How an abundance mindset leads to thriving remote teams

COVID-19 took us all by surprise. As we scrambled mostly unprepared to switch to remote work we had to improvise and come up with short-term strategies just to keep going. For many of us, we figured we would be back in the office in a month or two — but that wasn’t to be. Now, everyone who can be remote is remaining remote for the time being. 

Leaders, however, are coming to discover that the short-term strategy and improvisation of the early days of COVID-19 aren’t cutting it long-term. Issues that existed in the office are now exacerbated; not to mention all the new ones popping up. 

I wanted to gain an expert’s insight into remote work strategies so I sat down with the Head of Remote at GitLab, Darren Murph. GitLab is the world’s largest all-remote company with 1,300 team members spanning more than 67 countries. And no, there’s not a single office to be found. 

With more than 14 years of experience leading remote teams, Darren offered a wealth of insight for all the reluctant remote leaders out there. Below are the 4 essential strategies I took away from the conversation. 

Accept that the debate over remote work is over

“We’ve gone past the petty arguments of whether remote is good or bad. It’s here.”

Darren Murph

Love it or hate it, remote work is here to stay. Whether you think it will help your business or not is no longer the question; the question now is how you will respond. In fact, according to an S&P Global study, 67% of companies will remain remote permanently. 

But, admittedly, we’re not in the ideal situation for the switch to remote work. Often we hear that this is the great experiment in remote, but Darren notes that leaders shouldn’t think this way because the circumstances are not what they would otherwise be. 

With this in mind, Darren suggests leaders take careful note of their current strategies. Because, even if you return to the office, another crisis 10 years down the line could have us right back to where we’re at now. 

Take on an abundance mindset

When you can’t change the circumstances, you can always change your approach and mindset. This is what Darren suggests for the many leaders out there struggling to lead remote teams. He suggests what he calls an “abundance mindset.” 

An abundance mindset, as opposed to a scarcity mindset, is all about finding the opportunity in what you have. When facing a new situation, a person with an abundance mindset thinks “get to” instead of “have to.” A challenging project becomes an opportunity to grow professionally, rather than a chore to be completed.

With this in mind, Darren says this to newly remote leaders: “Consider that you no longer have the burden of the office rather than lacking it. Ask yourself, ‘how can we be the most agile company we can be?’”

Watch out for invisible barriers

One of the key challenges that emerge with remote work is ensuring that everyone has the resources that they need. In the office, it’s easier to see and provide what someone needs. But ensuring that everyone’s needs are met goes beyond just material resources — it includes considering time and the many unique situations people find themselves in. 

To account for his team’s needs, Darren focuses less on synchronous meetings — minimizing the need for everyone to be available at once. Because when you’re dealing 67 different countries’ time zones you’re going to run into a lot of difficulties. 

Minimizing meetings is helpful for traditional companies that have gone remote out of necessity as well. With people at home now they may have their families and children in close proximity. Children are still at home for school and this could mean irregular hours or occasional interruptions for your team members. So, allowing for a more flexible schedule can increase a team’s agility and even overall productivity. 

Focus on values

“Values are incredibly important at GitLab — I’ve never seen a place where they’re so frequently referenced in small and big day-to-day decisions.”

Darren Murph

When you’re leading a remote team, trust becomes everything. For Darren, this makes alignment on values an absolute imperative. This is why the interview and onboarding process at GitLab focuses heavily on values. 

This, however, is often true of the progressive leaders I speak with, but I wanted to dig deeper. So, I asked Darren what GitLab’s policy is for when someone doesn’t seem to be living the organization’s values. Because, especially when communication is remote, a lot of confusion can arrise. 

Darren offered a straightforward process. First, there’s the assumption that everyone means well and an ask for clarification on something they said or did. Here most problems are resolved. Next, people are asked to confide with a higher up. Then, together, all parties come to a resolution. 

The takeaway

No matter what, remote work isn’t going to be for every person or for every role. But we all have to make the best of the situation as it is. 

To sum up, remote leaders should embrace the situation as is, change their mindset, focus on values, and watch out for the invisible barriers their team members may face. 

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S1:E5 JESSICA MALKIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CHICAGO IDEAS WEEK
S1:E5 JESSICA MALKIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CHICAGO IDEAS WEEK