March
23
, 2022

Building Trust in a Hybrid Team

By Vivy Chao, Recruitment and Culture Lead at Tandem

Brené Brown’s teachings are often referenced in the corporate world. They are are particularly relevant now that the world has shifted to heavily remote and hybrid work structures. Brown’s teachings revolve around how to build trust. According to her research, “Trust is built in very small moments” and not through grand, sweeping moments.

What does this even mean in a work environment; especially one where people don’t even see one another in person regularly anymore?

One major aspect of work that has changed due to not being in person regularly is the change in workplace dynamics (a.k.a. work politics). For some, working remotely means not having to deal with the same stressors of these politics that were exacerbated while in person. For others, these dynamics have merely shifted. According to the the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Negativity costs businesses $3 billion a year due to its harmful effects.”

Trust is a simple word with heavy implications in a work environment. Researcher Paul J. Zak, the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, derived a mathematical relationship between trust and economic performance in his studies. The results were stunning: People at high-trust companies reported 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% higher engagement, and 40% less burnout.

At Tandem we’ve been experimenting with best practices in building team trust amid a pandemic so we can work better together. Here’s one way we’ve done that:

Creating personal user manuals

What are they? During team retros we spent several sessions deep diving into how we work best through writing, reading, and reflecting in small groups. These reflections centered on these areas:

  1. Work: What has your attention today (this can be personal, work, or both)? If possible, how can we help you unblock this? It’s one thing to discuss blockers, but it’s another to get opportunities to ask for help.
  2. Learning: What was the first thing you remember about learning that you loved? Relationship building takes time. Studies show that it takes 40-60 hours to build a casual friendship. Understanding this about a teammate gives a glimpse into what drives a teammate.
  3. Growth & self-compassion: What is a mistake that you've made in the past that made you grow? Vulnerability is an important aspect of building trust. This straddles a fine line between oversharing and building trust for many people in a work environment. However, it’s important to note that vulnerability supports a positive team culture.
  4. Memory: Name a place that holds a lot of meaning for you. Explain. A lot can be revealed about a person based on what the person says.
  5. Work style: How would you like to communicate your ideas to the team? This is an overlooked area. In school, teachers spent a lot of time helping students learn through their preferred learning style. However, this becomes lost in the workplace. Understanding what one’s learning style is and what teammates’ learning styles are can greatly alleviate the pain of miscommunication. It can also elevate the quality of work.

The purpose of a personal user manual is to allow people to share clear insight into the way they operate. Imagine the amount of time, energy, and misunderstandings saved if transparency can be built early on with teammates. For example, if a teammate feels that he/she/they operate best by sharing written reflections in a shared document, then it helps the people running meetings understand how to structure those meetings for top effectiveness. Currently very little effort is spent to understand how much information is retained after meetings and what the actual ROI is with the time spent by everyone in attendance.

Tandem’s CEO, Rajiv Ayyangar, wrote extensively on psychological safety and its importance on a team. People need to feel safe in an environment in order for trust to build. Trust seeps into every single part of business as shown in a study conducted by PwC that revealed 55% of CEOs think that “a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.” At Tandem, a behavior that has become a staple of our company culture, is transparency. An example of what transparency looks like for us is being able to “sit in” on nearly all meetings. For me, as a recruiter, I feel many times more comfortable communicating with potential candidates because I have a more well-rounded view of what’s happening internally across teams. I know when a bug has been bothering multiple users and what the issue is; I know what the engineering team will be focused on next and why. This has translated into passive candidates having a better idea of what our product does, which peaked their interest.

Trust is a non-tangible feeling that sets the foundation of how people interact with one another. Therefore it is not a surprise how it affects work performance. Without trust, the business will fail.



February
09
, 2022

How to Make the Most Out of Your Standup Meetings

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Rajiv is the co-founder and CEO of Tandem, a virtual office for hybrid and remote teams.

What did you do yesterday? What do you plan to do today? What’s standing in your way?

A grounding ritual.

Standup meetings are quick, daily check-ins (traditionally done standing in a circle) that enable small, collaborative teams to coordinate. At Tandem, our 15 minute standups help us stay on track, bubble up issues or questions, and offer a daily human touch-point.

Ideally, standup meetings accomplish 3 things:

  • Gain a clear understanding of what your team is working on.
  • Identify gaps or any roadblocks.
  • Have a human moment together. (And this one is particularly important.)

After a lot of trial and error, our team at Tandem came up with a unique way to run daily standups. The process we follow helps us coordinate and advance on our individual projects, but also get to know each other and work better as a team. So here’s our 5-step guide to hosting the perfect standup meeting:

1. Collect your thoughts before you meet.

Your standup meeting should be a mix of async and synchronous communication. Before you hop on a call or meet in-person, take some time to write down a few bullet points that summarize what’s on your plate and anything worth sharing. Our team uses a #standup Slack channel, where we all add our notes before we get together.

This does a few things: It helps you to start your day with some light planning, and it turns your standup call into an opportunity to communicate and coordinate, instead of an overview of everyone’s to-do list.

Timer Widget.gif
Timer widget

2. Read silently together.

Now that everyone shared their notes in advance, you want to take some time to go through them. We kick off our standup with a 3 minute timer, and mute everyone - sometimes playing background jams with our music widget. We then go through our slack channel to understand what everyone is working on, and where we can contribute.

Music Widget.gif
Music widget

This brief writing and reading exercise allows people to quickly absorb information in parallel and connect the dots with their teammates.

3. Pass the mic.

Once our timer widget dings, we use our standup widget to get a randomized list of all the call participants. This helps us kick off the discussion and gives everyone a chance to ask a clarifying question, share something personal or simply say hello.

Standup Widget.gif
Standup widget

The goal here isn’t to repeat what you already posted in your slack channel, but rather to communicate and coordinate in real time - some things are just easier to discuss during a call  instead of waiting for an email reply.

4. Don’t deep dive - parking lot instead.

As we’re going through our daily updates, we often find out that some topics deserve a deeper dive - we call these our “parking lot items”.

We add these items to our handy agenda widget, and get back to them at the end of the call or create quick meetings to go through them in more details. This helps us stay on track and avoid boring other team members with overly complicated conversations.

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Agenda widget

5. Don’t forget to end!

You’d think that this last step is obvious, but officially calling an end to standup is important. So once everyone has had a chance to speak, we announce that the “Standup is over!”. If you have a parking lot item you want to discuss, you can stay on the call and go through it with your teammates. If not, you’re welcome to hang out and co-work, or go on with your day!

And for parking lot items, love the speed of using crosstalk for multiple conversations. Simply click on 👤 button.

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Crosstalk on Tandem

The human touch.

Even though the main goal of the standup meeting is coordination, it’s important to create space for human moments, and doing a mix of written and live standup achieves this. Sometimes, we just want to check on our co-worker’s puppy or talk about our cool weekend plans, and that’s great!

These discussions happen all the time in the office, but when we transitioned to remote and hybrid work, every meeting became hyper focused on getting things done. And even though you might feel like that boosts your productivity, it can also negatively impact your team.

There’s a reason why small talk makes up over a third of all adult human speech. Research has shown that water cooler chats at the office can lead to higher positive emotions - friendly feelings, gratitude, pride, camaraderie. And these positive emotions tend to energize you, make you feel like you’re part of a team, and give you that little extra boost you need to dive into the task you’ve been avoiding for a week.

In a hybrid and remote workplace setting where every interaction is planned, these random run-ins and energy boosts are noticeably absent. And when you take away these genuine moments of connection, your team’s morale, synergy, and ability to collaborate all take a hit. Simply put - it makes you feel like you’re working with strangers you know nothing about on a mandatory group project. So I encourage you to purposefully drift away from your project review on your next call. Share something you’ve recently done that you are excited about, or chat about the latest Netflix show. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with how many things you have in common with your team.

I hope these tips and tricks help you take your standup meetings to the next level. If you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions you’d like to share, let’s chat!

@rajivayyangar | rajiv@tandem.chat


🚀
Tandem is a virtual office for remote and hybrid teams that recreates your office environment on your desktop. Try it out with your team!
February
02
, 2022

6 Tips to Make Your Virtual Meetings More Meaningful

Rym is Head of Marketing at Tandem, a virtual office for remote and hybrid teams.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions, on Unsplash.

It takes the average person 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after they join a meeting. When you pair that up with the amount of meetings we have to attend, now that we are all hybrid and remote, the hidden costs can quickly add up. Meetings should enable you to get your work done, not get in the way of it. Yet, how many times have you heard (or thought) “This meeting could’ve been an email”?

After sitting in front for our laptops for the best part of the last two years, there’s one thing we can all agree on: virtual meetings can get exhausting. And there’s a few reasons why:

  • You aren’t needed on a meeting or you lack context and structure. Most remote and hybrid workers reported that one of their biggest pain points is having too many meetings that aren’t productive or an effective use of their time.
  • You’re missing non-verbal cues. A big part of our daily communication is non-verbal. Think head nods, facial expressions, posture, gestures, tone and pitch of voice. When we have meetings in-person, you automatically absorb these while listening to the speaker. However, in a video call, you work harder to catch and process all the non-verbal cues, and that gets emotionally taxing.
  • Your team isn’t engaged. Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace report has shown that (yet again) 80% of employees are not engaged in the workplace, and it shows, because 20% of workers are frustrated by disengaged coworkers during virtual meetings.
Employee Engagement in the Workplace, Gallup.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Additional reasons include technical difficulties, external distractions, lack of psychological trust, weak company culture, and lack of non-work related social interactions.

In summary: There has to be a better way.

6 Tips to Make Your Virtual Meetings More Meaningful

With the world transitioning to hybrid workplaces structures, virtual meetings (and hybrid meetings) are here to stay. So how can we make them a more enjoyable experience for hosts and participants alike? Here are a few tips:

Tip 1: Should this be a meeting?

First step is asking yourself if the topic or question you need answered deserves a meeting. Can it be a slack message? Can it be an email? Can you wave at someone on Tandem instead of putting something on the calendar?

A Dialpad survey has recently shown that 37% of U.S. employees spend between 4 and 12 hours a week in meetings. Going back to what we discussed earlier, we should enable work instead of hindering it, and meetings take away from precious deep focus time.

Average number of work hours spent in video conferences/week, Dialpad.

A good indication that you need to schedule a meeting is if all of these statements apply:

  • A topic needs to be discussed.
  • The topic requires input from other team members.
  • You require input from more than one person.
  • All the parties involved need to discuss the topic at the same time.

If one of these doesn’t apply, then you probably don’t need that meeting in the first place and should opt for a direct message and a 10 minutes chat.

Tip 2: Only include the people that are needed.

How many people are too many people in a virtual meeting? It depends on a few things, but mainly the type of meeting and size of your company.

A smaller meeting is best to decide or accomplish something quickly, a medium-sized meeting is ideal to brainstorm and get a few additional perspectives; and if the goal is to announce something or rally the troops, you can go large. If you’re part of a big company, this HBR article suggests following the 8-18-1800 rule as a rough guideline:

  • If you have to solve a problem or make a decision, limit your meetings to 8 people. Beyond that, you will receive so much conflicting input that it will become difficult to solve the problem or agree on a final decision.
  • If you want to brainstorm, you can go as high as 18 participants.
  • If everyone will be providing updates, limit the number of participants to 18, otherwise, your meeting will last forever.
  • If you’re having an All Hands Meeting, a Town Hall, or 1-5 people are providing company-wide updates, invite however many people need to be there, that can be 1,800 — or more!

At Tandem, we limit our meetings to the team members that need to be there, but we have a rule that all of them are open to listeners. To limit disruption, if a person wasn’t included in the initial invite but wants to join, they use the “listening” feature on Tandem. This allows you to hear what’s going on in the meeting, but remain on mute and off video.

Tip 3: Provide as much context as possible.

As the meeting host, your goal should always be to make the meeting productive and valuable for everyone involved. Providing context for the discussion prior to the meeting can help the participants understand what’s expected of them, the different rules of engagement, and the outcome you want to reach. A few ways you can do that is by providing an agenda, introducing the topic in an email, or sharing a document you plan to go through in advance to turn your call into a discussion and an opportunity for feedback instead of initial discovery and context-setting.

Tip 4: Keep it engaging.

There is nothing more soul crushing than joining a meeting that turns into an endless monologue. The reason why a meeting gets scheduled is to get additional input. Yet, more often than not, virtual (and in-person) meetings are one-sided, or end up dominated by 2-3 loud voices. Justin Hale and Joseph Grenny, of VitalSmarts, came up with a few virtual meeting rules that are proven to increase virtual meeting engagement. In a recent study they conducted, that included 15,000+ participants, 86% of the attendees reported high or higher levels of engagement in their virtual meetings when all 5 of these rules were applied:

  1. The 60-seconds rule: Never engage with a group in solving a problem or discussing a topic, until they truly understand it. In the first 60 seconds of your meeting, do something to help them experience it. Share provocative statistics, anecdotes, or get them to try something.
  2. The responsibility rule: Participants often make the implicit decision to act as an observer, when they didn’t call the meeting themselves. To counter act that, it is essential to create an experience of shared responsibility early on in the meeting, and it isn’t enough to just state that they need to take responsibility at the beginning of the call. Which leads us to the next rule.
  3. The nowhere to hide rule: If everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. You can avoid this in virtual meetings by giving people tasks they can actively engage in, so there is nowhere to hide. An example of that is creating a random order of people to provide updates during your daily standup or by assigning people to groups of two or three to brainstorm solutions (Try /random or Crosstalk on your next Tandem call!)
  4. The MVP rule: The minimum viable powerpoint (or document). It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the group is, if you want your audience to be engaged, select the least amount of data you need to inform the group and trigger a discussion. Not a single slide more.
  5. The 5-minute rule: Don’t ever go longer than 5 minutes without giving the group another problem to solve. If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, participants tend to retreat in that alluring observer role. And engagement doesn’t always have to mean active discussion, it can also take the form of gamification, or a simple poll to take the pulse mid-meeting.

Tip 5: Respect everyone’s working hours.

It’s not just you, remote and hybrid employees are working longer than ever before. A working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that during the pandemic, the average workday length increase by 48.5 minutes and the number of meetings increased by 13% .

Impact of Covid-19 Lockdowns on Workday Span, National Bureau of Economic Research.

While remote and hybrid workplace structures allow for greater flexibility, they also make it very hard to disconnect at the end of the day, and for a reason. It is hard to set boundaries between work and home life when your office is also your living room or your bedroom. Checking your email one last time, replying to a quick slack message, or returning a call after work hours become habits that are hard to shake off, even though they’re essential to really unwind. To tie it back to your virtual meetings, you’re more likely to get active (and voluntary) participation and a productive discussion when you respect everyone’s working hours (9-5, 8-4, or whatever the breakdown is at your current company). A few ways we’ve tried to solve the problem with Tandem is by displaying the status of every teammate (so you can see who’s active, who’s away, and who’s offline) and by adding a “Do Not Disturb” function that you can automatically set to show you as unavailable after 5pm, for example.

Tip 6: Try water cooler chats instead!

Do you ever miss the feeling of walking to someone’s desk at the office and asking them a quick question? We do too. The most productive conversations don’t always happen in a scheduled meeting with 10 participants, sometimes they’re a simple 2 minutes chat with your co-worker. When the world went on lockdown, we instantly lost these magic moments that help us network and get our work done faster, and communication or information sharing became a roadblock to getting your work done. And that’s exactly the problem we are solving with Tandem.


🚀
Tandem is a virtual office for remote and hybrid teams that recreates your office environment on your desktop. You can see who’s around, if they’re available, and rediscover that “tap on the shoulder” feeling that we all miss. Try it for free with your team!
September
02
, 2021

How to stay in flow when remote 🌊🏄

At Tandem, we're obsessed with simplicity, speed, and reducing friction - whether it's getting into a conversation, or collaborating in real time. Why? Of course fast, simple, intuitive tools feel awesome (e.g. Superhuman, Sublime Text). But more than that, speed allows you to stay in flow, spend less time on mechanics, and more time connecting.

When you're remote, it can be difficult to connect with your team while also staying in flow. Here are some tips:

Fewer meetings

For a quick chat, simply wave 👋 at a teammate who's free—like a tap on the shoulder. Or click ⏰ Notify me when free and Tandem will ping you when they're available and not in a meeting or room.

Wave and jump into a call
Notify when free will ping you when your teammate comes is available.

Auto-join meetings

No more nervously checking calendar! With Meeting Reminders, you can stay in flow until the last possible second. Works for both Tandem meetings and other services - e.g. Zoom, Meet. Go to Settings > Meetings.

Be a super-collaborator with shortcuts

  • Get everyone on the same page: No more: "Hey can you send me the doc?" - Instead, instantly send a link to your current active tab with Cmd+Shift+L (Ctrl-Shift-L on Windows).
  • Help a teammate: Click on your teammate's name for a tooltip for helpful actions. Instead of asking someone to screenshare → click + R to request screenshare. You can also end screenshare if they forget. Instead of asking someone to mute...just do them a favor and mute them - they'll get a polite notification.
  • Mute/unmute yourself with CMD+SHIFT+M (Ctrl-Shift-M on Windows) Modify and enable shortcuts for video and screen share in Settings > Preferences.

Walk & talk 🚶

Screen fatigue is the enemy of flow. Use our handy iOS app to stretch your legs on a walking 1-on-1, take a call on the go, or listen in to a room. Your virtual office in your pocket!

🍏 Download Tandem for IOS in the App Store
🤖 Get Tandem for Android in Google Store

What's your favorite way to stay in flow? Let us know!

What top teams say:

"Tandem is what's allowed us to function well as a distributed team. Our average meeting times are shorter than on Zoom, and there's less friction when you just need to talk to someone for a few minutes."

—Everett Cook, CEO - Rho Banking powers collaborative finance for fast-growing companies.

"Tandem gives us the space to work on things together, without having to schedule back-to-back meetings."

—Dani Sandoval, Dir. of Design - Chipper Cash is the leading platform for cross-border payments in Africa.

February
15
, 2021

How to build psychological safety in your remote team

Rajiv is co-founder of Tandem, a collaboration platform built from the ground up for distributed teams. Prior to Tandem, Rajiv led remote teams at both startups and large multinational corps. This is Part I of a three-part series synthesizing knowledge from more than 100 teams.

Summary: Create and initiate low-friction opportunities for spontaneous conversations, e.g. hanging out in themed meeting rooms.

Tweetstorm version: (link)

The problem

Psychological safety—the freedom to speak up without fear of negative criticism or consequence—is the best-studied social dynamic of effective teams.

Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson describes a psychologically-safe team as one where “Individuals feel they can speak up, express their concerns, and be heard…they’re not full of fear…[they are] more interested in learning, excellence, and genuinely connecting with others than in looking good.” As has been shown again and again, psychological safety unlocks creative and productive collaboration.

This means that, for any team, cultivating psychological safety should be a priority. In person, here’s what this looks like:

After an important meeting, John notices Erin looks worried, so swivels his chair and asks her if everything’s okay, leading to a deeper conversation…
Rick gets a frustrating email, takes a minute to vent to his teammate while getting coffee. Another teammate makes a clever joke about the situation, they all laugh and leave with higher spirits…

Distributed teams, however, rarely have opportunities for spontaneous conversation. This can create a vicious cycle — less psychological safety means people initiate fewer conversations, which distances team members even more.

Psychological safety doesn’t have network effects. It’s more difficult when there are more people involved.

The solution

A number of tactics can help, like creating a culture of one-on-ones, prioritizing video to build personal connection, and training new employees in Non-Violent Communication (also see John Cutler’s amazing compiled list). However, to integrate psychological safety into the fabric of your team dynamic, there must be regular opportunities for spontaneous conversation. This means that—counterintuitively—you need to schedule it.

tweet this

Step 1: Create a “meeting room”. Using your favorite meeting software, schedule an open meeting for a 2–4 hour chunk of time. We’ve found consistently that dropping into an open “room” feels less intrusive than initiating a group call — it’s an invitation, not an expectation.

Step 2: Experiment with framing. Depending on your team’s culture and the current level of urgency, try out different work-focused and non-work-focused themes for these meetings. Here are a few ideas from top teams we talked with:

“Round Table”

“Good Morning”

“Office Hours for Project X”

“Water Cooler”

Beer Time”

Step 3: Get feedback and revise. Ask your team what they think and encourage them to create their own ad-hoc meeting rooms — maybe one will stick!

Every team will find unique habits that work for them. Joel Goyette, Head of Product at Scott’s Cheap Flights, says “As a distributed team, we try to maximize face-time, but voice-only co-working has been extremely valuable during early and late stages of projects, where synchronous communication is most helpful.” (@joelgoyette on Twitter)

For Alexa Meyer, Coa CEO and former Director of Growth at Keen.io — a company I admire for its intentional culture — adding a monthly remote happy hour to the team calendar meant that “teammates felt less isolated, had more trust, and were able to work through problems more effectively.(@alexakmeyer on Twitter).

And details matter. A friend who is a Performance Program Manager at Google says that sometimes they’ll have a mixed remote and in-person gathering for special occasions like a baby shower:

At the start everyone feels part of it since we get to clap, congratulate, etc. Eventually the in-person room starts mingling, and the people on the call aren’t getting as much out of the party. It’s helpful if someone says “Thanks for joining remotely! Anything you folks want to say before you drop off?” Doing what you can to increase the fidelity of these situations is challenging, but worthwhile.

“Doing what you can to increase the fidelity of these situations is challenging, but worthwhile.” — Perf Mgr, Google

Now a question

What single tool or group habit has most helped your team in building psychological safety?


This is the first of a three-part series unpacking Psychological Safety in remote teams. In Part II, we’ll look at transparency and meta-communication.


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