Managing a dispersed workforce has many benefits - for example, getting the talent you need, regardless of where they physically reside. And the digital workplace has created a world where remote work is not only possible, but even commonplace and often preferred. And yet, we’ve written extensively about the difficulties of supporting employees in multiple locations - which is complicated further by trends like remote work and the gig economy.
Audrey Pedro, a Product Manager here at PeopleDoc, recently presented at the Meetup LPCx in Paris about the challenges she faces in managing a remote team and her tips for other remote managers. (You can watch her presentation in French here.) We spoke with her to learn more.
1. Tell us a little about your team.
I am the Product Manager for Process Automation at PeopleDoc. I am based in Paris but I work closely with other teams like Product Marketing and Implementations which are based in New York. The Process Automation developers are 100% remote - the lead tech is in Poitiers, and the developers are in Aix-en-Provence, Vannes and Edinburgh. The good thing is that we are almost in the same timezone!
2. What’s been easy about managing your remote team? What’s been challenging? Any surprises along the way?
PeopleDoc isn’t my first experience with distributed teams but it is the first time it works so well. The easy part for me is about creating and maintaining team spirit. I am a team player and a strong believer that we go much farther together than alone. I like having rituals, shared experiences, inside jokes, team building activities with my team, etc.
The more challenging part is about finding the right communication channels and I think there is no silver bullet here! It will really depend on your team and the personalities of your colleagues. The biggest surprise for me is the sense of belonging we managed to create inside the team today. It is one of those teams you are proud to be part of and I would rank it really high amongst the 7 or 8 teams I have been part of.
Another surprise is how it always comes back to communication in the end. I think the main thing is that being distributed can make it easier to miscommunicate (or not communicate at all), for example:
forgetting to involve the remote workers just because they are not here next to you (impromptu meetings at someone’s desk are really really bad for distributed teams),
taking for granted that your team knows about something when in reality they haven’t been exposed to that information (the coffee machine gossip about this new project hasn’t traveled to their home)
avoiding tough discussions about disagreements or about something that pissed you off because it’s difficult face-to-face but gets a hundred times harder remotely (Should I really talk about this to my camera?). The answer is yes always, even if hiding is a lot easier when you are not seeing your colleagues physically each day.
3. You work closely with the PeopleDoc team in the US. How do you ensure that you are aligned and collaborating?
Yes I do and it was both a very important part of the job for me because I love to work in an international context and a bit scary because of previous experiences. It’s critical for me to communicate a lot. I have 1:1s with the important colleagues I work with in the US. Another important point with them since we start to have a bigger timezone difference is to leverage asynchronicity. For example, I always try to answer to their emails just before they start work so they will be able to go forward the next day without having to remind me after my working hours.
Another important thing about asynchronicity is the channels you use. Email is a good one for this. The video conference call tool we use is a great help since it allows us to have discussions almost as if we were sitting next to each other! Finally, I try to travel regularly to spend some time with them. I think this is really important no matter how good you are with distributed teams. Meeting once in awhile and sharing outside-of-work moments with your far-away colleagues is key.
4. What tips do you have for professionals managing a remote team?
I think I already mentioned some of the things I learned and try to apply to my team today. Another important point for me is to always be flexible in what you do: try something out and see how the team reacts. You may need to adapt some well defined rituals to your very specific context. We chose for example to extend our Daily Scrum Meeting to discuss more together since it is the one moment of the day where we have the entire team in the same virtual conference room!
Another important success factor is investment in the right tools. Having an effective conference call tool is a must. We invested in some other tools like Slack for discussions and Retrium for Agile retrospective. It is important to make it easy for your team to communicate efficiently.
Last but not least, you need to trust your colleagues… Having a distributed team means that you never know when people get to work or leave or take breaks and to be honest, you shouldn’t care! If you build an engaging environment with trust and empowerment then your team is going to give its best and you will know it. There is something quite magical when you have a colleague starting to work on the next most important thing without you having to say anything; this is when you know your team is more than good.
Connect with Audrey on LinkedIn and Twitter to stay up-to-date on her thoughts on product strategy, HR technology, and working with remote teams.
Nicole Lindenbaum is the Director of Product Marketing at PeopleDoc. She writes and speaks about HR service delivery, HR technology, digital transformation, and the future of work. With significant experience in enterprise software, Nicole has worked in both HR technology and document management software.
Nicole holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University and a Master of Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.