A Founder’s Guide To: Managing Remote Teams in a Crisis

It’s not an easy task to lead a team or company during this time. Many organisations are now also facing the added complexity of running remote teams - something that not every company can transition seamlessly to. Productivity and communication can take a hit as employees adjust to the new normal.

In the last part of our webinar series intended to help leaders navigate this global crisis, we speak to two leaders in different industries who have rich experiences in this space: Dylan Tey, Senior VP of Hellobike, the leading bike-sharing app in China, runs a team of 35,000 people spread across 360 cities and Jeff Harper, Chief People Officer at HashiCorp, an enterprise software company managing almost a thousand distributed employees. Here are four main takeaways from our conversation with them.

#1 Regular pulse checks are important

Effectively managing up to 30,000 ground operators and part-time staff in different cities in China is no mean feat. “We had to have a strong system - and software - to make sure everything is seamless,” shares Tay. “We connect with each operator using an internal generator software called ‘BOS’ - the Bike Operating System. Every morning when an operator reports to work, he’s given a clear list of duties to finish by the end of day.” Operators are also given incentives or bonuses if they clear more than their minimal duties, or finish tasks faster. “We see operators treating this like a game; they actually want to challenge themselves to finish more tasks,” notes Dylan with a laugh.

How this helps: Remote working means less visibility on employees’ work and contributions during this time. Establish a system where regular check-ins are encouraged, and accomplishments are recognised.

#2 Stay connected, stay human

Remote working is not a new concept to HashiCorp. “85 to 90 percent of our workforce is actually distributed and working from home,” notes Harper. For HashiCorp, motivating their employees to work from home is centred around the idea of inclusivity.

“For many companies with satellite teams, there’s always been a sense of ‘We’re an afterthought, we’re being treated differently’”, adds Harper. With this in mind, HashiCorp was built on the idea of remote working for the majority.

This plays out in simple, practical ways, says Harper. “A couple of times a week, we do a morning coffee check-in. It doesn’t have to be business. And sometimes people just log in and listen to voices - it breaks the silence for them.”

The company also put together a ‘work from home’ budget. “In addition to equipping them with a fully set-up office at home, we also provide them with a fixed dollar amount every month to help them feel like they’re benefitting from [the work from home] experience,” shares Harper. It could be something as simple as budget for coffee from their local coffee place.

How this helps: Adopting a culture of empathy and support, especially during this trying time, means you’re “focused on the person and not the employee”, as Jeff puts it. It’s a way of signalling (and acknowledging) that we are all still human.

#3 Empowering your (internal and external) stakeholders

A disrupted supply chain was one of the core issues that affected Hellobike’s operations, and Tay was eager to solve it. “We launched a core business partner assistance programme,” says Tay. “In the programme, we provide the information system, supply chain information and our orders. By doing this, we make sure we sync up with them on what we need, and make sure there’s the least disruption possible. We provided them with labour-related information on which cities were allowed to commence work and how it affected them. We also helped with the development, training and retraining of their employees.”

On the different side of the same coin, HashiCorp management assembled a taskforce in mid-March and created an internal web resource to help their staff. “This website provides resources, ideas and ways to support people as adults, as parents, as managers and then also in terms of their own self-care - which is so important during this period,” shares Harper.

How this helps: If you’re in a position to support and help your stakeholders, doing so will build up capital with them, which can improve future relationships.

#4 Think about the future from an internal growth perspective

We might be mired in a crisis now, but it’s important for founders and leaders to look beyond that. “Always think forward,” Harper urges, “While none of us know what this emerging new normal will look like, think ahead not just from a business and operations perspective, but from an employee perspective. People have long memories and they will remember how you handled things today - in terms of who you are and how they want to be part of the story moving forward.”

Now is a good time to look internally and encourage or develop your staff. For Hellobike, it’s putting in place more training for their existing staff: “We want them to bond better, to work better with one another, to realise their own potential in our company - that is something we’re heavily focused on, on the talent management side,” says Tay.

Harper concurs, “From an internal perspective, training our existing employees is essentially virtue signalling. We’re showing them what we value. And that our investment in people is going to be a key thing.”

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