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Leadership Lessons: Adapting to an All Remote Workforce

May 01, 2020 By Katie McCaskey

For many, working remotely may extend beyond Spring this year. How are leaders adjusting? Certainly, it takes more than configuring a Zoom channel. Sonatype’s Mike Hansen joined other DevSecOps leaders to discuss the complexities and nuances of this topic in a keynote presentation at All DayDevOps Spring Break.

Mike has written previously about Sonatype’s “remote first” culture, how businesses benefit from remote workforces, and how individuals adjust to working from home. He joined Paula Thrasher, a consultant who leads DevSecOps transition, and Ross Clanton, from American Airlines. Their perspectives differ but their approaches coalesce around “people first” management during times of crisis, and in the growing acceptance of this “new” approach to work during normal times.

Here is some of the wisdom they share.

Building Company Culture Starts With Habits

Paula describes herself as “chat native,” meaning that she’s used some chat tool in a professional setting from the beginning. When shifting to a remote workforce she required everyone to use the same tools. Using the same tools means there is less confusion about how to communicate, and people to help train latecomers.

In Paula’s experience, COVID-19 forced everyone onto the same tools.

Not everyone is comfortable with using chat tools (Slack or similar) in a professional setting. Her tip: encourage people to use chat tools casually, as they would in an in-office situation. She instructed her team to say hello at the start of the day and goodbye at the end of the day in their channel because it builds the habit.

Tools alone are not a substitute for culture. But, tools can be used to recreate in-person pleasantries that build the foundation of culture through familiarity and trust.

Onboarding New Team Members Takes a Team

“Basically, they got thrown into the deep end,” jokes Mike when asked how he onboards new talent. He continues with more seriousness by explaining that new hires have “a sherpa,” a person on the team, to help guide them to resources or best practices. Assuming there is a healthy team culture with happy developers, others usually step in to offer support, too.

“The skills that you need to work a remote job, you can learn quickly,” Mike says. “That’s not the blocking factor. You don’t have to have remote experience to be successful. You need a good remote team around you.”

Mike also places emphasis on outlining expectations for all team members. Everyone should know their specific deliverables and learning milestones. This practice isn’t unique to remote work but clarifying these for every team member becomes more important when working independently.

Respecting Privacy and Leveraging Effectiveness

Leadership must also learn to manage employees in a new environment. The “work from home” environment brings new distractions and has the potential to be “on” 24/7/365 in the absence of in-person commuting routines. Employee effectiveness is managed by both the individual and the manager. The individual must take into consideration what makes them most effective at their work. Leadership must recognize boundaries and employee need for downtime and privacy.

“Being thrust into a fully remote workforce makes it really easy for employees to continue working, way into the evening,” says Ross. He says that leadership must lead by example  when it comes to encouraging employees to unplug.

“As a leader, and as an enterprise, we are deliberate about not making it even easier to work excessively into the evening,” he adds. Recognizing work and life boundaries, and having virtual fun (like happy hours), can gently encourage team members to relax and unwind.

For more insight into remote workforce leadership watch their entire presentation here.

Tags: leadership, working remotely, News and Views, COVID-19, 2020 All Day DevOps

Written by Katie McCaskey

Katie is an experienced technology writer and entrepreneur. At Sonatype, she's focused on creating and finding great content.