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Meet Laurel Farrer, Principal Strategy / Operations at GitLab:
Laurel Farrer is a Principal Strategy and Operations professional at GitLab with a 17-year career journey in remote work. As an organizational development strategist, she has worked with several companies and teams to build hybrid and fully distributed work models. With a focus on operations and organizational benefits, Laurel has been advocating for remote work and workplace flexibility to improve business efficiency and success. She is the founder of the world’s leading consulting firm, specializing in remote work and virtual organizational development. Recently, Laurel joined GitLab as the head of the workplace department.
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Quick Read: Laurel Farrer, Principal Strategy / Operations at GitLab, Interview Highlights
What are some effective ways to help newly hired team members from diverse backgrounds develop these self-management skills?
According to Laurel, entrepreneurs should start with documenting their expectations for self-management and the skills required to be evaluated as successful self-managers. She suggests that self-efficacy, proactivity, intrinsic motivation, task management, and emotional intelligence are some good places to start. Once documented, entrepreneurs should reinforce these expectations on a daily basis and call out good examples of the required skills in a public way to model the expectations for the whole team. As Laurel said, “The more that we can focus on knowledge and information, the more effectively we will be able to be virtual first leaders.”
Can you share some best practices for entrepreneurs transitioning to remote work, who would like to foster this effective asynchronous communication within their distributed teams?
Laurel stresses the importance of having a single source of truth as the foundation of any asynchronous communication. She explains that this can be achieved by documenting expectations, instructions, goals, and objectives in one place that is available 24/7. Laurel advises that this single source of truth does not have to be extensive or impressive; rather, it can start small and be iterated on over time. She emphasizes that a single source of truth is the foundation of successful and sustainable asynchronous communication and recommends supplementing it with tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.
As Laurel puts it, “Your single source of truth is the foundation of successful and sustainable asynchronous communication.” This highlights the importance of having a clear and accessible set of guidelines and expectations for team members to follow to ensure effective communication and collaboration in remote teams. By providing a single source of truth, managers can eliminate confusion and ambiguity, enabling team members to work confidently and asynchronously. This approach can help teams achieve their goals and objectives, regardless of location.
What strategies can entrepreneurs implement to balance providing support and autonomy to their team members?
When asked about the dangers of micromanagement in remote work environments, Laurel highlighted the challenges that leaders face when transitioning from co-located to remote work environments. She noted that physical workplaces often rely on managing physical elements, whereas remote work requires a shift towards knowledge work. As such, leaders need to be intentional about managing and supervising knowledge, rather than relying on time or location to keep teams aligned. This can be achieved through a focus on knowledge sharing and creating a single source of truth.
Laurel emphasized that autonomy is not abandonment, and that it’s important to replace the instinct to supervise with a habit of support. Instead of monitoring productivity, leaders should take a more passive role and empower their team members to be self-managers by asking “What do you need? How can I help?”
As businesses expand globally and teams become increasingly distributed, it’s crucial for leaders to adapt their management styles to ensure that their team members feel supported, yet autonomous. By embracing the shift towards knowledge work and focusing on knowledge sharing, leaders can foster a culture of self-management and empower their team members to succeed in a remote work environment.
How can they better evaluate soft skills in remote candidates in a remote environment?
Laurel recommended having transparent conversations with the human resources department to explore the growing trend of skills-based hiring. She advised entrepreneurs to identify their organization’s essential skills and values, think about what they look like in action, and build assessments in collaboration with the human resource department. She emphasized the importance of benchmarking based on results to evaluate if an individual can fulfill those results and provide them. In addition, Laurel suggested that entrepreneurs can refer to academic research, such as work on the essential skills of remote workers, for ideas on the skills they should prioritize.
Laurel criticized the traditional approach of evaluating soft skills, such as honesty, through trivial questions like whether someone would take a stapler home. She emphasized that the evaluation process should be more value-based and focused on assessing outcomes. This podcast offers valuable insights for entrepreneurs new to managing remote teams and need guidance on evaluating soft skills in remote candidates.
How can companies apply tracking and performance evaluation in remote work while keeping their employees motivated, satisfied, and avoiding micromanagement?
Laurel emphasized the importance of understanding the differences between physical and knowledge-based work environments.
According to Laurel, in a physical work environment, productivity can be visually monitored through physical supervision, while in a knowledge-based work environment, the focus should be on tracking information-based results. This includes assessing contributions made in synchronous and asynchronous communication channels, outputs created, ideas contributed, and feedback given to peers. Laurel advises developing key performance indicators (KPIs) transparently and frequently and documenting them to answer the question, “What does productivity look like in your role?”
Laurel also stressed that remote work is still just work, and organizations should evaluate their existing organizational goals to determine whether their remote work policies are contributing to their success. As organizational development metrics, Laurel recommends monitoring engagement, productivity, output, efficiency, attrition, and retention. If remote work helps increase these metrics, then it’s doing a good job.
Overall, Laurel suggests that companies should not create new goals or metrics to measure the success of their remote work policies. Instead, they should evaluate whether their remote work policies are helping contribute to the success of their existing organizational goals. Companies can effectively manage remote teams by focusing on results-based tracking and evaluation while keeping employees motivated and satisfied.
What are the three key elements companies should consider before starting global hiring to create this successful distributed workforce?
Laurel stressed the importance of developing remote work and global hiring policies that are unique to each organization. She recommended seeking the help of a consultant to ensure compliance with tax and employment law requirements and advised considering three key factors: culture, operational profitability, and documentation.
Regarding culture, Laurel suggested that organizations determine the level of synchronous collaboration required for their teams. While asynchronous collaboration may be trendy, some cultures require or thrive on synchronous collaboration. If synchronous collaboration is necessary, companies may want to consider hiring from the same time zone or a few time zones.
Operational profitability was another key factor highlighted by Laurel. Companies should carefully consider the tax and employment law requirements necessary to have a fully distributed workforce. Global distribution may not be the most cost-effective approach for businesses operating on a lean financial model or preparing for high growth.
Finally, Laurel emphasized the importance of a strong infrastructure for a globally distributed team, which requires significant investment in resources, time, money, and people. Companies may want to default to a closer proximity approach without proper investment.
Overall, Laurel’s advice highlights the complexity and nuance involved in developing effective global hiring strategies. It is important for organizations to consider their unique needs and seek expert advice to ensure compliance with regulations and maximize their success in hiring a remote and global workforce.