Culture

Lisette Sutherland on Virtual Fatigue and the Remote Maturity Model

29 Apr 2020 5:00pm, by

What is remote-first? In normal times, it’s an organization that is built in such a way that anyone can work from outside the office if necessary.

“Whether or not you want to allow your employees to go remote, you should have the processes in place to be able to, just in case, because you see transportation problems loom all over the world, weather problems all over the world, sick children at home. There were all kinds of reasons why a business should be putting remote processes into place,” said Lisette Sutherland on this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast.

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For Sutherland, founder of Collaboration Superpowers remote team workshops, longtime remote work podcast host, and author of “A Handbook on Working Remotely — Successfully — for Individuals, Teams, and Managers,” we’ve been technologically ready for a remote-first world for about five years now. And she says there’s always been logic in factoring a remote-first mindset into your business continuity planning. Plus, giving the option of remote work often makes for a much more inclusive workplace that in turn empowers a business to hire the best candidate no matter where they live.

With remote work, “people can hire people who love what they do, rather than people who are just doing their job,” Sutherland said.

But we are far from normal. By any measure. Much of the world became suddenly remote-first in March for an uncertain period of time. This alone causes absurd amounts of stress. Plus many are working from home while simultaneously caring for kids or at-risk loved ones and neighbors, or dealing with long periods of solitude and isolation. Many are experiencing inescapable loss.

In this episode, we dive into how to make the most of this remote-first world in a time of social distancing. Because, while, as Sutherland says, some will fail spectacularly, teams that get it right could pave the way for a more inclusive, flexible future of work.

First, we talk about the meeting burnout much of us are experiencing. And how to create boundaries and limit what NASA — because the International Space Station is the epitome of remote work — calls virtual fatigue.

Sutherland refers to the five stages of what WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg calls the Remote Maturity Model. Most companies have been thrust up to level two, which means the tech backbone is there and most meetings have the cameras turned on. What we need to strive for is at least level three, which allows for a lot of asynchronous communication that is organized around timezones. Instead, right now, most companies are dramatically increasing their all-hands meetings, and adding lovely, but extra e-social activities. Grownups are finding they need to get better at measuring their own work screen-time.

Sutherland offers how to reach this new level which facilitates online hallway and water-cooler interaction, where the all-important spontaneous brainstorming happens. It’s where teams have found new ways of visualizing ideas like on virtual whiteboards.

While there’s, unfortunately, a rapidly growing rate of unemployment worldwide, quite a few tech organizations are still hiring. Sutherland offers what to look for in hiring a remote-first employee — most likely over a completely remote recruitment process.

“If you’re going to be working basically from home without supervision, you have to have enough self-motivation and self-discipline to get the work done.” She said you have to really understand “What is your own individual rhythm? What do you need to be productive? And then you actually have to get results done.”

A lot of these are difficult to qualify before working with someone, but Sutherland says if you’re hiring, you should look for signs of proactive communication. Also, the right candidate won’t know all the shiny new remote tools, but they will show enthusiasm for experimenting with them. When she interviews someone, she tries to cover all the remote tools needed for the typical remote-first blend of synchronous and asynchronous communication, including video, instant message or Slack, email, and even recording a message. Even someone having a grasp on emoji semantics can be crucial these days.

Most importantly, in these trialing times, Sutherland reminds us, a la Mr. Rogers, to not only look for the helpers but to be the helper, even while you’re keeping your distance.

Also Read: How to Run an Engaging Online Event featuring Lisette Sutherland and much of The New Stack team.

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