Creating and Managing Remote Team Culture: Advice and Insights

During a global crisis, Diane Roberts, Director of Software Development & Site Lead, Boston at Sonos, discusses best practices on managing a remote workforce.

Hallway chats replaced with instant messages, workers dispersed across several time zones, Zoom fatigue, social unrest, and a global pandemic. For managers, these are just some of the new challenges and considerations they must contend with in managing a remote team. As the daily demands of running a business prevail, and in some cases compound, how do you effectively manage a team?

Diane Roberts, Director of Software Development & Site Lead, Boston at Sonos, shared several pieces of advice during a recent webinar, Socially Distant, Not Disconnected: Creating & Managing Remote Team Culture. The discussion was moderated by Stacy Lennon, Founder & CEO of X Squared Consulting, Inc, Consultant at Vantage Partners, and Lecturer at Tufts Gordon Institute.

“In the pre-COVID times, I managed teams across three states and four different offices that went to the office,” said Diane. “Now, that same group of people … is in dozens of homes in whatever time zone they live in, and that’s a different thing entirely.”

As an increasing number of organizations are keeping their workforce remote through the end of the year, more workers are retreating to places further away from the office. More than half of executives “expect to extend options for most of their office workers to work from home at least one day a week post-COVID,” according to a survey conducted by PwC.

With a workforce no longer geographically near, Diane recognizes the importance of leaders still keeping everyone on the same page. For teams spanning across multiple time zones, this could look like recording town halls for on-demand review, offering the same meeting several times a day, or a hybrid of both depending on organizational needs and goals.

Despite the tools and technologies available to facilitate virtual connection, Diane notes body language and facial expressions can be hindered. “It’s like our best tools have been stolen from us,” she said. “There’s more information in a conversation than there is in an email or Slack.” To best address this, Diane recommends doubling down on written communication. “[Make] sure what you typed is what you meant to say.”

While there are ways to observe someone’s body language like utilizing video on conference calls, leaders must think deeper and recognize other considerations. “You can’t make somebody turn their video on when they’re in their own home and the company didn’t pay for their office. You have no idea where these people are working, and you have no right to know that. It’s a really, really tricky thing to navigate,” said Diane.  

On the other hand, remote work, in some ways, has become an equalizer for global teams. “There’s no more three people in a conference room drowning out the one person dialing in. Everyone is equally on Zoom,” said Diane.

Between all the topics discussed, Stacy pointed out a common theme: Managers must continue to lead with compassion. While there’s no right or wrong way to handle remote teams and work, it ultimately comes down to ensuring practices and policies are made with the needs of the team in mind. “[Empathy] should play a role in leading people regardless,” said Diane. “[Whether] you are an individual contributor on your team, your team has 10 people, your team has 40 people, it’s a global team – they’re still people.”

Hear more of Diane's advice: