Office Optional: Building Trust

A few weeks back saw the first Office Optional Conference – a new conference for distributed teams organized by Lean Startup and chaired by Sarah Milstein. The actual conference was held in San Francisco but I managed to catch quite a few of the streamed sessions from the luxury of my own comfy work chair! Slides from the day are available on Slideshare.

Here are a couple of the sessions I caught, I was particularly interested in the area of building trust – as this is a key issue for us at work at the moment.

Sarah Milstein chairs

Sarah Milstein chairs

David Casali and Lori McLeese from Automattic, the company behind WordPress, offered some Lessons from the World’s Biggest Distributed Company. Automattic has workers in home offices around the globe–with no central headquarters, much like Open Knowledge where I work. However they are much bigger with more than 230 employees in 30 countries and growing fast. David and Lori talked about how at Automattic they have 40 hour trials for new starters as a way to see if they will fit in to the organisation. This allows both parties to get insights into whether the situation will work. The long term effect of this was that hiring had become more successful process with more trust and communication. They concluded with the quote “Management exists to minimise the problems created by its own hiring mistakes” 😉

Cheryl Contee from Fission Strategy gave an interesting talk on how you Build Culture, Establish Trust within an distributed organization. Cheryl explained that despite the plethora of tools (Yammer, Quik time, Zoom – video conferencing – Google communities, ossana – to name but a few) it is their core values that lead to the building of trust. These are:

  1. Success through collaboration – what unites is bigger than what divides
  2. Beauty and excellence
  3. Learning and sharing
  4. Teaching and empowering
  5. Resourceful creativity
  6. Fun and inspiration

Cheryl explained how you need to create a culture of trust in each other by assuming good intentions and optimising systems before tweaking people. Her motto was to hire slow – fire fast (eeek! – but here the emphasis is on hiring people you will want for the long haul). There was some interesting discussion around healthy conflict versus unhealthy conflict and how organisations need to build an environment for healthy conflict.

Videos of the Office Optional talks are available for a cost – but here are some of the remote working tips shared, more are available from the Office Optional blog.

  • For in-person meetings, we don’t do ANYTHING that we think could be accomplished in a virtual setting, and instead pack our team retreats/conferences with things like: intense, long-term planning brainstorm sessions; team building, conversations about things that are deeply personal. — Sarah, Teach for America, Wheeling WV
  • We also try to spend our in-person time in different team members’ home towns, so that we get to see them “in their element,” meet their families, eat at their local restaurants, hike in their local parks, etc. It’s HUGE and completely amplifies the purpose of getting together in person. — Sarah, Teach for America
  • Occasionally, we’ll have a distributed movie-watching session using Netflix. We open up a HipChat channel for commentary. Works great for team bonding! — Shaunuak Kashyap, Rackspace, San Jose CA
  • Oversharing is key, so we have a daily QOTD (question of the day) in our chatroom every day, even if the questions are really dumb. I love knowing which of our team members secretly listens to Miley Cyrus while working.– Sarah, LKR Social Media, Mammoth Lakes CA
  • Our onboarding tradition: get the whole team on Hangout. Each person asks the new hire a weird and personal question, then the new hire gets to ask one back to them. Side effect: existing team members learn even more about each other. — Sarah, LKR Social Media
  • Security is important for protecting IP. I’ve been using Zoom for HD web meetings. Zoom provides three levels of security: 128-bit encryption, password-protected meetings, ability to lock the meeting after everyone has joined so no one else can eavesdrop. — Rich Harris, TeamLeadContrast, Plattsburgh NY
  • Test your new headset and microphone before using it in for meetings first time! — Galina Landes, Emanio, Walnut Creek CA