Jun 8, 2020 | 5 min read

Embracing a Culture of Remote Work after the Lockdown

What to expect when you’re expecting the lockdown to end

As shelter-in-place orders are slowly lifted in the coming weeks and months, many companies are wondering what returning to the office will look like. Months of remote work have fundamentally changed the way nearly every organization runs, and experts agree that a post-lockdown ‘return to normalcy’ is unlikely. 

So what will post-lockdown offices look like, and how can we prepare for the new normal? According to Dave Mangot, Principal at Mangoteque Web Operations Consulting, executives and HR departments should start now by thinking about a culture centered around distributed or remote-friendly teams.

We recently sat down with Mangot as part of Terminal’s AMA series on remote work. Here’s what we gleaned while discussing his nearly two decades of experience managing distributed teams around the world.

Remote work isn’t about company size; it’s about company culture

Smaller companies are usually thought of as nimbler than larger ones, but the pandemic has taught us that large organizations can embrace major changes just as easily, given the right circumstances and mindset. And according to Mangot, remote work is a key example. 

“Really any company can be a successful distributed company,” Mangot says. “The size is irrelevant. It’s about putting the right structures in place. The pandemic has forced companies of all shapes and sizes to rethink the unchangeable.”

Mangot argues that it takes higher-level thinking and cultural direction-setting for these kinds of structural changes to truly take hold. And where many managers have traditionally focused on software tools as the gates to remote work, especially at larger companies, Mangot points out that it runs deeper than that.

“It doesn’t come down to whether you use Jira or Slack. It’s about how you approach the problems your teams face,” Mangot says. “How do your employees work together? How do they communicate? These are the things to optimize for regardless of where your team sits or the tools they use. You should be deliberate about these things either way. Remote work just makes you think about it more.”

In order to effect deeper change, managers and executives should ask these kinds of questions at every organizational level. That way, cultural changes will have buy-in throughout the company, allowing the changes to be stickier into the future. 

Remote work opens up the talent pool

One silver lining of the lockdown has been the untethering of employees from their physical workspaces, eliminating stressful commutes in the process. Employees can work from anywhere, so why not take a long remote-work vacation in Hawaii or Palm Springs? Well, as employees daydream about swimming pools in exotic locales, companies are doing the same — only it’s talent pools they’re dreaming about.

“One of the challenges of having lived in Silicon Valley for so long is that there’s only one talent pool, and that’s it,” Mangot says. “If you want to recruit engineers, you have to compete with Facebook, Apple, Google, and other companies who have a lot of money to throw around. We’ve started to see the same effect in other cities as well.”

According to Mangot, companies that embrace remote work can drastically improve their ability to capture top-level talent by removing the geographical constraints of traditional work structures.

“The tech scenes in places like Brazil, Costa Rica, and Colombia are exploding right now,” Mangot says. “Companies with distributed teams gain access to a deep pool of talent they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.”

And unlike in Europe or India, Latin America’s time zones largely overlap with the US, which keeps communication tight with teams stateside. 

“The talent pool effect really should be top of mind for every executive,” Mangot says. “It has the potential to revolutionize hiring no matter what your company does.”

Remote work requires deliberate hiring processes

Sometimes a candidate’s energy is so right that it’s clear that they’d add something special to the team. But that kind of energy doesn’t require them to physically be in the room, Mangot points out.

“The best interviews tend to happen when the whole hiring process is deliberate and well thought out,” Mangot says. “And these criteria don’t change whether you’re hiring distributed team members or if it’s someone in an office.” 

Mangot advocates for interview processes that replicate the dynamics of day-to-day interactions among coworkers. For example, he recommends 3-on-1 interviews that delve into real-life problems and how the candidate would work through them with the interviewers. 

“All too often there’s no planning and no intention in the hiring process,” Mangot says. “It’s a shame because you may be picking up on your company’s own lack of planning rather than a candidate’s potential.”

“When you have a coherent interview process,” Mangot adds, “you’re setting yourself and your candidates up for success, remote or not.”

The pandemic is an opportunity to embrace remote work culture

The pandemic may have forced organizations to adopt remote work, but most experts agree that it’s simply an acceleration of a trend that’s been stewing for a decade. What’s different now is that the cultural barriers have been broken down.

“Of course remote work can have its own set of challenges, but employees and companies have both seen – and lived – the benefits. There’s no un-seeing that,” Mangot says. “Just like in Agile thinking, it’s all about running experiments, learning, and iterating– seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s about perfecting the process.”

So as we begin to return to our workplaces in the coming months, it’ll be important to internalize the lessons learned during the lockdown and create a culture of remote work that works for each organization. 

“Obviously the pandemic has been a really tough time for most of us,” Mangot says. “But I’m confident that we’ll all find ourselves in a happier spot when the lockdowns are lifted. The work lessons we’ve learned will allow us to take advantage of the benefits that remote workers have enjoyed for a long time.”

Stay up to date on our upcoming calendar, and register for the next episode in our Remote Work AMA series.

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