remote job consultationWe are offering free consultations on how to lead & manage remote teams during the COVID-19 crisis. Learn More

Communication Strategies for Hybrid Teams with Evelin Andrespok

Evelin Andrespok is a remote work expert, consultant, speaker, and the Head of People and Culture at Ampler Bikes. Her first brush with remote was at Toggl, where she spearheaded the transition from a 20-person co-located crew to a fully remote team, and then went on to worldwide expansion. Now she helps businesses build supportive relationships and environments that enable people to do their best work.

Follow our guest on their social media:

succesful remote leader

Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. I am your host Luis, and this is a podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest today is Evelin Andrespok. She is a remote work expert, consultant, and speaker, the Head of People and Culture at Ampler Bikes. Her first brush with remote was at Toggl, where she spearheaded the transition from a 20-person co-located crew to a fully remote team, and then went on to worldwide expansion. Now she helps businesses build supportive relationships and environments that enable people to do their best work. Evelin, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for coming.

Evelin:

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Luis:

Yeah. Well, I’m excited to have you. This was my short introduction about you, but tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and what you do.

Evelin:

I guess speaking from the remote work perspective, my love affair started at Toggl, as you mentioned, which is a time-tracking tool that many I assume know about. And it was kind of over five, almost six years that we transitioned to this fully remote life. And it really kind of stuck with me because this was also my first job in the, let’s say, people operations or HR field. Before I was working on foreign aid policy analysis and so on. So for me, this was completely new world and I was amazed by it because it was so unique and so cool. And at the time really uncommon also compared to today. So, that was my, let’s say beginning. And today I work at Ampler Bikes, which is I also an Estonian company producing electric bicycles for a city transportation. So completely far away from software, but still experiencing some remote work.

Luis:

Okay. so before we go onto Ampler Bikes, because I do want to know the specifics about how remote is happening there. Back to Toggl. That was your first brush with remote work and you spearheaded the transition. So how did you feel that the transition to remote work, transformed that team in Toggl? How did it make the business better?

Evelin:

I think almost in all the ways, because it kind of became the central element of the DNA of this company, the company culture, the way we work, the way we think. So there was a lot of thinking around productivity and kind of working smart and the remote work was big part of this. And on the… Let’s say more fun or social side, also having colleagues from around the world was definitely a big plus. And the team is super close and supportive and there was a big part, I think that comes from remote work. And nowadays a lot of people say it’s so hard to keep a team together and keep them motivated as a team when they’re working remotely. But for us, it was the opposite. That was kind of the one thing that united us. And we were all like trying to make it work and we were excited about it. So for us it a positive.

Luis:

How does it feel to in 2020, where most people that can work remotely are forced to work remotely. And a lot of people are having a bit of a trouble like that. A lot of people are needing direction these days. How did you feel being someone if you start to doing this like six years ago, and by the time 2020 rolled around you were already used to remote work. How do you feel seeing everyone around you try to get to grips with it suddenly?

Evelin:

I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, this was what I was dreaming about for years that people would have this chance to try out remote work, but never did I imagine that we need a global pandemic for this to happen. And of course, normally I would never recommend to start remote overnight without any preparation, but this is what people have to do now. So that was the sad part for me, thinking how I could help those people or what kind of advice to give them? Because it was kind of shocking plus all the stress that was in the society in general about the health situation. So I had mixed feelings, but overall, I still feel positive about it. I think it has changed the way we work in the future.

Luis:

So have you you changed your mind about anything regarding remote work since you started six years ago up until today? What were the things that you believed back then that you don’t believe now?

Evelin:

I guess in the very early days, I even had reservations like, “How does it work? How can we make it work?” I had no idea how it would look like in the future, but soon I became a really big fan of it. And I thought, “Okay, it’s just the way most people should work.” And now I’ve come back to this middle ground where I think probably the hybrid teams or partially remote teams is the future, for practical reasons because people are different and some people enjoy spending time together physically. So I see the biggest challenge here of course, is setting up the communication in a good way. But yeah, I’ve been through this, let’s go fully remote to now being on this hybrid side.

Luis:

I guess it makes sense, why not? To talk about the composition of the team. Maybe you want to use the Ampler Bikes example, it’s a hybrid team. What does the composition look like? What percentage of the team is remote and what areas are handled primarily remotely?

Evelin:

We are producing electric bikes, which means we actually have a factory. And clearly everyone working here has to be on site because it’s manual work. But anyone who is so to say office work or can work at the computer basically can work remotely. We have agreed on this. And even beyond the pandemic later, we have agreed that this is something we will do because we have an international team anyway. So all the communication has to be set up in a distributed way anyway. So I would say everyone who is in the office role, or let’s say computer-based role is more accurate actually, they can afford to work remotely. But there are still a lot of people who, if they could, they would like to use the office because they have kids or pets at home or their apartment is too small or they just like to socialize. So even the people who can work remotely, they don’t necessarily do. Of course now they have to, but in general I feel there is a mix.

Luis:

Okay. So obviously communication is important there, as you pointed out. What do you feel are the most challenging communication challenges when working with hybrid teams?

Evelin:

I think it’s having things written down there. There is not a big habit of this and also kind of imagining why this is important, understanding the perspective of the people who are not around, or maybe they’re in another country, even. So kind of trying to put yourself in your shoes. And also even if you understand how they would like, how we should all write everything down and be more transparent, then how do you really do it? Where should I write something? How much information is needed? So finding this kind of balance, I think this is our biggest challenge.

Luis:

Yeah. So how do you deal with the out of sight, out of mind, problem that usually happens with the hybrid teams where the people that are off the office tends to have more weight in the decision-making than the people who are working remotely outside of the office.

Evelin:

Yeah. In our case, I’m not sure it’s about decision-making, but it’s more a fear of missing out. Actually the information is available and it’s quite transparent, but since maybe it’s not in the right channel or in the right medium people miss the information, or they feel there should be more. So it’s more on the site, but I’ve heard from other companies that it can be an issue that, like you said, that if you’re not on site, you will be left out. And I think this is a management problem, not the communication problem.

Luis:

Yeah. Well, a lot of managers do you feel that, that could be a problem. That brings me back to your answer a bit a go where you said that, you had some doubts early on, right? If remote work is going to work or not. Can you tell me a specific story that changed your mind? What was the moment when you realized that, “Oh, no. Actually this works well,” do you remember?

Evelin:

I think I can’t recall a specific event, but at some point you just see enough proof that you believe it. Because when we started, we had one person who was in Spain and the rest of the team was in Estonia and then we had two and we had three.

Luis:

Estonia got the weather report from the person in Spain and they all wanted to move.

Evelin:

Yes. We did. It was kind of a step-by-step, I think this is the big difference, comparing like my experience transitioning to remote and all the people who had to do it in 2020, because we had years to do it step-by-step and slowly, but today it happened overnight, basically. So in that, my experience is very different and it was free will as well.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s true. I do agree with you that some people really thrive in offices. So it’s good to try to making the hybrid teams work. Apart from writing everything down, if you would give a couple more advices to people that are forced to work with hybrid teams, hybrid situations. For example, I have a couple of friends that are, well, at least they were before the second wave of the pandemic, but within the first and the second wave of the pandemic, they were in a setup where half the team was in the office and half of the team was working from home. So basically they would have less people per square meter in the company. So what does, besides writing everything down, and we can go a bit deeper into that later if you want, but besides the writing everything down, what are some good tips to make sure that these teams have good connections between them and that the work flows more seamlessly?

Evelin:

I think it’s important to talk to each other. This sounds really simple and kind of stupid, but it’s actually the key and not only talk about work, but actually talk about how are you doing, what’s going well, what’s going on in your life, maybe sharing some positive things that happen in your life. And this doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I think in some teams, this requires a lot of conscious effort to get it started. And I think managers, leaders, they have a role in this to be the example and talk about your feelings sometimes or talk about what else is going on in life, so that there’s something besides work that unites us.

Evelin:

But when you think about work, I think one major thing to make work more enjoyable is to have less meetings. Recently, this has been kind of favorite topic to think about, because I feel like during this year so many people have this Zoom fatigue and meeting fatigue and it’s because we try to copy paste the office work to online. And it gets kind of complicated when you try copy paste it to hybrid model because people have different ways of working and different schedules and kind of different working habits. So now this has to be re rethought, it’s not copy paste, you have to have a new mindset.

Luis:

Yeah, I understand that. And I sympathize with that because I really don’t like meetings, but at the same time, I find it very hard to say that meetings are very replaceable, right? For example, I personally really like to jam on a collaborative document, let’s say a Google document. I really like to work on that with other people on the same time and see other people writing and correct each other and et cetera. But I realize that’s not for everyone. Some people really need to see faces and hear voices in order to exchange ideas. Some people can’t really communicate very well on chat. This happens to a lot of people that what they write is significantly different from what they are thinking. And when they write, they are kind of expecting the other person to mind-read them. And obviously this doesn’t happen, but it’s just a way that we have that we feel about ourselves and what you write. So I don’t know. How can we be better at replacing meetings? Because I don’t feel like I have a decent solution for most cases.

Evelin:

Yeah. It is a tricky one, I think., Just because, like you said, people are different and they have different skills. Some people have better written communication skills than others, and you can learn, but it might not be enjoyable for you. And I’m not saying don’t have meetings, I’m saying have better meetings. Use the meetings for actual discussion on important things. Maybe do more preparation before the meeting, agree on a specific agenda, fixed timeline, so that it’s not so stressful and tiring. And you actually get a better result because people are prepared. Because what I see often is people have meetings. They don’t have agendas. They don’t have even a fixed a participant list or anyone can join. So I feel if you have meeting with 10 people and five of them, don’t say anything during that meeting, they shouldn’t be there. They can read the summary. And you could say this applies to any company. You don’t have to be remote to use these ideas, but it’s just much more tiring to do video meetings. So that’s why I think it’s important to think about.

Luis:

So let’s think about more soft skills than hard skills because hard skills vary based on the occupation. But when it comes to soft skills, what do you think makes for a successful remote team? What are the kinds of interpersonal skills that make people successful specifically at remote? Right? Obviously some of those will be similar to what makes you successful in a co-located workspace. But I do suspect that for people to be able to work properly at a distance, they yet they need a unique set of skills. And I like to hear you, what do you think those are?

Evelin:

Written communication would be one that we just discussed. I think this is uniquely important in remote work. And the other thing I would mention is a kind of ability to work independently and take responsibility for your own work, because there is no one checking you, checking what you have done on a daily basis, maybe, or even checking what time you finish work. You have to be self-disciplined to not overwork. And this is kind of a thing that would be easier maybe in an office where somebody would turn off the lights at the end of the day and say, “Go home.” But now we have to do it yourself. And I actually think empathy is kind of important too, just for these reasons that we discussed before. You have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the other team member and see things from their perspective. And also to understand that when somebody writes something that you read as offensive or aggressive, that you stop for a moment and think, “Was it really this? Or maybe it’s just because of the way we communicate, or the channel.”

Luis:

And sometimes people have bad days. I had a guest on recently, who had next to his computer, a doll of Grumpy, the Grumpy dwarf from Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, just to remind himself that sometimes people have bad days. And I thought that was a great idea, right? Sometimes people have bad days, but when you’re in the office with them, you can see that from their body language, you don’t take it personally because you can see that, “Oh, Louis is having a bad day. I don’t know what happened, but this guy does not look good. Does not like he’s having a pleasant life experience right now.” So naturally you cut the person some slack, but when the person is just, sometimes not even a face in a zoom call, but sometimes literally just a static one time photo in Slack and suddenly they write something that’s a bit mean, you’re like, “Wow, what’s your problem?”

Evelin:

Yeah. Yeah. One advice that I always give is, with written communication and things like Slack or email always assume the best, don’t assume that the person was trying to be mean or infusing, assume that they were doing their best, and maybe something was missing. So try to figure out what it would be. Maybe try to connect with them in another way. Pick up the phone.

Luis:

Yeah. As the guys at, what’s the WordPress company, Automattic… As the guys at Automattic say, it’s API, assume positive intention.

Evelin:

Exactly. Yeah. I fully to this.

Luis:

I like that one. I try to remind that for myself as well. So tell me a bit about the way you work remotely or how do you manage the people that you need to manage. Take me through your typical day or your typical week.

Evelin:

So I work from home currently because of the situation, but I actually enjoy it anyway. And our main communication channel is Slack that we use daily. It’s like the virtual office you could say. And currently I don’t have a big team that I’m managing, but I consider the whole company, my team, because-

Luis:

That’s a pretty big team

Evelin:

… Yeah. And kind of the best are so different as you can imagine in this role. But what I try to do is balance focused time with time where I interact with people and have meetings or even chat on Slack. I need to have some kind of balance there from my personal activity reasons.

Luis:

You’re the head of people, so obviously it is a role that needs to be highly personalized. I’m wondering what has shifted now due to the pandemic, what are the kinds of crisis that you have needed to solve? How do you see it affecting the people working remotely? What’s the… Well, you can’t really fix it because in order to fix it, you’d have to get rid of a pandemic, but the next best fix?

Evelin:

I see two kinds of issues in our company. One is for the people who are working remotely for the first time and it’s new for them and they don’t have these habits yet that I developed over the years, how to be productive, how to discipline myself. So for those people, it’s kind of stressful because it’s a big change in their working environment and habits. And the other specific, let’s say thing I noticed related to this pandemic is because we are a manufacturing company and we do have the factory. There is always this worry about, how are these people doing and how can we kind of support them, and for them also kind of understand our situation, that there’s many people who would like to join them and have fun times with them in the factory, but we cannot do it at the moment.

Evelin:

So everyone is actually missing the social interactions in all the teams across the company. And I feel this is the most stressful thing for people that we just want to be together and we cannot. So we have to find other ways and everybody understands that Zoom is great, but it’s not really the same as having a party together or going for a sauna as we do in Estonia.

Luis:

Now I got jealous, I could use a sauna. But bearing that, what kind of things are you using as temporary replacements for that socialization?

Evelin:

So some teams have these weekly catch-ups where they don’t talk about work. It’s just anyone who is available will join, it’s not mandatory. Just to have fun chit-chat together. We have some Slack channels for this purpose as well. For example, a popular one is do it yourself projects. So people share what they do on the free time. People make candles and soaps and so on. And also there is the donut part, which I’m sure many Slack users are familiar with, that pairs you with somebody. And this has been actually really popular.

Luis:

I love my donuts. Okay. So let’s say that you had 100 euros to spend with each person working with you. With each person on your company, let’s say, let’s think about only the remote people for now, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to add the people in the factory. But you could spend 100 euros per person, you have to get everyone the same thing. What would you buy?

Evelin:

Something for a remote work.

Luis:

Well, something for people working remotely, it doesn’t need to be directly related to work, but it can.

Evelin:

I would like to say noise canceling headphones, but it’s above 100 euros, so I have to answer something else.

Luis:

Well, I can go with that. Let’s say you find a really cheap, a sale one, Black Friday sales. You can get one. Why and which one is your favorite? What would you recommend?

Evelin:

My favorite that I use is Bose. I’m not actually sure how you pronounce the name.

Luis:

I think both ways are good. I’ve heard it about 50-50.

Evelin:

Yeah. This would be my personal choice, but it’s because it helps you separate yourself from the surroundings. Sometimes I even use it without music just when I’m alone, because it puts you in some kind of a bubble. And of course, if you have kids at home or something else that’s distracting, then they’re really practical.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s true. That’s true. There have been times where I’ve had my fiance watching Netflix and I needed to get some late night work done and I just put those, put the music, I don’t have Bose, but I have noise-canceling microphones and it actually is really useful. If you put the music… mine aren’t so good that I don’t need to put music, but when I put the music and I turn on the noise canceling, I really am in a bubble as you say.

Evelin:

Yeah. It’s the best.

Luis:

So what about for yourself? Regardless of cost, what purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?

Evelin:

I would have to say a desk because before the pandemic I worked from a co-working space and I didn’t have enough home office, but then I had to buy one and it actually was a game changer because I cannot work at the kitchen table or the couch.

Luis:

Nice. What kind of desk?

Evelin:

It’s it’s kind of random but it does the job.

Luis:

Random desk, IKEA. Go pick one.

Evelin:

Yeah, something like this.

Luis:

Does this have that chair? No?

Evelin:

Yeah. Well the chair, yeah, of course the chair as well. But my point is to have this set up that is ergonomic and comfortable, this is really key for me. And I work much better when I have this.

Luis:

Okay. I agree. I need to get on with those ergonomics. My chair is beautiful, but not so ergonomic. So that’s something I have to improve. So what book or books have you gifted the most or if you don’t gift books, what book has influenced your work life the most?

Evelin:

The one that I keep going back to is Powerful, by Patty McCord. This is over a lot of choice I assume, but there are small pieces of advice that I go back to in different times. So I’ve also recommended this book to a lot of people, a lot of managers, so they would get the picture.

Luis:

Can you tell me a bit about some pieces of information that have particularly resonated with you.

Evelin:

I would say the main one is how to treat people as adults and give them the power, as the title says, to do their job. For me, this is really important, and I live by this. And the other thing is actually being transparent with company information. So people can make smart decisions so that they don’t have to come and ask, but they have the information and can make smart conclusions because they are smart people based on this. I think this is the reason why we need transparency in the company.

Luis:

Okay. Sounds great. So final question. This one has a bit more of a setup. So please bear with me, but let’s say that you are hosting a dinner with the round table about the future of work. And attending this dinner are the top executives from the biggest tech companies, right? The CEOs, the CTOs, the hiring managers, the people who make were going to make the decisions concerning how people are going to work in the tech industry in the next 10 years. The twist is that the dinner happens in a Chinese restaurant. And as the host, you get to pick the message that goes inside the Chinese fortune cookie. So what is the message?

Evelin:

That’s a good one. I would have to say trust your people. Yeah, that would be my message because it’s in line with what I said in the book that treating people as adults and also kind of eliminating a lot of stress in the team.

Luis:

Okay. Well, that’s a simple, easy to remember message, it’s perfect for a fortune cookie. Thank you for sharing it. Where can people find you and continue the conversation? Where can they read your stuff? Where would they go to send you a message and talk with you about the stuff that we just discussed and also learn more about what you do, of course?

Evelin:

Yeah. I think the easiest way is to find me on LinkedIn or also go to my website, which is Andrespok.com, but might be difficult for spelling, so find me-

Luis:

I will include the link. I know how to spell and it will be included in the show notes.

Evelin:

My first suggestions, how to get in touch.

Luis:

Well, Evelin, this was a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the show and we’ll keep in touch. Let me know when the saunas are open again. It was lovely having you. Thank you so much.

Evelin:

You, it was a pleasure.

Luis:

Thank you for listening to us. This was Luis with the DistantJob Podcast, a podcast about building and leading us in remote teams, see you next week.

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob 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 to 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.

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 conversations in text form. 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 your country.

Look around the 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 we 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 DistantJob Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Remote companies, whether hybrid or fully remote, have one common challenge ahead of themselves: Communication. Teams need to have the proper communication tools, channels, and strategies to work together towards the same goals and achieve the aspired results.

During this podcast episode, Evelin shares her experience working remotely for more than 6 years. She reveals practical strategies and tips to improve your hybrid team’s workflow by establishing transparent and effective communication.

''It gets complicated when you try to copy-paste the onsite meeting structure into the hybrid model because it's completely different. This has to be re rethought, it's not about copy-paste. You need a new mindset.'' Click To Tweet

Highlights:

  • Her experience transitioning to remote work
  • How remote work unifies and motivates teams
  • Strategies to improve communication in hybrid teams
  • Why is documentation essential in virtual teams
  • How to avoid the Zoom fatigue
  • Tips for making effective meetings

 

Book Recommendations:

 

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!