David Burkus, keynote speaker, and organizational psychologist, and author of Leading from Anywhere shares his six tips for not only being a more effective leader of a virtual team, but how to be a key contributor to the overall company culture – even when that culture is reduced to Zoom meetings and DM chats.
And I'm in front of all of you pretty much throughout the week. And I'm hearing all kinds of comments about burnout, not being able to get people to do what you ask them to do. Motivating teams, the list goes on and on. So I thought it was very appropriate to have someone like David come in and not only share his six tips on how to stay sane and lead a remote team, but also to answer your questions live because I know you have so many of them, there are about 25 of you on this call today, so I'm going to ask you as David and I are talking to start putting your questions in the chat. And I will, um, harvest them from the chat and introduce you by your name and your title and ask your questions so that we can get through as many of your questions as possible. David. Welcome.David Burkus:
Yeah. Hey, thank you so much for having me. Sorry. I was getting my six tips pulled up, right. As you said, welcome.Joya Dass:
Yes, I have my six tips pulled up as well. So we were going to talk about remote teams and leadership. And so your first tip actually has to do with teaching your team to work out loud. What does that mean?David Burkus:
Yeah. So let me, uh, let me, let me back up and introduce a concept there too. So when we look at a lot of the research that was conduct. Even BC "Before Corona", right around virtual teams, one of the core cultural elements, right? There's a lot of talk about how do we build culture on a team without being on a team, without being a physical presence together. And what they found was what they came to describe as shared understanding was one of the key elements of a team culture remotely. And that is the, that is shared. Understanding means the team understands everything from the work preferences to the knowledge, skills, and abilities. They understand what other people, what the assigned tasks of other people on the team are. And I think especially in the last year, they understand the context people are working in, they understand their schedule. They understand whether or not like, I I'm lucky enough to be in a, about a 10 by 10 foot room in the basement of my house. My kids are in in-person school, so they're not going to interrupt in the next hour. Right. And other people, I mean, I already saw it, Melanie. I'm not picking on you. Right. But other people's life are like, look, I'm driving right now. This is the only way I can fit this in. It's important for a team to understand that context right off the bat so that they can collaborate better. And one of the keys to that at least over the last year, especially, has been teaching the team to do what I call working out loud, which means that everybody is aware of what everybody else is working on. One of the things we saw almost any time a team goes virtual, but especially when every team goes virtual all at once in the last year, As the team leaders, managers started feeling less like they led a team and more like they manage 10 individual relationships, right. You're just keeping communication one-on-one with each person, assigning tasks, giving feedback, providing support, where you can, but there's not a lot of crosstalk anymore. There's not a lot of peer to peer. Here's what I'm working on, et cetera. And so this is what I mean by working out loud. How do we reteach the team to keep everyone up to date on what everybody's working on? This happens organically in an in-person environment because you can just tap someone on the shoulder. Sometimes you're working in an open office where of course, you know what everyone's working on. They're always distracting you from working on what you're supposed to be working on. But in a remote context that needs to happen much more deliberately, and there's a lot of different ways to do it. I wish I could just say boom, do this, but every team is different. The most successful ones I've seen have some variation or some adaptation of, uh, what is often referred to in the world of scrum or agile software development as the daily standup. But I don't think it has to be daily. I see a lot of teams that do this on a weekly basis. Uh, some do it on a daily, but it's a much shorter conversation, but the idea in a daily standup or a weekly standup is that everybody opens the, that period of work with a report on what did I just complete? What am I focused on right now? And what's blocking my progress. And if you take the time to have the team be answering those questions on again, on whatever cycle works for the team, I've seen everything from daily to two weeks, uh, done in sprints where they begin the sprint with, what did I complete last sprint? What am I focused on this sprint? And I think the real key question is what's blocking my progress? Because the other thing that happens is that requests for help are a whole lot harder in a remote environment. I mean, you know this cause you're bearing the brunt of your team's requests for help things where they used to walk down the hall and ask somebody on the team for help. Now they go to you and then it's your job to figure out who is the right person to connect them with and then loop them to a person who's who's on the team that they could have emailed anyway. But when you make it sort of team culture acceptable to say, what do I need help with? And this is what I love about a question that's framed like what's blocking my progress. It's not I'm failing. I need help. It's I'm working on this, but I see these roadblocks. And then you open up the opportunity for people to volunteer help, right? So not only does a simple thing like that, the three questions, what did I work on? What am I working on now? And what's blocking my progress, help make that crosstalk happen a lot more. It helps build that sense of shared understanding, which is a core cultural, uh, element of a thriving remote team.Joya Dass:
David, the next piece is that you identity, right? Like you've got a new person that's onboarding and they don't even have a sense of belonging. So how do you build shared identity? Like what, how has building buffer times key to that?David Burkus:
Yeah, so shared identity is actually the other element that we found in the research and this research was conducted that I'm referring to, by the way, if you want to pull the study was conducted by Martine Hoss and Mark Mortenson, and they found this shared understanding and shared identity piece. You can dive into the super weird academic paper, but if you also type "Secrets of Great Teamwork" or "Secrets of Teamwork, HBR" into Google, you'll find their HBR sort of summary of it. But then what they found was that the thriving remote teams had shared understanding and shared identity, shared identity is especially important. Like you said, when we're onboarding. But also in the sense of historically in the sense of cross-functional teams or international teams, most virtual teams were virtual because of a geographic constraint. We needed these people with these skills and abilities together, but they weren't always in the same office. Well, now it's, it's a result of the pandemic. And I think as we move forward 2021 and beyond it'll be a result of people's work preferences. I think it's actually kind of foolish for most of us to assume we're going right back to the way things were five days a week, eight hours a day, et cetera, we're headed for a workplace with a whole lot more flexibility. My hope is a lot less stigma on the people who are requesting that flexibility. And what that's going to create is a new potential conflict of identity, which is the remoters versus the co-located. Those people who are further out feeling like they're further removed. Right? So all of that, all of that becomes a bit of an issue. So all of that becomes a bit of an issue, right? Um, and so what shared identity means is the sense to which we feel like we're members of this team. We draw our identity from being associated with this group. And when you look at the ways that people build shared identity in a co-located environment, it's almost never, uh, the, the recommandatory story team events, right? The, the scheduled fundatory events and those sorts of things. It's not the, it's the, it's the little accidental spaces, the collisions, the, the little space of the meeting before the meeting that happens as you're walking to the conference room or, or you arrived early and you're catching up on each other's work. They, all of those little interactions build a affinity for each other. They, they let people find what we call in psychology, uncommon, commonalities, things that you have in common that nobody else in the team maybe has in common. And that builds a sense of bonding. But in a virtual team, you know, we've actually been pretty good at doing the whole communicating or the work thing and jumping at work. We're actually running fairly efficient zoom meetings on the team. Now, at this point, like compared to prior meetings, right. It used to be, we wasted two hours now we're just wasting 45. So that's an increase in efficiency. Right. Um, but what we lost in that are those buffer times, those little times before and after a meeting or those scheduled deliberate, but unstructured times where people catch up on that. So what we see is a lot of thriving virtual teams that will do this in a couple of different ways. My favorite way is actually, actually it's exactly what you and I did. You'd sent me an email before we started at 11 my time, but at 10 50, I'll be on. And that 10 minutes. Yeah. Okay. We've made sure the cameras work and that sort of stuff. And then we talked about life. Where you lived, where I have the, oh, I have a sister that lived in the same area, all of those sort of things they happen before. So I think it's a kind of a cool idea as a team to develop that. Right. So, okay. Our weekly, all hands meeting is scheduled for Monday at 11, but as the team starts to realize that you're on at 10 45, they start jumping on at 10 45 and we have that unstructured time beforehand. Other teams do it afterwards. Right. So they dismiss the meeting, but they leave the line open that can work really, really well. And other teams don't do that. But what they do, I've actually, almost every pre pandemic virtual team that I've worked with or studied has some variation of what some, some of the team I call it fika because that's what some teams call it. Fika is a Swedish word. It translates as to have coffee. And what I mean by that is they'll have a deliberate program where members of the team opt in and then get randomized to have a 30 minute coffee talk once a week with somebody else on the team. And the idea is we're having a non-work conversation. We're just having, we're taking a break together, but we're also having time to get to know one another. These buffer times tend to work way better for building bonds than all of those sorts of you, you remember in March and April, we had the Zoom happy hours where everybody was jumping on and we're all we made, mixed our own drink, which really is more effort than I think for a happy hour. Then we all got hung over from the happy hours because by June we had Zoom-fatigue, et cetera. Right? This is not that this is carving a little bit of unstructured time in what we do because that unstructured time is something we accidentally left at the office. You know, we're a year into this. We did a pretty good job taking some of our systems and patterns and behaviors and taking them out of the office and moving to virtual. We did a decent job with the technology, but we left a lot of that unstructured time back at the office, even still. And the only way we bring it back as if we're very deliberate about making time for it either before or after meetings or something like a fika, or even just having open as a leader, having open office hours where you say, Hey, you know what, every Wednesday afternoon from one to three, I'm available. I'll be in this zoom room or you can sign up for a quick appointment. Um, and you can just jump on and ask me a question. It's never about the question. It's about the conversation that happens after the question. You've probably found this in your own experience as a leader. When you, if you had an open door policy, et cetera, it's never about why they walked into your office. It's always about the conversation that happens after that, that gets a deeper connection with people. So that's, that's how we build back this sense of shared identity. And we know this is one of the two crucial, crucial elements of a thriving virtual team or teams that have that shared understanding and the shared identity.Joya Dass:
I want to encourage everybody. I see everyone's online right now. Please start putting your questions in the chat and I will call out your questions one by one and identify you by your name, company, and title, and ask them to David. As soon as we are done with our conversation. Now, the third point that you provide, David is psychological safety. And we spent a fair amount of time talking about this this morning. How do you make it safe for somebody to say, I don't know what I'm doing, or I need help, or I need a promotion or I need a raise. You know, how do you create, there's an art and science to psychological safety and how you create that as a leader.David Burkus:
Yeah, and I should say psychological safety is not unique to a virtual team, right? I don't know of a successful team period, full stop that doesn't have some element of psychological safety. It's a fascinating concept first sort of coined or developed by the researcher, Amy Edmondson and what she has is great definition of psychological safety, which is a culture or a climate of mutual trust and respect. And we should break those out. Those are two very different things, right? In order for people to feel free, to speak up to fully express themselves, to actually say, I deserve a promotion, or I need help on this, et cetera, you have to have a climate of both trust and respect. I like to think of the difference between trust and respect as what happens before I speak up. And what happens after I speak up, trust is meaning that I trust that you'll actually listen. You have a past history of responding positively to. Um, you're actually asking for a dissent, for example, or you're actually asking for people to take risks. My number one question to most leaders, when I think about, are you building a culture of psychological safety and a culture of trust is when was the last time somebody spoke up and disagreed with you? Right? Like in front of the whole team spoke up and said, oh, I don't think so. I think it might be this. Because if it's been a year, you probably don't have as much psychological safety on your team as you think. Right. Uh, but if it's been only a couple of weeks, okay, that's probably fine. You have a feeling that people are trusting that they can indole or divulge that information to you. Respect is what happens after they speak up or after they self-disclose. Right. It's how they feel. You responded to that. If they speak up with a new idea for something, did you, you know, we always default to that, like, oh, that's not how we do things here. Or did you say, oh, that's an interesting idea, but, right. Those little things that convey judgment on the idea, um, or even just convey that you're not actually fully listening. Those are what diminished the sense of respect. And there's some fascinating research from, uh, Christine Porath, uh, um, Georgetown. I want to say it's Georgetown University. I'm I'm going to have to apologize to Christine that I forgot to her university, but, um, around this idea of respect and civility in the workplace and the number one reason, I think this is fascinating. The number one reason that people report not having enough civil behavior or enough respectful behavior in the workplace is a lack of demonstration of civil behavior from their leaders. And this is interesting because it's 2021. And there are certain industries that are still, you know, known for being jerk cultures. But most people are trying to work on this, right? Most people recognize they need to have more civil cultures, et cetera. What I think is really explaining that disconnect is that a lot of times we're misinterpreted and we actually lacked the self-awareness behind this, right? And by the way, a Zoom, uh, scenario, we're meeting everybody in that scenario that makes it even harder. It's a whole lot easier to be misunderstood on a Zoom call. And it's harder to speak up on a Zoom call, but that's goes back to the trust piece. And so my big advice for people is, you know, you know, you, you, you actually mean to convey respect. You want to build a culture of trust and respect. So my biggest advice to most leaders is appoint someone else on the team as sort of your coach or your confidant, the person you trust the most on the team say, Hey, before we jump into this next all hands meeting, would you, would you watch me and watch the team? You have enough to worry about making sure slides run on time, making sure people are on mute, all of that sort of tech stuff and running that meeting. You might not notice the eye roll from that one person in the bottom left corner of the Brady Bunch grid of faces. Right? You might not notice that you throw out that joke and you thought it was funny, but most people didn't get it and actually found it a little disrespectful. Right? So if there's a person on your team, you can trust to watch that for you to watch all those little non-verbals and then meet up with you after the meeting and go, you know, you said this, but I don't think she took it that way. Right? That just helps you provide some feedback and tailor your comments the next time. And again, work on being very, very demonstrative of that respectful or that civil behavior. Because I don't think most of it at this point is people intend to be disrespectful. I think that we're just dealing with a lot of communication issues because this is not as good as real face-to-face as much as it might seem. And so it's a whole lot harder to make sure that we come off as, as true as engaging and trusting our people, but also, um, having a sense of respect when they do speak up, et cetera. And the best way I know how to do that, as I said is to a point that coach,Joya Dass:
I want to remind everybody to remember, to put your questions in the chat. Uh, Dave and I have three more points, and then we're going to start getting to your questions. So your first point fourth point, it really speaks to sanity at home. The lines between work and home life had blurred tremendously in the last year. So from a personal standpoint, how do you set a schedule and stick to it?David Burkus:
Yeah. Yeah. I had to apologize. I think when I even sent you my six points in the email, because you sent me this great list of like, here's what people's concerns are. And I said, okay, well, let's divvy it up and let's do three on the team and then three on just staying sane yourself. And by the way, that's still the team, right? Because if you're stressed and overworked and crazy and blurring, and you don't feel like you're working from home, you feel like you live at work, your team's going to be too, right. Because they have no one to sort of look up to and respond to. So these are, these are that. Uh, and my biggest piece of advice for those people is to set, start by setting a schedule and sticking to it. Or as I sometimes say set your business hours, that doesn't mean it has to be eight to five, Monday through Friday or Sunday through Thursday or whatever you want your schedule to be. It just, it means it needs to be declared. Right. If you don't set that schedule, then circumstances of the job circumstance as a team are going to push out the boundaries of that. And we know this almost every study of remote workers and work from home employees and leaders shows that they're more productive for a lot of the wrong reasons. They're more productive because they tend to start work earlier in the day and continue working towards later in the day, they're more productive because they take shorter breaks. They're more productive because they mesh multiple things together and try and multitask more often than people who are in an in-person office environment. And all of that is a recipe for burnout. So the beautiful thing about working in an office is that you had this declared time when everyone was there and you had to declare time when everyone left. And even though now, you know, we live in this world where thanks to these things. Everyone takes their work home with them. Every single night, there still was a physical transition between those two things. And we need to build that back. And the best way to build that back is setting out that calendar and communicating that calendar, the team, Hey, these are the hours I'll be responsive, which is the term I tend to encourage most people to use. Instead of these are the days the hours I'm working, but just say, these are the hours this week that I'll be responsive, meaning you can expect if you send an email to me, it'll only be a couple minutes or a couple hours and not multiple days. And these are the hours where I'm non-responsive and then encourage your team to do the same. This is actually another great way to build shared understanding to take it back to point one, is to have your whole team share what their calendars are. Then everyone's is different. My, my pandemic calendar basically ends at 3:30 because that's when my kids get home from school and I've just found it's it's I, you can't, I can't have a productive conversation with you with a eight year old and a six year old running around. Right? So I've pushed it a little bit earlier. Uh, and then I'm pretty much done then. So those are my responsive hours, right? So set, set, decide what that is for you and your calendar, and then communicate it out. And that's my pro tip is don't refer to it as your work hours. I'll be honest with you. We're all sort of semi working all the time, but at least if you communicate them as these are my responsive hours, then people know if I send that email to you at 8:30, I shouldn't expect to response into whatever the next day you said, your responsive hours start are.Joya Dass:
I love that. Um, how about the friction that's happening between work and home? That's a big one.David Burkus:
Yeah. Or, or to be honest with you, the lack of friction, which is causing all of this mergers that causes all of the stress, right? So once you set your schedule, the next step is to make sure that areas don't bleed over right at first, uh, you know, it's funny. We, we used to talk about, oh, it's not about work-life balance. It's about work life integration. And then everyone had work in life forced to integrate in their life. Thanks to this great work from home experiment. Right. And we found out like, oh, actually having some boundaries between work and life means that you can focus on work or focus on life at the same time. So this is what I mean, when I say, when you set that schedule, find some ways to introduce friction. Your commute used to be a great piece of friction, right? It was sort of a mental transition from work and home mode. And we need similar things to that. I actually, this is just my own thing. My wife and I, we drive our kids to school now instead of the bus, because it sort of recreates the commute. Right? I drive my kid to the school, I drop him off and then I have to commute 15 minutes. I'm going home, but I still feel like I'm going to work. Right. And then I walked downstairs and then boom, there's the commute. Um, another, uh, another way that I do this, and I've been doing this since, before the pandemic is, I'm a huge advocate of the two device strategy, right? So this is my work device. This is my home device and my app. I have sort of an end of work ritual where I walk to the charging station in our house. And I plugged this one in and I take this one off of the charger. And the difference between these two devices is this one's email. This is my professional social media, my Dropbox, everything work-related on here. This is like a personal Facebook page, Netflix and Kindle and that's it. Right? And so, yeah, I could always walk to the other room and grab this again, but that little bit of friction actually does help keep me focused on home when I'm supposed to be at home. Friction also means though you need to find ways, especially if you are, um, if you have two partners working at home at the same time and kids, right? Because there's Zoom schooling. There needs to be ways that we have boundaries between each other. So one of the most productive things I've I've had in the last two years has been this little red do not disturb sign. That costs $2. Uh, actually I bought them in a pack of 10, so it costs $20 that I hang it when I've developed a code with my children. Right? Right. Now the door's closed, but I have this. So technically the code is knock and tell me what you need and I'll open it. If I can respond. Sometimes the door is open, which means come on in, right. If I'm on a phone call with sort of a colleague, that's also a friend. Sometimes I'll leave the door open because it's actually kind of cool now to have that BBC dad moment where my, my friend Tamsen gets to see my kids for the first time in a couple months. Right. But if the door's closed and, this is hanging on the doorknob, turn around and go back upstairs. I don't want to hear it, right. Unless the house is on fire or your brother's bleeding. Nothing you can say to me is going to get me to open that door because I have something else going on. Right. And it took a while to develop those boundaries. In fact, the hardest part was making sure that I would leave, uh, whatever I was working on in turn and give them my attention. If the door was open that way, they would trust that the door being closed actually meant something. Um, but it's helped tremendously because not only do I get more focused on work stuff, But when I'm with them, I'm focused more on them. My wife and I have had basically had to do the same thing, early on I figured out that I have to work in this room because if I'm trying to work somewhere else, she doesn't see that as trying to work. Right. She sees that as, oh, you're available. Therefore I can ask you to help, my wife, by the way, is an ER doctor. So she's always had this benefit. There is no way I can distract her, right? Like I'm not going to put all that PPE on and whatever, just to go ask her a question. I'm not going to drive to the hospital and do all of that. So she's always had that friction, but we had to find that friction for me, between those two spheres. And it sounds mean, but the truth is when you build those boundaries, you end up more focused on work shore. But when you're not working, you end up more focused on the people around you, which is a benefit.Joya Dass:
So great. We're coming up to the last question again. I want to ask you to make sure you put your questions in the chat and the last point that you have here, David is taking breaks, but not just any old break, a nature break. What does that mean?David Burkus:
Nature. Meaning get out into as much nature as you can. That doesn't mean you have to go on a two-day, long backpack, but you would be amazed. It's one of the most consistent research findings, uh, in and around, I guess, the science of break-taking and mental resets in the last 10 years or so has been just how much more restorative, fresh air, a little bit of sunshine. If that's a walk around the block or your neighborhood, or if that's just sitting on your, your deck or your balcony, uh, and just soaking in a little sunlight for five or 10 minutes, it's much more restorative than how most of us take our breaks. I mean, this was the big problem over the last year. And this great work from home experiment is our break from work was like, I'm going to go upstairs and switch the laundry. That's not a break, right? Or it was, or it was, oh, I need a break. Let me switch over to this section of the couch and turn on Netflix and watch a rerun of friends. Turns out that's not actually that restorative. Right, but taking the five minutes, getting out into nature, et cetera is much more. And by the way, if you don't believe me, that's fine. One of my favorite studies on the power of nature breaks shows that it basically asks people to rate how effective they thought being in a park, across the street would be to restore them. Then ask them to go do that for 15 minutes, came back and measured their stress levels and their responsiveness, and found that people consistently underestimated how restorative a nature break would be. So, so try it however much actual outside nature you can get into for five or 10 minutes between phone calls or at least kind of lunchtime or 10:30 and 2:30, whatever you can make work for you. Just a little bit of actual sunlight, sunshine, et cetera, will have a massive restorative effect. And thankfully pretty much everywhere in north America right now. We're cool for the nature breaks, right? It's not, it's no longer too cold to be advocating for all of this. Um, I, unfortunately back in February, I gave a talk to the Entrepreneurs Association of Minnesota and I got kind of laughed at when I recommended nature breaks. And now I understand why, but yeah.