Welcome to “Notes from the Field” where I speak with experts on work-related topics.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with many people who are great leaders and think critically about how they evaluate talent, build teams, and generally make the world a better place.
I thought it’d be a good idea to share their insights with you all. My hope is that you can utilize their methods to become better leaders and, when appropriate, let you know about opportunities to work with them.
I hope you like it! As always, I welcome any and all feedback, so please don’t be shy.
How to Thrive in a Remote World
A conversation with Laïla von Alvensleben of MURAL
Laïla von Alvensleben is a UX Designer, Remote Work Coach, and the Head of Culture and Collaboration at MURAL. She’s been applying design thinking to remote work since well before COVID.
There is so much we can learn from her experience. I was fortunate enough to sit down with her a few weeks ago and get her take on some of the more challenging aspects of building a strong, remote work culture.
How to embed company values
Show, don’t tell, your values as much as possible.
One example of how MURAL does its employee newsletter. Every issue uses one of its values as a theme. For example, one of their values is to “experiment like an owner” so all the teams who provided updates mentioned an experiment that they had recently conducted.
In addition, MURAL has an awards program where employees nominate coworkers who have exemplified one of the values. Rewarding value-based behavior not only celebrates the value and the person practicing it but provides a clear model for others.
Employee engagement in a remote world
“We have our own little rituals. Every meeting starts with a warm-up activity at MURAL, even if we're like 800 people. We find it's getting harder now with more people but we've done it for many years.
But let's say you do a small meeting, you can always start with a warm-up before sharing the agenda and talking through it. Every Friday I post a fun fact question in Slack and get people to share more about themselves, it’s a little ritual that we have.”
Work together, remotely
I have this coworker and she’ll say ‘I'm working here [in Zoom] with music but anybody can come and work with me silently, but we're working together in Zoom’ and she's playing music in the background.
Having a space to be in the company of others that doesn’t demand interaction is often appreciated, especially by introverts.
Conduct intentional meetings
Laïla is an advocate for intentional meetings (and at a point aren’t we all?). We spoke about them for a while, but here are a few items that she advocated.
Have an agenda. If there’s no agenda, you’re allowed to decline a meeting
Timebox (a tactic that previous guest, Jenny Zhao, also advocated)
Provide attendees with the meeting’s purpose before the meeting. For example - is it to make a decision, inform stakeholders, etc.
Don’t be afraid to have small talk/unstructured time.
Use tools like MURAL or Google Docs to have people provide nonverbal feedback during a meeting. MURAL has an anonymous user feature that their team often uses to encourage psychological safety.
One of the worst parts of remote work is isolation. One of the most common questions I get from people, even those supportive of remote work, is that managing isolation is their biggest challenge. So I asked Laïla about it.
Start by asking your coworkers what they prefer.
[Try asking your colleagues] how much engagement do you need with other people during the day? And does it have to be with your colleagues or does it have to be with family, friends, other people who are not work-related?
Use Slack (or another messaging tool) to get to know your team.
I'll share pictures of what I did on the weekend and it’s OK to share part of your personal life with others without waiting to be asked. It helps you connect a little bit more. Our manager sometimes will share stuff and she'll be like, What are you guys doing tomorrow? And then in the replies, you’ll see someone doing something that you're interested in.
Big thanks to Laïla for taking the time to share some of her knowledge with us! I recommend that you follow her on Twitter or Linkedin where she shares her methods for bringing together remote teams (a skill we could all improve).
Also, MURAL is hiring (all the roles are remote)!
Thank you again for reading!