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How to get (much) better at remote leadership

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Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

Remote work isn’t a new thing. It has of course been dramatically accelerated because of Covid 19, but many businesses have been doing varying degrees of it for a long time.

At Nona we started experimenting with remote working quite a while before Covid19 changed the world, and we learned some really hard lessons. I’m writing this to share some of the practical steps you can take to become a better remote leader fast. The remote ‘honeymoon phase’ will wear off, and when it does, these practices will serve you and your team well whether you stay remote or not.

I should warn you upfront that these are not quick fixes. Remote leadership requires consistent, disciplined and deliberate action.

At the start of our journey to remote we thought we were really smart. Productivity went up, people were really happy and we felt like we had solved a challenge that so many had tried to solve but failed.

We were wrong — we just hadn’t given it enough time.

We had put in (a borderline unreasonable amount of) time, effort and resource into building a very unique and strong culture at Nona. This culture had largely been built around a beautiful physical space and high levels of high quality human interactions.

By (almost) completely removing this physical space and human interaction things started to get worse – and we didn’t understand why.

The productivity levels remained high but the culture was taking a noticeable knock. People were less engaged, and less happy, and we needed to do something about it.

The world doesn’t need any more remote work psychological analysis from unqualified people like me. Instead, I’ll just say that it become clear that in my role as a leader I would need to seriously up my game. I would need to contribute meaningfully and in new ways to keep our culture strong and our connections between each other healthy.

But how do you lead when nobody’s watching?

I want to share 5 things that we have implemented that have made a noticeable positive impact on staying connected. You can start to implement these today and if you are disciplined and consistent, I’m 100% confident that you will begin to see positive changes in your team and your business. If you don’t, we’ll buy you lunch.

27 Questions every 90 days.

Why?

To give every single person in your business some 1 on 1 time with you – time that is totally focused on them talking and you listening. This is not to solve problems, nor is it a review or a retro. It’s just you asking questions that have no right or wrong answers. It is about you actively listening, something that is very difficult for most entrepreneurs.

How?

Schedule 45 minutes with every member of your business every 90 days.

As I write this Nona is currently made up of 30 people and at this size it’s doable with some planning and effort. There will come a time when this is not practical, and then I might have to share the load or find another way, but until then I’m happy to do things that ‘don’t scale’.

Ask these questions or modify them to suit your environment, and then listen with your full attention:

For a deeper look into this, read my article over here.

Monday Video

Why?

How?

Every Monday send a 5 minute (not longer) video of yourself talking to your team. I send it to our company Whatsapp and Slack ‘announcements’ channels.

Start with the following headlines but feel free to edit as you need to for your own environment:

  1. This is what I am focusing on this week.
  2. These are notable meetings that I have planned this week.
  3. These are my observations from last week.
  4. These are the things that I am thinking about.
  5. This is the content that I am consuming.

For more on the detail of this practice, check out the article that I wrote on it here.

Daily Huddle

Why?

How?

There are endless ways to run your daily huddles and ours is constantly evolving. The current iteration of our daily leadership team huddle looks like this

Agreements:

Agenda.

Our daily huddle was first inspired by Verne Harnish’s book Scaling Up which is a great read that I highly recommend.

Weekly meeting

Why?

How?

Agreements.

Agenda.

Our current iteration runs for 2 hours. It’s difficult to make it shorter than this if you want to generate meaningful results.This agenda shows headings and light detail only. There is quite a lot of detail that needs to be unpacked for each heading but this should get you started.

Hard start and container building (15 mins — 3 mins each).

Review the numbers (10 mins).

Examples of what some numbers might look like.

Keep a discipline of zero discussion here. If there is something that you want to discuss, make a note for the section of the meeting that is dedicated to discussing and solving issues. This is difficult but necessary.

Quarterly objectives review (5 mins)

Headlines and acknowledgement (5 mins).

To do list (5mins)

Done.

Progress made but I want to leave on for another week.

No progress but I want to leave on for another week.

I want to discuss this.

Been on for more than two week.

Break (10 mins).

Issues and Discussion time (60 minutes).

Now that we have this list populated from things that have cropped up during the week, and from the agenda above, we begin to get stuck into the main reason for this meeting — discussing and solving issues and generating to do’s for the week ahead that we will hold each other accountable for.

Conclude process (10 mins).

Our weekly meeting has been strongly inspired by Gino Wickman’s Level 10 meeting system from the book Traction. This is an excellent read and a system that I highly recommend.

Quarterly planning

Why?

How?

I’m assuming that you’re able to meet in person. Having said this, because of Covid19 we have had success running these virtually. The virtual agenda has been spread out over 7 days but the basic process is the same. As soon as travel is possible and responsible again I will travel to meet my leadership for this every 90 days. It is a big investment but a very worthwhile one.

You can strip this down to a single full day together but I will share our entire agenda so that you can pick and choose which elements will serve you best.

Again each heading requires a fair amount of detail but this should get you started.

Pick a location that will help you get into a different head space if possible.

What should we start doing at Nona?

What Should we stop doing at Nona?

What should we continue doing at Nona?

Rate your level of engagement over the past 90 days (1–10)

Would you recommend Nona as a great place to work (1–10)

Would you like to add anything else?

Agenda — obviously if you are doing virtual you can ignore all the physical references.

Day 1.

Arrive at venue and get settled (45 mins)

CEO opening speech (15 mins)

Tone settings and container building (60 mins)

Review to do’s from the last offsite (20 mins)

Previous quarter review (60 mins)

Lunch break (45 mins).

Discussion items population(45 mins).

An example of what an Organisational Checkup looks like.

This should be completed by everyone beforehand and shows us clearly where we need to improve in the business for the quarter ahead.

Strategy review (30 minutes).

Discussion time (4 hours).

Conclude the day (30 mins).

Formalities close and we usually cook dinner together while doing some trust building exercises.

Day 2

Early morning run / yoga / workout / walk together. Optional but encouraged.

Review of previous day (60 mins)

Open strategy session (2 hours).

We invite the whole company to come and join for 2 hours to work through an issue (or two) that has been voted on ahead of time. This is not compulsory and the point here is open discussion so as the leader my job is to facilitate conversation not to lead it.

Quarterly objective (Rock) setting (90 mins soft cap).

This is the most important part of the entire process so it will go on until it’s complete.

Issues and discussion time for the remainder of the day. This time will vary depending on how much time you can to set the quarterly objectives.

Conclude the day (30 mins)

Formalities close and we usually cook dinner together while doing some trust building exercises.

Day 3.

Review everything (3 hours).

Close the session.


These 5 things form the foundation of my leadership practice at Nona and I believe that they are the bones of how we have built a culture that we are so proud of.

At this stage you might be thinking that this is a lot of work – and you’d be right. It’s a huge amount of work. But, once you hit your stride it’s actually really enjoyable and very rewarding. Leading a business, especially if you are remote, is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it. It requires consistent, deliberate action.

So, if you’re a remote leader and finding it difficult to stay connected, transparent and inspiring you might want to consider implementing your own version of the above. It’s not easy, but few things that are worth doing are.

In addition to leading Nona, I work with a handful of businesses every year to help them to implement better systems and practises in their businesses and I’ve seen the results time and again — this stuff works.

With that said, I wish you luck on your leadership journey whether it’s remote or not, and I hope this was valuable to you.

Nona designs and builds intuitive software for FinTech businesses. If you’d like to accelerate your FinTech project, book a consultation with us!

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