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March 23, 2020 48 min

If you’re in a leadership position in the engineering industry and have suddenly been thrust into working remotely, it may feel like your world has been turned upside down. In this episode of Simple Leadership, Dana Lawson and I discuss a few tips to help you manage remote teams. You want your team to thrive and be successful during a time of great uncertainty.

Dana describes herself as an atypical engineer. She wanted to attend college to be an artist but soon realized the ‘starving artist’ lifestyle wasn’t going to cut it. She took the ASVAB test when she joined the military and scored high in engineering categories. In the last 20 years, she’s worked in every tech position possible—most recently, she is the VP of Engineering at GitHub. Listen to hear her unique story!

Outline of This Episode
  • [1:38] Dana Lawson: from art major to engineer
  • [6:18] How Dana found herself in a leadership role
  • [9:02] Mistakes Dana has learned from throughout her career
  • [12:27] We got to eat dinner at Al Gore’s house
  • [15:48] Tips and strategies for managing remotely
  • [26:38] Don’t forget these aren’t just transactional relationships
  • [30:42] How to onboard a new hire completely remotely
  • [34:45] What happens when the process doesn’t go well?
  • [37:04] Help remote employees advocate for themselves
  • You have to embrace a leadership mindset

    Dana states that “Anybody can be a leader, it’s just how much you wanna unlock it”. She believes it’s an attribute that’s been ingrained in her personality. She’s naturally an A-Type and has never been afraid to speak her mind. In whatever capacity she was working in, she always took the initiative to move the ball forward. 

    You don’t have to have a management title to be a leader. 

    She just believes that some of us gravitate towards being a leader more than others—but that we all have the calling to lead in some way. Dana argues, “Anybody has the ability to go influence change and bring up the people around them to do great things”. 

    Tips and strategies to manage remote teams

    Dana shared some tips she’s learned from a managerial role:

  • Write it down. Have a good practice of writing things down. Track what’s being done throughout the day. Reiterate tasks and instructions multiple times through different modes of communication whenever possible. 
  • Form a daily structure for your team and yourself. Don’t stop the practices you already have in place because you suddenly have this new obstacle of working from home. You can still hold the same meetings, just do them virtually. 
  • Take advantage of ALL the communication tools available to you. Slack and online chats are great, but if the conversation is going to be longer than 5 minutes, hop in a video chat (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime) or a phone call. 90% of communication is non-verbal and it’s okay to jump from chat to a call.
  • Invest in some camera gear: This is my tip here, but get a decent webcam off of Amazon and use appropriate lighting when using Zoom or other video applications. 
  • To keep things light-hearted—though partially serious—Dana points out that you have be on-point with your emoji game. There’s verbal communication, non-verbal, and emoji verbal. Humans have reverted to Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Oddly enough, each company has its own set of social norms with emojis—so learn quickly. 

    These aren’t just transactional relationships

    Don’t forget there are humans on the other side of your communication. How would you interact with someone in the office? What about pleasantries like “Hey, good morning!” or “How are you today?”. Dana points out you can ask about your team’s families, learn about their dog, and keep apprised of their life like you would in the office

    A distributed workforce still needs to feel like they’re part of the office family. Dana points out that you want to build empathy even when you won't have the physical contact that you would in an office setting. Especially now, with many people working from home due to the Coronavirus, people are anxious. They’re worried about their jobs and their livelihood. 

    As a manager, you’ll have to learn how to empathize with them and how to quell their fears. You’ll likely have to help them focus on the projects at-hand and iterate that you are in this together. Above all, Dana recommends being realistic about your deadlines. Transitioning into working remotely won’t be 100% smooth and you have to have grace through the process.

    How to onboard a new hire 100% remotely

    Dana believes the easiest way to onboard remotely is to be completely intentional with everything you do. Schedule every onboarding task and learning opportunity into their calendar Direct them to all of the tools and processes they’ll need. Email them with links to training documents, with a schedule of when to go through them. Dana points out this is a great time to record training videos. It helps break up written policies and gives new hires a face and voice to connect to. 

    Communication is key during the onboarding process and needs to be even more emphasized with a remote workforce. You can’t just tell them, “Connect with me if you have questions” or “Tell me if you have a problem”. As the manager, it is your job to consistently check-in, ask how they’re doing, and walk them through issues they may run into. Worst comes to worst, you can always push the onboarding process until you have a better system in place.

    Listen to the whole episode to hear Dana and I talk about helping remote employees advocate for themselves and hear in detail our discussion on leading remotely and doing so successfully. 

    Resources & People Mentioned
  • Andela
  • Buffer
  • Zapier
  • GET Lab
  • BOOK: Turn the Ship Around!
  • Team Treehouse podcast
  • Connect with Dana Lawson
  • LinkedIn
  • Connect With Christian McCarrick and SimpleLeadership
  • http://simpleleadership.io/
  • Christian on LinkedIn
  • Christian on Twitter: @CMcCarrick

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