I’ll be honest in saying that I launched Structural because I knew remote work was coming, not because I wanted it to.
Previously, I suffered from a pessimism problem in thinking about remote work. I focused on what it was taking away and not on the new opportunities it creates for society and for all of us.
When it fails, remote work is isolating, exclusive and burnout-inducing. It kills the spontaneous collaboration and innovation sparked by chance encounters between colleagues. Remote work can dilute organizational culture and cause breakdowns in communication.
This is all true when an organization goes to remote work willingly and thoughtfully. It was more true when COVID-19 forced remote work on most organizations before they were ready.
Through our work, I’ve witnessed several organizations ranging in size and complexity successfully migrate to remote or hybrid environments using our platform. I’ve personally experienced the beneficial aspects of a partially virtual work environment, too - our own company operates on a hybrid work model. So my stance on remote and hybrid work has moved in a positive direction over time.
Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere
Everyone is an "expert" on remote work in 2021, but just doing something doesn’t mean you know how to do it well.
Luckily, Harvard Business School Professor and global work expert Tsedal Neeley has the research and background to back up her advice. She is the expert on remote work. Her brilliant book, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere lays out the path for leaders and individual contributors to succeed.
I love this book for two key reasons. For one, it paints a very optimistic picture of a better world through remote work. Second, its practical and shares techniques that are actually attainable to help strengthen trust and relationships across distributed teams.
Harvard Business School professor, digital workplace expert and award-winning author Tsedal Neeley.
Check out our 20 min fireside chat with Professor Neeley and receive a free copy of her latest book.
There are three key themes throughout the book:
Spontaneous opportunities for informal communication are generally rare among distributed teams. Professor Neeley points out that these types of interactions are so important for establishing emotional trust, which enhances productivity and collaboration. Therefore, they must be planned for and created in a remote or hybrid work environment.
Professor Neeley refers to this as “structuring unstructured time.” She mentions that this can be as simple as taking the time to ask questions about teammates’ own lives and work at the beginning of a meeting rather than jumping right into a formal agenda. Additionally, she points out that technology can play a beneficial role in fostering interactions between distant colleagues, particularly if a platform brings together social and professional information. This subsequently builds trust. Regarding a study conducted on this subject, Professor Neeley shared:
“The visible intermingling of work and non-work content, including public posts between coworkers, allowed individual employees to get a sense for whether they could trust one another even though they did not directly interact or share a meaningful affiliation—trust allowed employees to determine if they could ask each other for help or share helpful knowledge regarding work-related matters.”
In tandem with intentionality, self-disclosure or making oneself known to others plays a major role in building trust among distributed workforces. Individuals must take the time to share information with one another regarding their preferences, behaviors, habits, skills and interests - or, what Professor Neeley describes as “direct knowledge.” She explains that providing this glimpse of humanness (at a level that is comfortable to you) not only helps others trust you in your role but it also contributes to your own “reflected knowledge” or insight into how others see you. She shares:
“The more we feel understood by colleagues, the easier it is to trust them.”
Direct and reflected knowledge builds empathy and a stronger bond between colleagues even if they’ve never met, and will never meet, in person. This makes collaborating across space and time with a stranger less of a mental and emotional obstacle, increasing information-sharing and productivity.
The above components won’t foster a successful distributed workplace without routine and consistency. “Structured unstructured” time and opportunities for self-disclosure should ideally be built into the day-to-day work of employees, meeting them where they’re at. According to Professor Neeley:
“The best way to internalize values, norms, and behaviors for enduring success on distributed teams is to provide regular content that syncs naturally into work routines.”
To build intentionality and vulnerability in the workplace long-term, especially a hybrid or remote one, these behaviors need to be encouraged and also carried out by leadership on a regular, highly visible basis. They also need to fit as easily into the workday as they possibly can.
Structural’s Role in Helping Distributed Employees Succeed from Anywhere:
- Stunningly rich profiles on every employee created automatically from existing data.
- Easy ability for employees to personalize profiles with everything from personal interests to professional goals
- Ability to find others and be found across even the largest organizations while learning about colleagues and building trust “Who else knows Spanish?” “Who can help me with data analytics?” “Who are the other Harry Potter fans?”
- Using profile data to intentionally break down silos by showing people what they have in common with others, where they fit in, and what opportunities and personal connections might be of interest.
Structural's rich, personalized employee profiles provide a scalable form of self-disclosure, featuring information on individual skill sets, interests, preferences, and other direct knowledge that is easily accessible by colleagues.
“Remote work was tearing at the relationship building that was happening in person. We're trying to create virtual spaces where our employees from across the company can come together and create community. How do we bring people together in this remote environment? Structural is that tool for us.”
- Kristen Matha, Diversity & Inclusion Director, Ice Miller LLP
Recently, I was able to sit down with Professor Neeley for a 25-minute virtual fireside chat. It was an illuminating conversation about hybrid work, equity and how to help your people build trusting relationships at work.
Check out the event recording here. Sign up now and you will also receive a free copy of her book: Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback once you’ve finished reading.
See how Structural can help your organization thrive at hybrid work. Request your custom demo today.