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It’s a Trap! (or what Sci-Fi can teach us about remote working)

Here at DistantJob, we’re passionate about remote working. We’re committed to matchmaking between the best digital nomads and great companies. We’re determined to help people understand how to make virtual teams work. And we know that different people need to hear information in a variety of ways. In the past, we’ve looked at managing remote teams from a psychological perspective, and we’ve learned lessons from the military. Today, we are learning lessons from Science Fiction.

Many Bothans died to bring us this information

Looking back to Star Wars, Episode IV – A new hope, you’ll remember how the almighty planet-destroying Death Star was blown to pieces. One lucky hit to the thermal exhaust port started a chain reaction that destroyed the main reactor – BOOM!

In the intervening decades, many eyes have been rolled over how short-sighted the empire was. How did they build a design flaw like that into their ultimate weapon? As impossible as it might seem, though, there are many real-life examples of where a pretty obvious design flaw made it into production.

To stop this happening in your remote team, you need to keep an eye on the big picture. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds that detail brings up, but you also need to see how all the pieces slot together. Make time for this.

Find a technique to help you distance yourself from the minutiae and see the whole picture.

A good way to do this can be to imagine (or actually) explain the project to someone who knows nothing about it. To see things as a newcomer, you have to work back through the layers of knowledge and experience that led to decisions. You may find you could do things another way.

It’s also healthy to have a culture where anyone feels they can speak up. This kind of culture seems to happen naturally in more inclusive teams, and as remote teams tend to be more diverse, you already have an advantage.

Those of you who have stayed up to date and seen Rogue One will know that the ‘design flaw’ was intentionally placed into the Death Star by Galen Erso. The Empire paid the price of using coercion over more positive team-building techniques, and Erso had his revenge. Also, they should never have trusted someone who looked like Hannibal Lecter.

Welcome to day 255,642 aboard the Axiom

Remember Disney’s 2008 animation, Wall-E? It’s a cross between Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey with a side order of robotic Romeo and Juliet. For kids.

Wall-E is a robot, one of many left behind on earth that got used up. The surviving humans have left on fleets of spacecraft. They’re having a pleasure cruise before returning to a newly cleaned-up planet. Unfortunately, it’s been 700 years, and Wall-E is the only functioning unit. But, out of connection with the rest of the ship, he’s been doing what he does, over and over again. Oh, and he’s also developed a personality and a love for musical cinema.

Wall-E is a film packed with messages. There’s the obvious environmental theme. The way humans have become overly reliant on technology and have forgotten how to use their bodies. And of course, that true love conquers all (even when you’re a robot).

For us, though, Wall-E is an abject lesson in what happens if you leave your remote workers without contact. Wall-E was given a job, and he did it. He did it to the very best of his ability, and he kept on doing it because no one had told him to stop. Because he hadn’t been given the authority (or trust) to change his mission, he couldn’t respond to what was happening around him.

A remote team member left out of the loop cannot be a team player. Virtual Team Managers need to keep in contact with their digital nomads and make sure that everyone has up-to-date information. The Agile methodology includes daily stand-up meetings to review goals and issues. If you’d like to learn more about how you can download our free eBook to see why we think Agile is the Chewbacca to Remote Working’s Han Solo.

So much for the little training cruise

We’re boldly going on now, to consider Star Trek. With so many different series, and of course movies & spin-offs, there is any number of lessons to be learned from Gene Roddenberry’s universe. Perhaps the most enduring of ideas from Star Trek is this, though: If you’re the red shirt on an away team, you’d better set your affairs in order before you go.

No matter who else joined the landing party, it was always the new face who got on the wrong end of the Klingons/Romulans/One-off Aliens. Not Kirk, not Spock, and not even Scottie in spite of the fact he always wore a redshirt. No, it was the red shirt who was making the numbers up that bought the farm.

You could argue that was because the red shirts were a (flimsy) device used by the writers to instill a sense of danger. A plot device to get our heroes emotionally invested. But you’d be missing the point. The reason all those red shirts met an untimely end: They weren’t sufficiently integrated into the team.

If they had been, then they’d have been as well trained and able to operate as the named characters. If they had been, they’d have been better protected as valued members of their team. Kirk should never have expected new members to an efficient team to be able to keep up with the more experienced officers.

How to protect your red shirts? Have great onboarding tactics. Your company may well do a great job at this with on-site workers. But if you have staff who telecommute, or a team spread across the world then it can be more difficult. Lucky for you we’ve already put together some resources to help you do this more efficiently – communication tips and more general tips here.

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

Because this is a post from DistantJob, we are of course going to talk about how important it is to have the right people on your team. Where else to go for a Sci-Fi example of this but Firefly. The (utterly dreamy) Captain Malcolm Reynolds led a motley crew of loveable rogues as they aimed to misbehave across the ‘verse.

But of all the team, the one guy you never quite trusted was Jayne Cobb. While the others were rascals with a heart of gold, Jayne was another type entirely. There was no real surprise when Jayne did the dirty on the rest of them and turned them over to the Alliance.

He might have been the Hero of Canton, but Jayne was out of place on that team. If only Mal had been able to get specialist recruitment help, he might have saved himself a lot of trouble.

Lucky for you, we have experts on hand to help you find global talent that is, well, shiny. If you have a vacancy, get in touch today to see if we can get you a Wash or a Zoe.

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Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon is a remote work advocate and thought leader and a specialist in persuasive writing. She has an MA in Creative Fiction, is a children's author, and a writer of award-winning short stories.