Virtual Realities and A Bit of Holiday Cheer from MojoMediaPros
Investing In Remote Culture
If you’re wondering how the Hollywood Christmas Parade photo above relates to MojoMediaPros, or to investing in remote-team culture, read on. We’ll get there – I promise.
Among other, even less pleasant challenges, 2020 will be remembered as the year everyone learned how to work from home — the year of gloom and Zoom, as it were. The majority of remote workers were thrust into this new reality practically overnight. Most had no say in the decision, much less any advance warning. Making the transition seems to have been much harder for some than others.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been working remotely, on and off, over the past 25 years, and exclusively for the past decade. In fact, my company, MojoMediaPros, was originally conceived as a virtual company. Our entire team works remotely, and each of them has figured out how to make it work. Most of the lessons others have been trying to learn under duress over this past year are things we all mastered long ago.
Managing Remote Teams
Through the years I’ve managed teams on the West Coast, Austin, Salt Lake City, Winnipeg, Eastern Europe, and India, all from the comfort of my cozy home office in Nashville. Today, quite a few members of the team happen to be based in Nashville, but, we still have a dozen or so teammates scattered across North America.
Without a doubt, there are challenges in working remotely. But they aren’t the issues you might expect. Getting the work done, and making sure that work is great? Not particularly hard. Teammates slacking off? We don’t see that happening either. Like ever. In fact, I’m dumbfounded when I hear managers raise these concerns. The test is simple: Is the assigned work being delivered on time and up to standards? If so, let go of the worries and trust your team to behave professionally. If someone does start to let things slip, obviously you want to address it right away. But in my experience, these types of issues have far less to do with working remotely than they do personal integrity, established trust and open lines of communication.
Actually, the challenges we face have more to do with building company culture and maintaining esprit de corps.
In lots of ways, it turns out working virtually is superior to huddling together in a centralized office. Obvious benefits include zero commute time and fewer distractions. Also, everyone gets a front-row seat during virtual presentations.
But one thing that virtual will never truly replace is good old-fashioned human contact — breaking bread, bending an elbow with coworkers at the corner pub, a friendly hug or a slap on the back. So, I like to be super intentional about providing opportunities for our virtual teammates to come together, both professionally and socially. Before the pandemic, we organized picnics, holiday parties, outings, regular happy-hours and other off-site events designed specifically to foster team-building. More than once, I’ve even jumped on a plane and flown across the country to lift the spirits of a distant teammate, or to work through a challenging assignment together.
Of course, this is 2020 we’re dealing with now, and opportunities like these no longer make sense in the midst of a global pandemic. But still, looking after your team is no less important.
So what strategies are appropriate and productive? I think we all need to approach these questions the same way we do any UX project, by starting from a place of empathy. Reach out to your team. Ask people how they’re doing. Then, listen. Really listen. If there’s something you can do to help, by all means, offer that cup of cold water. Be a light. Spread some cheer.
Just for FuN!
In this spirit, my wife, Sherri, proposed we try something new this year for the Holidays — to inject a little levity into trying times and help provide a brief respite from the steady drumbeat of dire statistics and disheartening news stories. We created a home office video background decorating contest for everyone on the team. Silly? No doubt. Trivial? Maybe a little. But it did turn out to be lots of fun. It provided plenty of laughter while helping everyone get to know each other a little better on a more human level.
To legitimize our contest and raise the stakes, we decided to bring in a ringer — something of a celebrity judge. He also happens to be my dad, Bill Lomas, Producer of the Hollywood Christmas Parade for the past 45 years (yes, that Hollywood).
Below are Bill’s picks for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes, which take the form of modest but real cash awards. I’m also including a few honorable mentions.
3rd Place — Josh Cole
2nd Place — Summer Liddington
1st Place — Becky Tacey
Congratulations to our winners: Becky, Summer, and Josh!
Frankly, there are no losers in an event like this. Every participant had a lot of fun getting involved, and in many cases, our humble contest actually helped them get into the holiday spirit. So, even if we accomplished nothing else, the exercise was worth it.
If you’re in a position to help foster human connections and encourage others, I hope this post inspires you to put a little extra effort into that important work. Honestly, aren't we all in a position to do just that, just about every day?
Here’s to a brighter 2021!
For many years, it was our family tradition for my boys and I to fly out to Hollywood each Thanksgiving to visit my dad. We’d shoot photos of the parade on Sunday for the Hollywood Christmas Parade website before flying back Monday. As much as anything, it was a chance for my boys to see their granddad in action, doing something he loves, and doing it well. If not for the pandemic, and the fact that he fell and injured himself right before Thanksgiving weekend, my father would have definitely been out there coordinating the parade again this year. Judging our little contest gave him a bit of purpose during his recovery, providing a boost to his spirits. Come to think of it, our celebrity judge turned out to be one of the winners as well.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours!