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The art of the remote

By Keith Bortoluzzi, CEO, Thread

It’s been almost a year since most of us packed up our laptops and left the office to work from home. Since that time, there have been changes to restrictions allowing us to come together with our teams in a socially distanced way, but for the most part, we have been forced to work remotely and connect with colleagues digitally.

At Thread, we are no exception. As a technology provider, we were used to operating in a digital environment, but as the rest of the world moved online, we thought it would be useful to put some guidelines in place to ensure we were working as collaboratively as possible. After all, creating collaborative workflows for asset managers is what we do every day.

Driving these guidelines was the fundamental belief that while working remotely has its challenges, there are also many opportunities to be gained.

The challenges of remote working

Needless to say, we’ve come across a number of difficulties around remote working, some which have been common across most organisations and others which were not anticipated. As the Thread team looked for solutions to these challenges, we found many of our own partners and customers were facing similar problems:

  • Misalignment: getting a team aligned to a common goal is difficult in normal circumstances and even more so when you can’t come together and share ideas. We had to communicate a new vision for the company and get internal endorsement by colleagues.
  • Miscommunication: non-verbal communication represents around two-thirds of human interaction. Reading the subtleties of body language is always going to be a challenge in remote meetings, but it is important in making sure everyone has bought into decisions. We also quickly realized that different team members expressed themselves in different ways. Our Lead Designer, for example, likes to show and draw things, which is extremely difficult when communicating through a screen.
  • Misunderstanding: remote working deprives us of a key element of communication – context. For example, when our CTO and PM are in the middle of a sprint, they have limited time to respond to emails and messages. If other team members aren’t aware of their situation, they could easily take offense to shorter or abrupt replies to questions.
  • Dealing with emotions: remote working can strip us of one of the main benefits of coming together as a team, that of providing emotional support to colleagues. During lockdown, we have encouraged everyone on our team to share how they are feeling, whether it is excited and joyful or angry and frustrated. Humans are social animals and so the impact of lockdown on mental health is unsurprising. At Thread, we were very conscious to promote the importance of belonging to a team, and encourage colleagues to talk about their emotional wellbeing.
  • Lack of face-to-face interactions: At Thread, we believe a great workplace is an environment which succeeds in setting the right balance between autonomy and management intervention. Remote working tends to support the former but reduce the latter which can be a challenge. Equally, it is more difficult to learn from each other whist we are all sitting in home offices or working off kitchen tables.
  • Distractions: without the option of speaking to colleagues face-to-face, we have all had to rely on messaging tools and email. If not used properly, these can become a distraction and limit productivity. Similarly, within our home environment, there can be a multitude of distractions, whether you have children who are home schooling to the temptation to do a few jobs around the house during the working day, which can hinder concentration.
  • Increased work-family stress and conflict: although many of us will have occasionally worked from home before the pandemic, this prolonged period of being at home can place a lot of strain upon our private lives. Studies show that remote working can intensify work-family conflicts and increase stress as it blurs the lines between home and work.

Creating opportunities with digital working

Staying safe and well is clearly the most important benefit of remote working, but we have definitely seen other plus points. In terms of recruitment and working with the best talent, wherever it is located, remote working opens up multiple opportunities. It also allows greater flexibility for our team in terms of where and when they work. Needless to say, we intend to maintain remote working regardless of changes to lockdown and the welcome rollout of the vaccine.

Here’s what we have learned so far about making remote learning work well at Thread:

  • Opening up the discussion: while we’ve been remote working, we’ve made a point of encouraging questions, concerns, crazy ideas, and anything our colleagues wanted to put on the agenda. In order to recapture some of the lost benefits of serendipity, we hold an open discussion during our Friday team meetings. We ask the team to submit questions and vote on which we discuss during the day.
  • Transparency as a core principle: we believe full transparency in all aspects of our work, and in particular communication, is one of the key enablers of a truly successful remote team. To this end, we make sure all channels and documents on the online tools we use – in our case Notion and Slack – are open to everyone. Because everything is open, we stay informed, aligned and motivated.

Over the last year, following these simple but effective rules has enabled our Thread team to work efficiently and productively. As we move forward in 2021, we are excited to embrace all of the learnings gained since we first embraced remote working last year while enjoying the benefits of coming together as a team as soon as we can.

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