Creating Connectivity In a Distributed Workforce

Working From Anywhere is now a reality for many companies, professions, individuals and teams. Or at least we thought so.  Our thinking is that employees having the flexibility to work from home or work from an office, or to create a mix that helps them to balance their work life with their private life is something we all welcome! Not all companies are following this line of thought and continuing with a distributed workplace following the pandemic. However, for those that do, this new way of working across an entire organisation puts emphasis on how we can work efficiently, together. Having a fully distributed workforce shines a light on how we collectively collaborate, optimise output, ensure a strong connectivity with our peers and colleagues, and have fun. 

How we can be better together, whilst distributed, is extremely relevant to today’s workplace, however, it isn’t something new. It is much more easily said than done though. Companies like Spotify have been actively working with building community for a long time, and should continue to do so (maybe working even harder on it now). However, there’s also a need to focus on the practical elements and even in a full in-office environment, staying connected has its challenges, despite opportunities for water-cooler conversations, tapping on someone’s shoulder to talk something through, or just ad-hoc fikas or coffee breaks. Connectivity for team collaboration will continue to be complex in a remote context, and it requires learning and unlearning some communicative habits.

This is probably one of the most challenging areas for HR teams around the world today, but with the advancement of technologies, we are lucky enough to have an array of tools and supporting systems for all our needs and purposes. This, however, raises the questions – what do we need, and for what purpose? 

The Backline & The Band Instruments

How we decide and optimise the instruments (tools) for the band is a question that many HR professionals should have at the forefront of their minds right now. 

Making a choice for an entire organisation can be a challenge in itself. We all have our personal preferences when it comes to what fulfils us. For example, the phone you choose, the features the car you drive has, or your personal preference on international cuisine – are personal preferences that are easy to make for yourself. It’s not so easy when you are collectively deciding for a group. It’s no surprise that your employees will have unique preferences when it comes to their own ways of working, and consequently tools they feel comfortable with, or tools that are most suited to their needs. 

At Spotify, we believe in having a selection of instruments (tools), where individuals and teams can pick and choose those that are relevant to them and their needs. We stick to roughly the same amount and the same focus areas to build our backline (the architecture) but the instruments (the exact tools) that can be plugged in can be changed. 

We established a cross-functional team to build the backline, ensuring our band members have the necessary, and reasonable amount of optionality when it comes to communication and collaboration tools. We gave attention to our current challenges as well as what tools were needed to support a growing distributed-first workforce. At the same time we were diligent not to add too many variations or too many underutilised tools.

Our backline is comprised of four focus areas:

  1. Asynchronous Communication: Asynchronous refers to when communication doesn’t happen at the same time. The instruments used here provide flexibility for people to answer in their own time, which makes it easier to collaborate across time zones or with a larger group of distributed people. 
  1. Synchronous Communication: Synchronous communication is used when we need to come together or collaborate around more complex topics, projects, or even crisis situations that require immediate attention. Sometimes we play our synchronous and asynchronous instruments simultaneously. The combination is useful when we need to brainstorm ideas, influence, create team spirit or socialise as a team. 
  1. Organising, Sharing, Thinking: The instruments for information sharing, project management, collaboration, etc. are highly important and widely used. These are the tools that enable us to be as nimble, efficient, collaborative and inclusive as possible, which is especially important in a distributed (and global) company like Spotify. Something to note about these tools is that they are highly adaptive to the rich flavour of roles, functions, remits and projects. 
  1. The Office: With working from anywhere, whether Spotifiers choose the Home Mix or the Office Mix, our offices are a lead instrument when it comes to bringing people together. When embracing a distributed or hybrid set-up, the benefits of in-person gatherings, not only from a collaborative perspective but also to elevate and foster the Spotify culture, is much more apparent. 

Tools vs Mindset

We can all agree that these tools are important however, just the tools alone won’t cut it. We also need to instil and nurture an embracing mindset in all employees. Everybody needs to be ready to welcome this distributed way of working and adopt these tools to try which works best for them and their teams / close collaborators. 

The pivoting time was during the pandemic, when we were all forced to adhere to new ways of working and try to be as efficient and collaborative as possible. Whether we are returning to a workplace or not, right now, we all need to figure out how we connect and partner with our colleagues, synchronous or asynchronous. The current and future ways of working will require a blend of both, and it’s key that we all rewire our minds to be able to continue the forced blended ways of working, in a sustainable way. To help your employees embrace this, here are our recommended schools of thought you can encourage them to explore: 

  • Growth Mindset: believe in detaching yourself from the past and how you used to work, connect, and collaborate. It is a new reality and of utmost importance that you bring an open and flexible approach. If you can adopt this way of thinking, you will grow, develop and enrich yourself in so many ways, both in the day-to-day and in the long-term.
  • Colleagues First Approach: step outside of yourself and your personal comfort zone, and consider things from your colleague’s point of view. Think about how you can efficiently influence, collaborate and collectively reach your goals and have impact.
  • Embrace The Richness of Instruments: there will always be some tools or systems that have more appeal for you and your needs, embrace these. Don’t feel you need to use everything on offer, but do ensure your team and partners see and value these tools as well. Keep efficiency and output at the centre of the reason for using tools. 

One Step On The Connectivity Ladder 

Finding ways to create this connectivity for efficient working, strong collaboration and a depth of company culture is not easy. There’s no rule book. We are writing that now. Maybe we, as HR professionals, should be more ahead of the curve than we are. Perhaps the book should be written already. But regardless of where we, as a profession, or as individual teams, are on this journey, what matters most is that we are on it, and that we act as role models to our employees by keeping a growth mindset, making sure we advocate a colleague-first approach and building and then fully embracing the richness of instruments. 

This means some trial and error and an enormous amount of patience. Don’t be too harsh on yourself or those around you when figuring out your ways of working or how to be efficient together. There are not many organisations out there that are sticking to the hybrid model, even if they can see that offering this level of flexibility works as an attraction, a diversity and a retention tactic. It is complex. And there is a definite trial and error approach of different initiatives going on at Spotify. And although these tools aren’t directly addressing one of the trickiest areas (creating a sense of belonging), the evolution of smart tools and processes is constant, and it is key that you together with your colleagues and organisation find the best way forward. 

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