each team an opportunity to share a specific aspect of their work and give visibility to the broader organization on their progress ○ Leverage informal channels (Slack, GChat, etc) where people can ask general questions that others might be able to answer ○ Hold Office Hours so that people can get questions answered by team leads and clear barriers quickly ● We have also developed norms when using various communication channels. We have: ○ Established time frames for when people can expect responses ○ Provided naming conventions for different document types, email titles, etc. ○ Bring colleagues from other teams into conversations early and often when their perspective or assistance may be required