During this time of tremendous change, here is some timeless advice from leaders who have worked with their own distributed teams. For more, check out their individual Distributed podcast interviews.

1. Make time and space to listen

“As a manager, the best thing you can do is train yourself to hold space for yourself so you are not having a million things that you need to unload onto your employee, to keep making more room, to keep letting more things bubble up that can be resolved. Keep it with open-ended questions and to let advice maybe only come in at the very end.”

Leo Widrich, cofounder of Buffer 

2. Trust each other

“At distributed companies, you can’t tell really if someone doesn’t show up to work. I mean, you can eventually tell, but it’s much easier to disappear. The level of trust required is much higher. And so there is a portion of the [hiring] process that is earning that trust. We really believe that people can be successful and we’re looking to make people successful. There is no ‘prove it again’ after you get hired. I think that’s really important.”

Cate Huston, Automattic

3. Know your role as a manager

“I think part of my role is to explain why things aren’t impossible. And I see increasingly with a lot of projects we have done, the first response is, ‘That’s just impossible.’ …  I am happy when people say that. When I’m not happy is when people say, ‘Oh sure, we’ll do it,’ when I plainly know there is no way they can do it, it’s too hard. And so then I’m trying to figure out, ‘OK, so let’s see whether we can figure out how to do it.’”

Stephen Wolfram

4. Give yourself the structure you need

“When I got here, everyone was like, ‘It’s great because you can work in your pajamas if you want to.’ And for the first six months I did. I didn’t have a dedicated office area and I just sort of got up and started working whenever I felt like it, and finished working whenever I felt like it. And I found that that was not a good choice for me, especially in the work that I have to do. It ended up making me less resilient, more reactive, and also I had no concept of when work started and stopped.” 

Josepha Haden, Automattic  

5. Blog your experience 

“My wife will always say, ‘You’re staring off into space like you’re writing something.’ She just knows that it’s this thing where I’m collecting my thoughts….I think better and organize my thoughts better and share my ideas better when I write it, and it introduces a rigor to what I’m sharing. I love that push to accuracy and push to quality. It makes my thinking stronger.”

Anil Dash, Glitch

6. Rethink your meetings

“If you’ve taken three days to think about something and you say it in a meeting and people start just throwing stuff right back at you — in some ways you’re asking them to because you’re sitting at a table, what else are they going to do? But it seems unfair to them, in fact, for them to have to react to this thing that you have thought about for three days or three weeks or three months, for them to have 30 seconds to say something back seems unfair.”

Jason Fried, Basecamp

7. Consider what questions you’re asking

“An effective manager in a distributed work environment needs to develop the skill of asking precise and information-gathering questions to elicit this kind of information. Because even if the employee might not be able to produce this information on their own, or might know it but not necessarily know how to communicate it in a way that would be applicable and useful in a work environment.”
Lydia X. Z. Brown

For more insights, subscribe to Distributed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen.

Photo by Alexas Fotos / Pexels

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