Even before we had selected the name for InspireHUB, I knew we needed to be remote. There were a number of reasons for the decision, including the idea that if we were going to build a digital platform to help people who were geographically dispersed better engage, then we needed to practice what we preached. If the team building the solution was also dispersed, it stood to reason that we’d build a superior solution. Another reason included providing our startup with a hiring advantage because working from home WAS an aspiration back then. I had always thrived in work environments where I was provided autonomy and never understood why it mattered where I worked if my work was excellent. I worked for large organizations and noticed that whether my colleague was a pod mate or sat on another campus our level of productivity on a project had little to do with physical proximity.
Over the years, I found myself seeking out roles and leaders that allowed me to test my theories on productivity both in and out of the office.
My first real foray into remote life was back in 2004 when I was hired to serve a large Fortune 500 client at their Head Office as a vendor, but my own company’s office was located hours away in another city. While I traipsed into the office to hold client meetings, the bulk of my work could be done by home, and as it ended up, my theory on productivity was a sound one.
When discussions for what would become InspireHUB started in 2012, I knew the power of working remotely. Yet, it still required some convincing for those involved. We came to a comfortable agreement. We’d start working remotely immediately with the understanding that when the time came, we would acquire a physical office. With an internationally distributed team that was 100% remote, what happened next presented our company with amazing leadership lessons and debunked numerous myths on what we thought about remote life. We made a number of mistakes. At one point, we admitted that, despite our company name, we were more uninspiring than inspiring.
We set to work and discovered that simple things, like digital etiquette, could be an absolute game-changer in helping employees to LOVE remote life to the point where they swear they will never work for a “traditional company” again. As the pandemic rolled around the world, our entire team watched with empathy as we witnessed many making the same mistakes we did when it came to remote life. Now that so many companies have decided to keep remote work going in the future, we felt it was critical to share our lessons.
This booking Loving Remote will help you and your leadership team understand what you’re up against. It will explain simple principles such as how different remote life is for those who lead teams versus employees; how you may be blaming your exhaustion on technology (Zoom Fatigue anyone?) when it’s actually something different; and what it means to create success plans that will allow every employee on your team to LOVE the new remote reality both now and for years to come!
by Karolyn Hart
O = Operational Processes
M = Measurement
CHAPTER 5: REMOTE INSPIRATIONS
A Company Culture Based on Empathy
Before we begin, let’s state the obvious: global pandemics are hard. Even our team, who absolutely loves remote life and would never trade it for anything, has found working during a pandemic extraordinarily difficult. If we, who are experienced at remote work are struggling, we can only imagine how difficult it is for those new to this work experience.
That’s why we put this book together. We really are in this together, and if we can make things even a little bit easier for your team, then we’ve earned our company name. As we gathered and discussed this book as a team, it became clear there are three main considerations that we feel are foundational before getting into remote strategies and tactics for your organization.
We are all feeling exhausted, and Zoom is the least of the reasons.
All of these elements, foundationally, are exhausting in and of themselves, which means your exhaustion may have nothing to do with remote work, technology, or other things you may be thinking.
When observing a scientific phenomenon, it can be difficult to distinguish between a causation versus a correlation. Before COVID–19, we all understood there were more car accidents during peak commuting times. Yet, the fact that you are driving during that time is a correlation, a factor that may increase the odds but does not necessarily mean you are the cause of an accident.
At this time in history, many people are looking for an easy reason to explain why they are so exhausted after their conference calls. While there is a correlation (just like there is with you driving during a peak commute time), we believe it is not the technology that is causing your fatigue.
We believe this because we spent seven years experimenting with strategies and tactics to a point where having back-to-back video calls posed no more or less draws on our energy than back-to-back meetings did in real life. It took us many failed attempts to get it right and to get us to a point where our employees PREFER video over everything else and love this way of working.
This book will help you with the many strategies that have allowed us to LOVE working remotely. Our employees even share their own insights into what helped them find success. That said, we are also struggling because global pandemics are hard. Our goal is to hopefully help you and your team unpack the various challenges so that you can find a path that works both now and in years to come.
One of the most fortunate things to happen at InspireHUB is that we hired a number of MMO Players. If you’re not familiar with Massively Multiplayer Online gaming, then understand this: it’s a massive billion-dollar industry with standard players logging in to play anywhere from 1 to 5 hours a day during the business week. Lest you think that online gamers are a bunch of kids, let us debunk that. Less than 25% of MMO players are teenagers.
MMO is a serious business both for the industry, and it’s players. eSports in this industry was on the rise before the pandemic, with the United States Army attributing its investment in Call of Duty as one of it’s most effective recruitment tactics.
At InspireHUB, we were even more fortunate to have attracted not just MMO Players but Guild Leaders. These are the players that help to lead other players in missions for World of Warcraft and many other MMO games. One of the interesting things we’ve observed about those who game is that they hold a number of key relationships and digital skills when it comes to remote work. This includes the fact that they:
With this background, here are a few do’s and don’ts they brought to our team. The main one was that employees needed to understand what the digital rules of engagement are within a company just like players must in any game. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for your company:
We've been helping InspireHUB clients not just survive during this time but THRIVE! We collected all of our advice and made it available for FREE as our great big give-back during this difficult time.
One of our biggest breakthroughs came during an all-hands meeting where it became apparent that employees who did not have anyone reporting into them were struggling with the lack of social connection. While some teams had opted for co-working windows, others had not. Meanwhile, leaders who were constantly fielding inbound questions from their direct reports all day long had not considered how quiet and isolating a workday was for employees with no direct reports.
In a traditional office environment, often the biggest challenge many employees face is trying to minimize the interruptions so they can get their work done. However, in working remotely, that experience is inverted, and for those who are particularly social creatures, it actually can be detrimental to their work productivity and mental health. We had not considered that for some of our employees, their ONLY daily interaction was during their morning stand up video call.
We had not considered that for some of our employees, their ONLY daily interaction was during their morning stand up video call.
Creating success in this situation is not complicated. Here are some things that our teams have designed to meet the unique needs of their employees:
Contact Overload Syndrome is well known to those who work in customer service centers as it can lead to call center burnout. Research has shown that as many as 74% of agents are at risk. Interestingly, part of what contributes to the syndrome is the act of being ‘on-call’. Research shows that just knowing that work might reach you makes it hard to relax and properly recover.
Prior to COVID-19, remote employees would often remain ‘on-call’ at all hours because of multiple fears and worries about being perceived by their teams and bosses as not pulling their weight. Whether remote employees realized it or not, many placed themselves into a never-ending ‘on-call’ work schedule. This has been proven to have multiple negative effects on employees’ well-being and work-related outcomes such as:
This constant state of being on-call also has significant negative impacts on your employees’ personal lives. The impacts on workers include the erosion of critical personal relationships as they cannot be fully present; a state of feeling overwhelmed as household chores do not get adequately completed due to constant interruptions, and overall emotional exhaustion leading to burnout. At InspireHUB, we found the brighter and more defined the boundaries are around being on and off during work hours, the more our employees’ productivity increased.
Here are some tactics we found extremely helpful in creating a remote culture that has a healthy approach to disconnecting:
Creepy. That’s the word our team came up with to describe some of the alarming trends we are seeing from employers as they move to a remote workplace. If there’s one thing that has left us a little speechless, it’s been some of the questions we’ve received about ‘monitoring’ employees who work from home. Faced with a new reality that managers can no longer see their staff sitting at desks, they are grasping (and in some cases overreaching) for ways to exercise oversight and control. This has included everything from employers asking to install tracking software on personal computers (no, no, and double no) to employers who are mandating webcams be on at all times.
With this in mind, let’s outline a few more things for you to consider.
At InspireHUB, we believe that building a healthy remote life starts with trust. We agree with the CEO of Formstack, who leads another fully remote company and says: “We give our employees our trust, and they can earn our distrust.” This is critical when it comes to working with your teams as you navigate the need to see what your employees are doing with their right to privacy within their own homes. Privacy and security are essential pillars for InspireHUB, including our products, practices, and treatment of our employees. Our employees participate in Privacy by Design training sessions, and we work this approach into everything we do. With that in mind, here are some tips that your company should be training employees on when it comes to privacy:
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the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.
"the rules of etiquette are changing"
A new way of engaging!
The dictionary is always correct and never more so than now. A new world has been thrust upon many and with it, a new set of ways to engage. Unfortunately, many are trying to apply the old rules of engagement to this new world.
For example, in our previous world, being on a video camera was a very formal thing. Reporters have long struggled to get their interview subjects to just ‘act natural’ once the camera starts recording. Why does our behavior change with that little red light? It’s because we know what it all means. The challenge is that in today’s new remote world, being on a web camera is an entirely different experience.
Today, our web cameras are simply an extension of our eyes and being ‘on camera’ can be an informal, casual experience. Yet, old habits die hard. If you find that your virtual meetings don’t have the same ‘spark’ that your in-person meetings have, it may be that you simply haven’t transitioned to the new etiquette rules.
We’re here to help! We’ve assembled the etiquette rules that we’ve developed to make our life at InspireHUB—inspiring!
Recreating IRL (In-Real-Life) to Virtual Life
Your workday at the office has a number of predetermined routines that you don’t likely give much mind to but that help to create your office environment. When your staff are remote, recreating these moments are crucial to keep the connection and relationships strong.
Recreating your physical workspace as a virtual one is the first step. Still, your team needs the rules of engagement to understand what your expectations are on when it comes to managing their time and how they connect with one another.
At InspireHUB, we have a few more virtual etiquette items that we developed over the years. While people initially laughed when we shared them, a few horrifyingly embarrassing viral moments have now made others realize the wisdom of why we have these rules.
|WEAR PANTS||NO PHONES IN BATHROOM|
|We ask our employees to ensure they are FULLY clothed at all times. It prevents embarrassing moments, and it helps to create a distinction between work and downtime.||
In-person meetings and virtual meetings share many of the same fundamental rules of engagement for success. However, there are important differences. At InspireHUB, we have created specific rules over the years that have helped us make our virtual meetings extremely productive. We’re happy to share our “Happy Meeting Rules” with you!
Shut the door of your room, if possible, to reduce noise and distractions.
Mute your microphone when you’re not talking.
Set your microphone to reduce ambient and background noise.
Interrupting an on-going virtual meeting.
The same etiquette that applies to meetings at your office applies to the virtual world. You may ask someone: “Should I be at that meeting?” but you wouldn’t just invite yourself to the table (necessarily). However, sometimes something really important will happen, and you need to interrupt a group of people in the middle of a session to deliver some news. In this case, we usually opt for a ping to the group on a message. However, we’ve had the odd occasion that warranted someone jumping into the call. Explain to the employees WHEN this can happen in advance. Also, interrupting any meeting requires that certain etiquette should still apply. “Sorry to interrupt, but I think you guys need to see this…” is usually effective. We also use humor at times like these. My personal favorite was when a staff member jumped into a virtual call and declared: “Wait? Is this room double booked again, or am I just in the wrong office?”
Follow all the same success rules for meetings that you follow now.
Just because a virtual meeting is “different” doesn’t mean the rules change. At InspireHUB, in addition to the virtual meeting rules, we also follow these:
Don’t call a meeting if it can be done through email.
Have an agenda and a goal.
Ask yourself the question: “Why am I in this meeting?” and if you’re not providing value - leave.
Take detailed personal notes for your future reference.
Review the minutes taken from the meeting for accuracy.
We’ve got some practical ideas to help you quickly make the digital jump your business needs to survive.
Remote work is not a new phenomenon. For thousands of years, leaders have been managing people that are distributed, and there is a formula that predicts success.
When I was a young professional, I had the good fortune of being hired into a Fortune 500 company. It‘s still one of the leading Financial Services companies in the world today. The city where I worked included their five campuses, and they eventually bought a mall to house their ever-growing workforce. Interestingly, as I was in technology, I found it necessary to interact with all the divisions, and while I visited the various campuses occasionally, the bulk of my work was conducted remotely.
Since that time, I've overseen various large-scale projects, and in all cases, they involved a dispersed team. We didn't sit next to one another physically, but we got the job done. Ask any Regional Manager, and they will nod their head in agreement that it's not physical proximity that determines success but something else.
Interestingly, businesses are required to engage remotely with customers every day. They've proven they can serve and work with customers successfully without asking their customers to move in and live in their office building.
So why are some struggling with remote work, and how do you make remote work actually WORK for you? The first part of that question is rather simple. If you are having "trouble" with remote workers, it is much easier to blame "remote work" as being the problem than taking accountability for the issues that need to be faced in your organization. (Ouch!) Remote work isn't the problem, but rather your management of it is. (Double ouch.) The reality is that remote work will magnify any management issues you have within your company.
Don't worry; we're here to help you debunk the myths and to show you how using your MOM can make the difference in successfully engaging your team. MOM is an acronym that you can use to help you evaluate and understand the areas within your organization that may need attention.
We realize this seems pretty basic but allow us to state the obvious. You are only as good as the managers in your organization. If you don't have good management, you will not have success. The same issues that you have sitting physically next to a person in your office will be the same issues you will have with a remote workforce. The bigger question is: "What does good management look like?" (There are thousands of books on this topic alone.) Some of the basic principles include making sure that you are connected, that you are actually being involved, and that you're not just assuming that the members of your workforce all know what they are doing. According to Gallup, only half of employees know what is expected of them at work.
An interesting exercise I love to give executives is to have them walk through one of their divisions. Take a look randomly at one of the employees under your direction and ask yourself this question: "Do I know what this person is working on specifically today?" You'd be surprised to learn how many leaders don't have that level of insight into their people.
Creating a healthy culture of engagement starts with your employees understanding how their work contributes to success, and having managers who can equally speak to that individual's contribution. This is not an exercise in micro-management but an overall approach to your management.
Remember: The same problems you had working with a group in a physical building will be the same problems you will have with a remote workforce. When you apply the same level of management expertise to all your staff, you will see how performance issues equally affect your team regardless of their location. One of the complaints from remote employees is that they are often made to feel like they are second-class citizens because they are not thought of for important opportunities or projects.
The problem is not the staff who are working remotely but rather a lazy company culture that doesn’t think with intentionality about who should be at the table. (Ouch! That’s a tough truth pill to swallow.) When you are working on projects or holding meetings, the first question your team should be trained to ask is: “Who needs to be at this table?”.
This will force your team to really think about what staff need to be involved, and it will also ensure that critical employees who are working remotely are not left out. Here are some other practices that we train our leaders to do at InspireHUB:
Operational processes are not the sort of things that lend themselves to inspiring Ted Talks or getting teams excited. In short, they are boring, but you must have great operational processes in place to engage your employees. What that means is that, as part of your processes, you must be the active embodiment of what you are expecting of your staff.
One of the mistakes we noticed prior to COVID-19 was that many leaders and managers had a remote workforce, but they had never actually tried working remotely themselves. Now that virtually everyone (pun intended) has had this chance, you have a much better idea of some of the challenges in working remotely. That said, here’s a reminder: just because you spent the last couple of months working remotely doesn’t mean you’re good at it. You’re just starting, and there are training and tools you’re going to need to get to the big leagues.
At InspireHUB, we have designed a number of processes (along with an approach to what we value) that helps new employees acclimate. This includes pairing new employees with “remote buddies” to help coach them and show them the ropes.
We keep harping on this, but one of the most important things you can do in developing your remote workforce from a process perspective is to replicate in the virtual space all those things that would typically happen within a traditional physical office.
For example, if every morning, there is an informal update that happens in the kitchen between team members who share what they are working on that day, then you need to intentionally recreate that experience, virtually. At InspireHUB, our teams meet every morning on video chat (coffees in hand) for 15-minute stand-ups that ensure we are connecting.
Do not underestimate the power of successful operational processes. Having proper engagement systems in place can address many issues, including nullifying resentment that can build between "offsite" and "onsite" employees by increasing trust and transparency. This only happens when you've designed the systems to facilitate successful engagement. Employee handbooks and policies should be updated with remote work processes, including:
What is ’deskput’? We define deskput as the ancient and outdated practice of measuring an employee’s success by watching them sit at their desk. At InspireHUB, we place the emphasis directly on output as opposed to where an employee is sitting. Over the years, our employees have completed their work from many different locations, including on a barge in Dublin, at the top of a mountain, and in the rolling hills of Italy. What we know is that the effectiveness of measurement is determined by the tools you use, whether that is a management approach or an actual piece of technology.
At InspireHUB, we have made this our mission. We have created the award-winning IHUBApp that gives organizations the ability to build whatever digital experience they need to better engage with their audience, and that provides the ability to see detailed analytics and reporting.
We are a technology company, and while we use the IHUBApp for ourselves (always a good sign), it's not the only tool we use. Your tool selection for your team is going to be critical. In our case, we have various development and project management tools that we use to get our work done. Combined with really great people in management, excellent operational processes, and the tools behind all this, it creates an environment of success.
Every year, dozens of thought leaders have presented their ideas on what success will look like for companies in the following year. No one could have predicted a global pandemic, unprecedented unemployment rates and a faltering economy.
In the middle of so much bleak news and global failure, is there success to be found? With the largest companies in the world faltering, what hope is there for small to mid-size businesses?
While business success in 2020 will be completely altered, there’s already a silver lining slowly emerging and providing some hints about the sort of shifts we will see through the remainder of this year.
One of the lessons we learned as UN-InspireHUB was that remote work makes no discernible difference when it comes to having a culture you love. Our employees will tell you that in the early days of our company we were anything BUT inspiring. There were a number of reasons for this, including the fact that, as a new company, we had an incredibly low-trust environment because we had no history with one another.
What single trait is present in all inspiration? Pain!
Interestingly, during those early days, one of the things we did was conduct research on inspiration. Many people find different things inspiring, and we had wondered if there was a single indicator to know if something would be received as universally inspiring. We reviewed academic studies on everything including awe, motivation and inspiration and collected the various attributes into a matrix.
Then we found there was one, single trait that was consistent among all studies —the presence of pain.
That’s right. If something or someone encounters pain, doesn’t give up and even goes on to overcome it, we all agree that is the definition of ‘inspiring’. Armed with that knowledge, we took a look at everything that was causing our team pain and decided to do something about it. It was not easy. We had many painful conversations, issued apologies, and set to work correcting situations. What made it all possible was our decision to really seek an understanding of what everyone was feeling: otherwise known as empathy. That entire experience deserves its own book, but in the interest of Loving Remote, we will share an article written by Sue Braiden that outlines the results of those efforts. You’ll see that being able to work remotely was (and still is) a top item we value, but the remote work is just one element of creating an inspiring and healthy culture.
It's one thing to make policies that put people first in company culture. It's another thing entirely to model them. But being part of a corporate social experiment designed to prove that putting the bottom line and people first are not competing ideals? Better buckle up!
Getting beyond lip-service often means a lot of falling down and getting things wrong before you find your groove. Our Founder, Karolyn Hart, jokes about our being "UnInspireHUB" while we fumbled through the transition from a more traditional workplace to the 100% remote -- and empowered -- workplace we have now. She's bent on disrupting some of the most toxic foundations of corporate culture, starting with ours.
With seven years of experience working 100% remotely, we have found that success strategies and tactics for loving remote life are as unique and individual as our people. We asked our team what advice and tips they would want to share with those who are struggling to love working remotely. Here’s what they had to say!
Motivation may be hard at home,
my advice is to set yourself a goal for each day and work towards accomplishing that goal.
You’ll find your commute is suddenly shorter and for some, coming into the “office” early or staying late will happen much easier than you think. Set hours for yourself in the calendar and schedule lunch/breaks away from your desk. Also, be transparent with the time you have set on your calendar. People can see what projects you are working on/what meetings you are in and know if it’s a good time to DM/chat.
Taking care of yourself physically helps you mentally in the world of remote work. For me, I thrive off of stepping out of the office and going for a walk, 30-minute workout, group activity like Taekwondo or Spin class - anything that gets me out of the house and also interacting with other people.
FILL YOUR CUP
If you’re very extroverted and thrive off physical human connection, it may be difficult to work remotely. The key is being intentional outside of work to fill your cup. Make plans with friends on weekdays, join team activities and maybe even get a second job where you’re constantly interacting with humans if possible. The social interactions you have outside of working hours will fuel your remote motivation, so it becomes a welcomed rest instead of draining isolation.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Use tools and create routines that create clear distinctions between work and home. Because my kids are grown, I struggle with making work my "all". I’ve adopted a couple of practices that help habituate me toward turning work and home off and on in healthier ways.
I dress up as if I was going to an actual office. I actually feel different, and it puts me in work mode straight away. When I’m done, I change into something more casual. It may seem like a small shift, but mentally, it’s a disconnect that helps me balance.
I also find setting alarms to remind me to stand up and stretch for a bit, stop and eat lunch and get outside for a bit of a walk, and to turn work off at the end of the day helps. I make a point of choosing activities that take me out of work mode at a reasonable hour.
While this is more challenging during a pandemic, it’s not impossible. For me, it’s all about creating habits, so my brain anticipates not only connecting with the teammates I love, but the people outside of the job that earning a living is meant to be about!
SEPARATE YOUR WORKSPACE
Have a separate space for work. For the longest time, I had trouble working in the same space I played video games during my off-hours. It’s important to have a dedicated space you can shut the door of at the end of the day and step away from.
WORKSTATION DESIGN MATTERS
My personal experience is to first set up an amazing working station. Have a back-pain-free chair, extra 1 or 2 high-resolution monitors and useful tools like printer, paper, pencil within a hand reach distance.
EXPECT DISTURBANCES IN THE FORCE
Disturbance is common and inevitable when working from home, so instead of working on annoyingly short intervals, collect time and keep focusing on the work when you have a relatively long “peaceful” time.
When having meetings with your colleagues, clients, etc., it is important to have meetings on-camera instead of voice-only. This will help communication and to understand the tone of the conversation and avoids misinterpretation of the message as more than 90% of our communication is non-verbal.
It is important to have ‘social meetings’ where you can get together with your team and discuss non-work related topics, to strengthen team cohesion and rapport.
InspireHUB’s VP Global Sales was new to InspireHUB and remote work when COVID-19 arrived.
As the newest member of the team and a long veteran of an office dwelling, I've had to learn a whole new "love language" in remote working.
First, the permission (I daresay the requirement) to interrupt is something I have not really seen before in the work environment. This simple guideline helps the team to have more direct, more open, and more honest
Second, the "no multitasking" rule is absolutely essential. The rule of always being on camera is key to attentiveness and mutual respect among the team.
Finally, meetings in the remote world are more than just business. This is our time to connect, to bond, and to become family.
VP Global Sales. InspireHUB Inc.
Do you remember where you were when you first had the dream of building your small business? How the mere thought of it sparked an excitement and a future filled with hope? Where were you the first time you sat down and began to take the action to implement your dream?
The journey to launching your own business is unique to every business owner, but we have so much in common. In the early days of creating your business, everything feels fresh and exciting regardless of whether your network of friends and family are supportive and telling you that you are absolutely ‘crazy’.
Deep down, you knew one thing for sure. There was a moment you stepped out in faith and realized there was no going back. The reality is that there is nothing easy about the process of creating and launching a small business. At InspireHUB, we know that 90% of businesses are small and helping YOU become successful has a direct impact on creating a healthy community, town, city, country and economy! That’s why we created the Big on Small Podcast, the official small business podcast that is fully focused on the running of small organizations. Join us and learn more at: bigonsmall.biz