Best Communication Practices for Remote Teams with Megan Eddinger

Megan Eddinger is the Director of Learner Success at Workplaceless, a fully distributed company specialized in developing scalable and personalized professional development programs for remote work.

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Megan Eddinger

Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode of the Distant Job podcast. I am your host Luis in this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote themes. My guest today is Megan Eddinger. Megan is the Director of Learner Success at Workplaceless, a fully distributed company specialized in developing scalable and personalized professional development programs for remote work. You might remember Workplaceless because we had the founder and CEO here, Tammy Bjelland. I’ve interviewed her in the past and now it’s Megan turn. Megan, welcome to the podcast. It’s a pleasure having yet another representative of Workplaceless on the show.

Megan:

Thank you. Yes, it’s so nice to be here.

Luis:

It’s great. It’s my pleasure. You’ve been with them for around a year and something, almost two years, right? So-

Megan:

Yeah

Luis:

Why don’t you tell our listeners a bit about what you do at the Workplaceless and in your own words, what Workplaceless is all about and what you’re up to recently?

Megan:

Sure. As you mentioned, we work primarily with organizations to implement scalable remote work training solutions. We work with both individual contributors, as well as leaders and executives. And most recently with the coronavirus, we’re really focusing on helping organizations understand that even still, that we’re eight months into this now, this is still not remote work as normal, right? And so there are behavioral changes and things that we’re looking for to make it more sustainable for yourself as individuals, as well as for your teams.

Luis:

Nice. Okay. Why don’t we start there? I mean, the world radically changed in the last eight months. I never expected it could change so quickly, right? We’re used to thinking that people are resistant to change, but somehow the world is a completely different place than it was in December 2019. A lot of businesses that you adapt, a lot of them have come to DistantJob, to us, to hire people. And I bet that a lot of them go to YouTube to learn how to better manage the people they hire and even the people that they already have been working with them for many years. Why don’t you give me the top three challenges? What are the top three things that come up the most when people go to you, go to Workplaceless, to help cope with the changes?

Megan:

Sure. I would say most recently people come to us and they’re unsure what they don’t know, right, because they don’t have that pulse or they feel like they don’t have that pulse on their organization because they’re not seeing everyone every day, they’re not having these smaller transaction while they’re going to the restroom or in the cafeteria, those more organic conversations, right? And so they come to us and we noticed that the top concerns … there are two of them really … are communication. People are communicating all the time and they’re communicating in lots of different ways so things are getting lost. They’re over-scheduling meetings. And then they’re really concerned about employee burnout. And that’s because no one really that we’ve spoken to is seeing a decrease in productivity, and so that leads us to wonder, if we were so against remote work before because we were concerned about productivity and productivity is the same, are people working too much? Are they not taking their vacation? Are they working longer hours? What is it there and what do we need to be watching out for to ensure the health of our team later?

Luis:

Yeah. Well, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, people could take their vacation, but where are they going to go, right? It’s not like you can even … I mean, I don’t know what’s the situation where you’re at right now, but here where I am sitting in Portugal, you can’t even go out for a dinner with more than six people. There’s definitely less fun things to do. And I think that people, especially people who enjoy their work somewhat … Funny, I was having this conversation with the president of DistantJob, I was like, “I really enjoy my work, but I enjoy vacation more, right?” It’s like, but people who enjoy their work like me and who find themselves, with not much else to do, what did they apply the extra time on, the time that now they can’t use to go travel or to go out for dinner with extended family or something like that? Well, probably they work, right? It’s something to do. It’s something to do.

Luis:

Tell me a bit about … There was something that you said that I haven’t heard mentioned much, which is over-scheduling meetings, right? Now, everyone complains about meetings. We all know that businesses in general have too many meetings all the time. Doesn’t need to be remote. Most non-remote companies are like that. But what has made matters worse? Why are people over-scheduling meetings?

Megan:

Yeah, so we find that people are over-scheduling meetings because number one, they’re lacking that face-to-face interaction and they’re really trying to recreate the office at home. Instead of shifting their mindset to practice asynchronous communications and ways getting work done first, they’re scheduling meetings instead. And so if you’re not careful about blocking time on your calendar, next thing you know, you’ve got back to back meetings from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM and that’s really just not sustainable. And really it doesn’t leave any time to get any work done.

Luis:

It’s just a matter of people trying to get check-ins on meetings? Is that just it?

Megan:

Check-ins on meetings. They want to make sure that everyone who needs the information has access to the information. And so they schedule very large meetings. And so instead of having these smaller, more intimate settings with the cameras on where you’re really getting to interact more one-on-one with people, you’re finding yourself tuned into this call with 50, 100 or more people, no one has their cameras on, only one or two people are sharing information and everyone else is checking their emails or doing other things while they just listen to it.

Luis:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. What are some solutions to that? What have you been proposing? If someone is listening to this podcast and is saying, “Yeah, that’s my business. How can I improve this?” What’s the three step program?

Megan:

Sure. Again, changing that mindset to more of an asynchronous model, so providing meeting pre-work where maybe you record a quick video or send a PDF document or something with all of the information that needs to be presented, allow people that time and space to consume that at their own time, give them some time to digest. And then when you come together as a group, you have a conversation and you’re really making decisions. It’s really making the most out of that synchronous time. This can lead to shorter meetings, more productive meetings and less meetings in general, but it really only works if you provide that documentation. You have the pre-work and then you also need to summarize the meeting and make that information available to the population.

Megan:

Another thing that we propose is optional attendance at meetings. And again, this really only works if you are providing that content elsewhere, whether it be via a recording or in that written documentation, or just a quick video summary.

Luis:

Got it. Got it. Got it. Okay. Those are pretty good tips. Let me ask you a bit about learning and about learning online, right? Because that’s the thing that you are an expert at, and personally me, I’ve been challenged a lot learning online. I was always very keen to learn offline, right? I enjoyed the college experience. I enjoy exchanging with fellow students, with teachers. I like the whole community aspect. In fact, I just like studying and learning new things and practicing the new things, right?

Luis:

But when it comes online, when I’m learning online, first, I find it hard to commit, and I find it hard to focus. When I’m looking at the video, maybe it’s live, maybe it’s pretty prerecorded, but when I’m looking at the lesson, I find it’s harder to focus on the lesson. And when I have an assignment to do that’s just living in my browser, somehow I don’t feel that committed to go through the lessons, to go through the courses as I had when I was going to a real … well, not to a real … because online classes are real too, but to an actual physical location, a class on an actual physical location and I had actual physical books and stuff to do.

Luis:

I assume that because a lot of white collar jobs require constant working, constant learning, and now people more than ever are trying to educate themselves about how to work remotely, what are the main things that the person needs to do in order to have a successful online education, in order to be a good student that actually learns something, instead of just going through a bunch of videos and finishing feeling that they just binge watched a Netflix show and they didn’t get half of what was happening?

Megan:

Sure. I would say as an individual, when you’re seeking training opportunities or education opportunities, really be purposeful, right? Identifying what behavior are you looking to improve or change and being really strategic about the programs that you enroll yourself in. The more interested you are, the more likely you are to pay attention to the content and then make sure that you’re able to implement what you learned pretty quickly. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t implement something within a reasonable amount of time, it’s kind of in one ear and out the other. I kind of forget what I’ve learned. That’s one thing you can do.

Megan:

Another thing you can do is look for what we call blended learning experiences. You might not have the time or budget for a fully immersive experience where you’re all together in a group and it’s very collaborative, but you might be able to find opportunities where you have, again, like I said before, the pre-work, which might be the online portion of the content, and then a workshop where you get together with your community of other people who are going through the same content, who are facing similar struggles as you, and you get to really digest what you’ve learned together and tackle problems together as well.

Luis:

How’s a good way to do this? Are there some good communities that people can try to join? Is this an initiative that people have to get on their own? How does that look like in practical terms? Because I know that a lot of courses don’t provide those communities. Some do, but not a lot, right? You go to your average course online and there’s not really a community around it, partly because there’s no real class experience. You just consume at your own pace, right?

Megan:

Sure. There are certain professional development opportunities for specific industries. For example, I’m trying to learn more about customer experience. And so I found a customer experience professional development community that offers the training content as well as a mentorship program. I have that opportunity to meet with my mentor and again, talk about what I’ve learned, the barriers that I have to implement what I’ve learned in my organization and they provide me feedback there.

Megan:

Other ways you can do this is sign up with a buddy at work, right, and create your own community. Maybe you have someone that you’re working on a project with and you’re doing research and that’s what you’re learning. Commit to each other, set deadlines, and then schedule stuff like a 15 minutes debrief after your deadline has passed to see what did you learn versus what I learned. Maybe I missed something that you didn’t and then talk a little bit about again, how you can implement what you have learned within your project or within your team.

Luis:

Nice. Good tips, good take. Thanks. Let’s talk a bit more about your remote work experience, Megan. You’ve been working remotely for relatively short time, right? You’ve been doing … It’s like, what, a year and a half now, from what I read?

Megan:

Two years working remotely full-time, but I did work part-time, a hybrid situation for about 10 years before that.

Luis:

Oh, 10 years. Okay. That’s a lot more than I expected. Tell me about expectations. When you moved to full-time remote work versus part-time, well, hybrid remote work, how did it feel? Did it match your expectations? What was something that you weren’t expecting that was true and something that you were expecting that didn’t happen?

Megan:

Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because my situation is a little bit unique since we do teach this stuff. We have implemented a lot of best practices internally as far as onboarding, training, and then just setting those general expectations as well. And so I was onboarded through the use of our training tools. Those expectations were set front and center. Those were the first things that I did.

Megan:

And then I would say coming from a hybrid environment, sometimes when you have team members are co-located in an office and you’re remote, you feel disconnected from your team. You feel like there are conversations happening that you’re not a part of and that you’re not privy to. And so we don’t really have that at Workplaceless because we commit to having open conversations. And so what that means is we don’t really have any closed doors or private chats. We really encourage conversations to happen out in the open in our channel that we use a Slack where everyone has access. Everyone might not be notified, but everyone does have access to the information sharing.

Luis:

Well, how does this work in practical terms with information that some companies for one reason or another might want to keep … I mean, in some cases there are security concerns. For example, some companies might want to keep their client information confidential, only accessible to the account managers, but even simpler than that, a lot of people, for example, aren’t comfortable asking for raises in the open. They want to have one-on-one, right? How does this philosophy of transparency and actually how does it combine with some real necessities of the companies and also the employees?

Megan:

Yeah. I would say it definitely comes back to the company culture. You really want to make sure that as a leadership team, you’re approaching remote work, whether that’s fully remote or hybrid settings, the same way throughout your organization. And so we really don’t want to see a situation where one team has really open transparency and another team doesn’t. That creates conflict. It creates a lack of information sharing, all of that. And so that’s the first thing. You really want to make sure culturally at the leadership level everything’s being implemented the same for each team in each department.

Megan:

And then again, as long as you set those expectations, for example, asking for a raise, I don’t think that I would have that conversation with my manager in an open channel. That would probably be something that we would discuss in a one-on-one, probably a Zoom, more so than a chat or again, one of those open channels. And something that we have that really helps us determine what’s the correct channel and when is our communication charter. And so we’ve outlined very specifically what kind of content should be shared and how it should be shared, whether that’s Zoom, email, Slack, our project management system, all of those things is very clearly outlined for everyone to access.

Luis:

Nice. Nice. That’s definitely an interesting idea, the communication charter. Megan, is that a bit like a team agreement, let’s say?

Megan:

Exactly. Yeah.

Luis:

Yeah. Nice. Is it like real short in visual form or is it more like a document with bullet points?

Megan:

We really like our visuals. We use a tool called Mural and we did multiple parts that the leadership team collaborated on. It actually took us quite a while, because when you think about communication, you think about phones, Zoom, email, but when you really sit down and think, “What are all of the ways that my team is trying to interact with me and what takes priority?”, that’s when we were like, “Wow, there’s really a lot here, and so let’s structure this in a way that’s easy to digest for a new hire.”

Luis:

Okay. Let’s go back to your best experience on the hybrid team, right? You felt like there were the office employees and the remote employees and that the remote employees were missing out. Now, obviously the best way to handle that is make everyone remote so if there are no location employees, then suddenly everyone is on even foot, right? But that’s not practical for some companies. Some companies still want to have people in the office, wherever it’s legal. They don’t want to change it that much. Some managers are left with partially remote teams. Now, for those people, what is the best advice? What are the best steps that they can take to make sure that employees that are remote don’t feel left outside of the team?

Megan:

Yeah. It’s interesting. From my experience, I had two team members that were fully remote. They work from home. I had several other team members that worked in co-located offices, but not the same office as me. And then I had four team members at my location. And then some of us worked in home maybe one or two days a week. And so what we found is when we got together as a group in meetings, the people that were co-located together in one office tended to overshadow all of the other voices, just because of our proximity.

Megan:

And so one of the very first things that my manager did was say, “Okay, listen, whenever we meet, everyone needs to log into WebEx at their computer. I know it’s silly because you guys are all back to back in your cubicles,” but from then on out, our communication in our meetings was far smoother than it was when we were trying to dial in. That’s one thing. And then another thing is, as far as the casual conversations or the meetings in general, just making sure that when you’re discussing a project or an idea, making sure that you’re really intentional about including all of the voices that that need to be there.

Luis:

Okay. That’s also good advice. Tell me a bit about your current … I mean, sure, you can talk about your past setup as well, but right now, how do you usually structure your day so that you are productive as a remote employee, right? Especially, I mean, again, you shifted to fully remote two years ago. What are the main differences in the way that you structure your day?

Megan:

Yeah. The main difference from being in an office is I lack a lot of that structure now. Especially now with coronavirus, I have my husband here who used to work in an office. I have my children Zoom who used to go to school. I didn’t have as much of a shift as everyone else did when they went straight from the office to Zoom, but definitely restructuring how I schedule my time. And so instead of that commute and then working nine to five or whatever your eight hours are, now it’s much more integrated with my home life. And so I need to be, again, very strategic about how I spend my time.

Megan:

Some things that I do is I have an agreement with my family that when my office door is shut … I’m lucky enough to have my own dedicated workspace, so when my office door is shut, my family is not allowed to intrude in my workspace. If the office door is open, then they’re welcome to come in and ask me questions or what have you. But every day is different, right? Some days I get up and I start working at 7:00 AM and then I take a little bit of a longer break in the afternoon around lunchtime to help with asynchronous learning with my children and then back later in the evening. Some days I don’t log in until 10:00 AM and then again, working later into the evening. And so really what has helped our team is being really transparent about what our schedule does look like and when we can be available to our teams, knowing the difference between a meeting that is okay to have little people come and join and meetings that really aren’t as forgiving of those types of interruptions.

Luis:

Sure. Tell me a bit about the synchronous learning. Obviously we talk a lot about synchronous communication in this show, but I think it’s the first time I’ve heard about the synchronous learning. Tell me a bit more about that.

Megan:

Oh, sure. Where I’m located right now, my children are experiencing what is called a hybrid learning situation. And so they spend one or two days a week at school, one or two days a week at home doing asynchronous work, meaning their teacher sends them assignments and videos to complete on their own at their own pace, and then one or two days a week where they log in and they have synchronous time with their teacher virtually from home. And so what that means for me as a parent is that on those asynchronous learning days for my children, I need to be way more available to them than I do when they’re at school or when they have that synchronous connection time with their teachers.

Luis:

Ah, okay, got it. Got it. Let’s talk a bit about your virtual office. What are the apps and browser tabs that you can’t live without? What are the ones that you have open right now? What are the ones that you open as soon as you start your day?

Megan:

As soon as I start my day, I open my email, Slack, which is, again, our internal communication channel, Clickup is the project management tool that we use, and My Calendar. Those are the four tabs that I almost always have open. I’m looking at my day. What meetings do I have? I’m keeping an eye on my email for our customer and learner interactions. And then also that project management tool is really what we call our office. Any projects that we’re working on, any communication that’s happening around those projects is happening in Clickup, And so I need to make sure that I have that up and available most often.

Luis:

Got it. Tell me a bit about … Well, let’s say that you had $100 to spend with each person on your team, right? And you needed to buy the same thing for everyone. You can’t just give gift cards or money or pick one thing specifically for each person you need to buy in bulk, but it can be something physical or it can be software or it can be an experience or a course or anything really. What do you get everyone?

Megan:

That’s interesting because we are a global team and we’re all in different stages of life and have access to different resources. Ooh, everybody has to have the same thing and it can’t be a gift card, right?

Luis:

No, that’s cheating. A gift card is money.

Megan:

That’s cheating. Okay. I would say, I would take a card from my manager’s toolbox and I would go ahead and send everyone a snack box that they could personalize.

Luis:

A snack box. Snack box –

Megan:

That was something that we received earlier this year. It was an email. We had a budget and then we could log into the system and pick out our own snacks and then a few days later they were delivered to our door. It was really nice.

Luis:

Well, snacks delivered to the door definitely sounds nice. I don’t think we’ve ever had that answer, so I’m definitely going to look at … I’m all for snacks. I’m all for snacks. What about yourself? What’s the best purchase that you have made in the last, let’s say six months to a year that has made your work life easier or more productive?

Megan:

Easier or more productive. I would say my external monitor and keyboard. Instead of working on my laptop, which is pretty small, I’m able to spread out. I have two screens, I have my laptop screen and my monitor and it just makes things more ergonomically correct so I don’t feel so tired sitting here for so long and it just provides more space in general for work.

Luis:

Okay, good. I love that. I love that. It’s true for me as well, by the way. That also happened to me so I can definitely relate. Okay. Books. Do you give books?

Megan:

Do I give books?

Luis:

Yes.

Megan:

Yeah. I don’t usually give books. We do have an internal book club where we’ll share a little bit of an update for each book that we read. We provide a general what we’ve learned.

Luis:

What books do you usually recommend to people or what books have influenced you the most?

Megan:

I usually end up recommending professional development books. The most recent book that I’ve purchased was … I actually have it right here, The Bouncebackability Factor by Caitlin Donovan. She was an expert that we had on one of our free networking calls in reference to employee burnout. And so that was a book that had some aha moments for me, and so I shared it with my team as well.

Luis:

Okay, awesome. Awesome. We’re going to include it in the show notes for sure. Tell me a bit about other tools and tips and tricks that you specifically for learning because I usually ask about stuff related to business, right, to business and to leading teams. But I think that learning is so fundamental right now. I mean, professional development right now if you’re doing it, you need to do it from home. You can’t go to a place and do it. Again, I know I’m going a bit back to the question, but I really want to finish on this. What are the things that everyone trying to learn, a new set of skills or improve their already existing set of skills? What are the things that will make you get the most out of your learning? Feel free to answer with software or physical tools or books they might read.

Megan:

Sure. First and foremost, we need to make sure that we are prioritizing this learning in our calendar. And so if you are someone who is finding yourself in a lot of meetings and not able to prioritize something like a professional development initiative, block out that time in your calendar, and then when that time comes … This is something that I’ve purchased. It’s a little cube. It’s got the time on the outside, so 60 minutes, 30 minutes, et cetera. And what I do because I tend to get distracted sometimes and so what I’ll do is I’ll set the timer and dedicate, “Okay, I have to do this until my timer goes off.” And then when that timer goes off, I get a little reward, like I get to listen to maybe Spotify for a few minutes.

Luis:

It’s like a Pomodoro with the cube. Megan just showed off a cube with numbers, and is it like a Pomodoro cube?

Megan:

I don’t know what that is, but this, I just got on Amazon. It’s just a little bit more fun than a normal timer that you have on your phone.

Luis:

And so it detects the side that’s up and it sets the timer for that-

Megan:

Correct.

Luis:

… amount of time. Oh, that’s great. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty cool. Do you know what it’s called? I’ll add it to the show notes.

Megan:

I don’t, if there’s no-

Luis:

No problem.

Megan:

I can email it to you –

Luis:

Please send it. Yeah, I love it. Okay. Sorry for the interruption, but I had to ask more details on your awesome cube. Please go on.

Megan:

That’s okay. That’s really it, so making sure it’s a priority and then when the time comes, making sure that you create the space to focus. If you need headphones to block out external noise, if you’re living with other people, that might be helpful. If you need to change scenery, that’s something also that I like to do is remove myself from my normal workspace and go somewhere else in my house that’s more conducive to more of a relaxing setting so that I can learn better.

Luis:

Got it, got it. Any tips on note taking?

Megan:

I love note taking. I’m actually a big fan of handwritten notes versus taking notes on a Word document or something like that.

Luis:

Same here. I’m just terrible about digitalizing the -. I always have a ton of notebooks with pretty much the last 10 years of stuff that I’ve learned and whenever I need to access something, I’m like, “Ooh, let me browse to the whole year. I think I took that course in 2016. Let me go through.”

Megan:

Exactly.

Luis:

I mean, I need to get better at indexing, I suppose. Okay. Let’s move on to the final question. It has a bit of a set up, but you probably already know as it is, but anyway, let me give you the setup. You are hosting a dinner and in attendance are the most important of the biggest tech companies around the world, the CEOs, the CTOs, the hiring managers, the decision makers. The twist is that the dinner happens in a Chinese restaurant and the meeting, the dinner, the round table is about remote work and the future of work. Because you are the host and it’s a Chinese restaurant, you get to choose what goes inside the fortune cookie. What is the fortune cookie message that these people are going to see once they crack open their fortune cookies?

Megan:

My fortune cookie would say, “Be intentional.” I think I mentioned earlier that that intentionality is so important in remote work. It’s so easy to do things the way we’ve always done or not connect with people because it’s not on our calendar, but being really strategic and intentional about making sure you’re connecting with your employees and coworkers, making sure you’re intentional about the way you share information, just really making sure that you’re intentional about every little thing that you do, because those really do add up.

Luis:

Okay. Well, got it. Thank you for the … Be intentional as a good fortune cookie sentence and thank you for the explanation. That came out very tidy. Great advice. When people will want to get in touch with you to learn more about what you do and about what Workplaceless offers, where can they reach out to you? Where can they find more about Workplaceless and where can they get in touch?

Megan:

Sure. I definitely invite them to connect with me on LinkedIn, just under Megan Eddinger at Workplaceless. They can visit our website, www.workplaceless.com and schedule and an interview with one of our experts. And then they can also definitely check out the Workplaceless social media channels on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and I think Facebook as well.

Luis:

Cool. We’ll have links to all of that and all the tools and resources that you mentioned on the show notes. Megan, thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for being part of the show.

Megan:

Thanks.

Luis:

This was Luis with the Distant Job podcast, the podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the Distant Job podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you and listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.

Luis:

Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast. Click on your favorite episode, any episode, really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversation in text form.

Luis:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate. 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the Distant Job podcast.

More ways to listen:

Everyone knows that communication is the soul and heart of remote teams. And with COVID-19, many companies had to re-structure their company, and therefore, their communication strategies.

In this podcast episode, our guest, Megan Eddinger, shares the best communication practices for remote teams. She also reveals the role of leadership in guiding a distributed team, and how they have a crucial part in establishing transparent communication.

 

Highlights:

  • Main challenges people have experienced working remotely
  • Overscheduling meetings syndrome
  • How to improve communication in your remote team
  • Tips for efficient virtual meetings
  • How to organize communication channels and strategies in your remote team

 

Book Recommendation:

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up in the next few weeks!