The Key to Enabling a Thriving Remote Work Environment


Remote work and online meetings are something finance teams around the globe are experiencing daily during this time of isolation. But how does this affect our human connections? What are some good case practices from companies that have been working with remote teams for years?

Shauna Moran spoke with Tim Burgess, the co-founder of Shield GEO. In the past 20 years, Tim has dealt with thousands of international workers, and he’s seen the benefits businesses get from international employment. So through his company, he’s trying to make it simple for companies to employ staff quickly and compliantly anywhere in the world. Tim’s remote team is spread across 16 different countries and is 80% remote. His stories will resonant with finance leaders searching for ways to create the most effective remote teams.

Communication is key, but trust is the foundation of remote work.

A lot of people that are transitioning their teams into remote work have a hard time trusting their employees. Tim says they begin by thinking, “If I can’t see people, how will I know what they’re doing?” But the problem tends to shift very quickly to “How do I get them to switch off? How do I make sure they don’t burn out?”

The Key to Enabling a Thriving Remote Work Environment

He also discusses the concept of intentional serendipitous communication. He describes this as being very intentional about how and when you communicate. You can’t just expect that to happen naturally like in an office space. Scheduling calls and meetings, and keeping up with the team is essential. Tim encourages keeping scheduled meetings even when there are no operational subjects to discuss.

“There are a lot of little instances that you’ll come across where people will reference the personal bonds that they have, or the connection that they have with coworkers and what it means to them, or the lack of those. And you see that surface in friction, in poor communication, in people having difficulty collaborating, because of a lack of communication.”

How to facilitate trust-building as a leader, when working remotely

People can sense when their employer doesn’t trust them, and they don’t like that. They will be scared to make mistakes, and they won’t be themselves at work.

Tim recommends starting from a position of 100% trust, where the focus is on monitoring people’s work output. Team leaders need to be able to trust that people are doing what they say they are doing when they should be doing it. Trust the fact that they are operating in the way that you would like them to. “90% of the time, it’s going to be totally fine. Perhaps one in 100, or, you know, one in 10 or whatever. You might have someone who, who breaches it. It’s a pretty small price to pay given that everybody else benefits.” Tim says.

The hiring process at Shield GEO focuses on value-based recruitment.

When working with a diverse team in many different countries, it’s essential to create an inclusive environment but also to make sure that the people you hire have similar values. So what is the best way to check for alignment on the company values? Tim tells us about some of the methods they are using at Shield Geo.

The first step to filtering applicants is to give people a simple test. It is usually a form with different questions. Some questions require a written answer, and this helps them look for people that show interest in developing their responses. Other questions have a predefined set of right and wrong answers. This type of questions helps filter the candidates even more accurately.

The candidates’ alignment with company values is essential. “Around the values, we created sort of a values alignment interview. And there’s a series of standard questions. And we try as much as possible to ask the same question, in the same way with the same words to every person. And then we let the conversation evolve from there. There are things we’re trying to listen for, and there are things we don’t want to hear.”

Empathy should be a core value for remote teams

Tim stresses on the fact that employees need to be encouraged to consider what the person at the other end of the communication might be feeling and experiencing. Delivering a message in a form that the other person can understand and perceive it well is very important when working remotely. It’s easy to put a smile on someone’s face just with a couple of sentences on slack, but the reverse is also as simple to achieve. Working from home and communicating in writing with colleagues means there are so many more opportunities for misinterpretation. Issues that could be resolved quickly with face to face communication can then become big problems.

Take responsibility to create you own support system.

Getting in a wrong thought pattern and overthinking are two of the downsides of working on your own. “You can think yourself into an absolute frenzy. Because there’s nobody there to give you that knowing look or hear your side of exasperation, or ask if you want to grab a cup of tea, or, you know, the million little human interactions that you get when there are other people around. And if you want that support, basically if you’re working from home by yourself, you have to create it.” Tim says.

The duty of care that employers have for remote employees

The Key to Enabling a Thriving Remote Work Environment

Tim talks about the importance of building a healthy working environment that is respectful of people, where they can choose to share as much as themselves as they feel comfortable.

Emotional contagion is a concept employers need to take into account. “The concept is that people who are happy spread happiness, and people who are unhappy they’ll spread that unhappiness”. The unhappiness of an employee affects their partner at home which then affects the partner’s entire team as he/she brings those negative feelings to work. Therefore the environment employers choose to create for their teams is vital and can influence more people than expected.

Loneliness is also a big issue for people spending a lot of time working remotely. Creating the context and providing the means for your teams to interact socially is one essential aspect. But another one is giving teams the autonomy to create social interactions that they feel are useful. Some will enjoy group meetings; some will have plenty of fun interactions on a chat. This approach gives people ownership to say what suits them and what is important to them as individuals and as a team.

For Tim Burgess, remote working environments have the much-needed flexibility people are gasping for but teams will need a lot of communication, empathy and trust to function in the long run. Nevertheless, this new environment manages to bring people together in ways we didn’t expect. “The thing I like the most about the industry (when I say the industry, people who are working remotely, companies who are adopting this and people who are…trying to push it forward) is how collaborative it is and how supportive everybody is of each other…. there is this broad range of experiences and approaches, and… it’s overwhelmingly positive in terms of trying to encourage and learn. It’s really wonderful to be a part of it.”

Learn more about Tim Burgess and his work at Shield GEO by connection with him on Twitter or exploring their website here.

This article is from an interview Shauna conducted on her podcast, The Human Behind the Screen.

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