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21st Century Work Life and leading remote teams

Brought to you by Virtual not Distant, the 21st Century Work Life podcast looks at leading remote teams, online collaboration and working in distributed organisations.

Join Pilar Orti, guests & co-hosts as they shine the spotlight on the most relevant themes and news relevant to the modern knowledge worker.

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Jul 4, 2019

Today we’re going global! With two great guests, collaborating remotely between the Netherlands and New York.

Don’t forget to check out everything we do, over at the Virtual Not Distant website (including our new podcast guest submission form, and new formats in which Thinking Remote is available). Thank you for all the feedback on our milestone celebration episode all about celebrations! Shout-out to Jeremy and everyone in our community who commented and chatted and twittered about this one, we are so glad that this topic resonated (and we have a related blog post on celebrations ready for you now too).

06.30 21st Century Work-life - Theresa Sigillito Hollema and Surinder Kahai

Theresa is the Director of Interact Global, a Netherlands-based consultancy supporting multicultural virtual teams and the organisations they belong to, and no stranger to the 21st Century Work-Life podcast.  Surinder is a Professor at the Binghamton University, in upstate New York. They met through online discovery, Theresa was drawn to Surinder’s academic work on remote team leadership, and contacted him to propose writing together.  In his turn he was keen to see more non-academic dissemination of the growing body of research on virtual teams, and a lasting collaboration was born.

The interview explores in detail their approach and the rhythms of communication that they developed, and how they learned about each other and their motivations and interests and built the shared purpose and trust needed to write together. They reflect on different styles of leadership and motivation they have both observed in the workplace, and which personal qualities are demanded of a good leader for virtual teams. 

Theresa and Surinder agree that a transformational style of leadership combined with a genuine care and regard for the other yields the best balance for success, but that this is definitely more difficult to do at a distance. However, distance can be used to advantage to overlook superficial differences (such as appearance and race, as well as behaviours which can lead to conflicts), to focus on the vision for the work and what you truly have in common. 

It’s surely time we started to talk more about the advantages which come from not being together, advantages for the team and the work, not just the preferences of the individuals involved.  But leaders can struggle to understand and care, especially on globally distributed teams. Caring from a distance is harder, but it must be role modelled by the leader.

As Surinder says, "I'm a key believer in relationships as productivity".


33.57 Tools:

There are many websites which help us work out timezones, but Every Timezone is a nice visual way of seeing different timezones in relation to each other on a map and slider, so that you can really picture them clearly in terms of being ahead or behind each other.

The paid version is great for remote teams particularly as you can put your team members into their timezones - and don’t have to worry about what the zone is called or whether or not they’re on daylight saving, you just know that ‘Alex Time’ is 2 hours ahead, or whatever. A nice touch, particularly if you are dispersed in different parts of the world, and you can update your location when travelling - where is Alex time this week? Ah yes, Alex Time is presently 4 hours offset.

This version has meeting scheduling tools as well, letting you pick and choose who should be in your meeting and invite them - assuming its at a good time for them of course.


38.32 Wellbeing - Timezone stress

Do we overlook the cognitive load, of taking account of timezones in our virtual teams? Recent research from TinyPulse has examined this, and found that it does cause some stress. But a lot seems to depend on whether you have a ‘main’ timezone, relating to a headquarters or centre - which does suggest some kind of a hybrid set-up, in which those who are more than 3 hours away from that can indeed feel distant emotionally from their teammates.  And they might end up having to work hours which they find antisocial, indeed they can end up working extra hours to accommodate meetings and things which are outside of their typical day, - as Human Made found in recent research, even the stress of scheduling can make things harder on the outliers in particular. 

A day is only 24 hours long, so surely no-one should have to attend a meeting any more antisocial than 8am or 8pm, for example? It’s unsurprising that results from the TinyPulse research suggest that a truly distributed team with no central zone to organise around leads to better relationships for everyone, and remember that people can choose to work in any segment of their own local day. 

Your team could also be over-reliant on synchronous communication anyway - remember what we learned from Marcus Wermuth in episode 195 for inspiration here. But it’s vital not to cut off the flow of information from anybody, wherever they are located.

Maybe we need to take a better look at what flexibility really can mean, and what each of us needs in order to do our best work in our best way.  What do YOU need? Tell us, via our contact form or tweet @Virtualteamw0rk.