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How to “Boost” Productivity and Engagement in a Remote Work Environment, According To A Successful Remote-First Company

Infuse science into your remote work transition with these top tactics.

Companies of all shapes and sizes are grappling with how to empower their employees for success while working remotely. Over the past few months, I’ve been researching the top-performing remote-first companies, trying to uncover potential drivers of success. While my research began far before the COVID-19 outbreak, it has become even more meaningful in recent days and months. 

One remote-first company that I have long admired is 15Five. I vividly remember using 15Five during my first summer internship in college. 15Five’s continuous check-ins helped me stay mentally afloat amid the flurry of a rapidly growing tech startup. Intent to learn more about how 15Five fosters an empowering remote work culture, I recently chatted with Courtney Bigony, Director of People Science at 15Five. 

“Boosting” Engagement 

Many companies embrace all-hands meetings to share business updates and other top-of-mind news. At 15Five, all-hands meetings—called “boosts”—occur three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Not only do these “boosts” help employees stay informed, but they are also infused with the latest science to help employees thrive in a remote work setting. 

Monday – Gratitude 

Most workers start their Mondays with an early morning meeting. 15Five embraces a different approach. 15Five’s first “boost” occurs on Monday morning and involves a gratitude exercise led by the company’s co-founder and chief cultural officer, Shane Metcalf. During this time, each member of 15Five’s 200-person team expresses gratitude for something, whether family members, customers, or team members. 

Practicing gratitude at 15Five isn’t just a team-building exercise. Rather, it is specifically geared towards counteracting the negativity bias—our natural tendency to focus on the negative (bad is stronger than good). As Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis and esteemed expert on gratitude explains, “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness…It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.” 

Gratitude also engenders positive physical effects. Research has shown that gratitude has the power to heal, energize, and is a key driver of resilience. Gratitude is associated with a 23% decrease in stress hormones. Not only can a daily dose of gratitude proactively reduce the effects of aging on the brain, but it can also boost your immune system, which is critical in our current environment. 

Wednesday – Guided Meditation

On Wednesdays, 15Five team members partake in a guided meditation. Once again, this practice is grounded in science. Like gratitude, meditation has been shown to improve the immune system. It also reduces cortisol levels and stress. And, in terms of emotional health, it helps with emotion regulation, empowering practitioners to reduce anxiety and depression. 

Friday – Personal Questions

Many people are, understandably, uncomfortable sharing personal details of themselves in an office setting. When your co-workers are remote, it can be even more difficult to establish a sufficiently strong connection to encourage vulnerability and trust. While vulnerability can be uncomfortable, research by Harvard Business School professor, Jeff Polzer shows the process of building trust starts with vulnerability. It’s important for leaders specifically to be vulnerable first and often. Leader-led vulnerability sets a foundation of cooperation and trust among teams.

How do you encourage information sharing in a remote environment? 15Five embraces “Question Friday”. Each Friday, all 15Five team members are asked to share their responses to a personal question. One recent question asked, “If you could relive an experience from your life, what would it be?” Questions such as these help build trust and a feeling of connectedness. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Remote Work Technology

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a set of requirements that are important for an individual to reach their full potential. When considering remote work, Courtney and her team consider a similar type of hierarchy related to remote work technology. At the bottom of the hierarchy is stable Wi-Fi, which is critical for nearly every aspect of remote work. At the second rung is Slack and Zoom. 15Five leverages Zoom for more than its basic video conferencing functionality. For example, during Question Friday, 15Five leverages Zoom’s more private breakout rooms given the personal nature of the questions. 

At the top of the pyramid lies people management platforms like 15Five and project management platforms like Asana (full disclosure: I work for Asana). As Courtney explained, using Slack and Zoom to stay connected virtually doesn’t automatically lead to strategic company alignment and meaningful communication. Robust people and project management platforms are critical to ensuring that team members are aligned on the status of work and how individual work funnels up into overarching company objectives.  

Remote work is challenging. But working remotely doesn’t mean that you can’t build a powerful culture. It just means that culture needs to be a concerted effort—even more so than in a co-located environment. Embracing gratitude, meditation, and vulnerability, and building a strong technology foundation is a recipe for success.

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