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Are remote teams the solution to a working mom’s top problem?

Motherly cofounders used their instincts to help build a next generation business where remote teams—and parents—can thrive.

Are remote teams the solution to a working mom’s top problem?

I distinctly remember being pregnant with my first daughter and commuting two hours a day as a consultant in Washington, D.C. It was hard on my growing body, leading me to seek chiropractic care, and toward the end of my pregnancy, made me nervous to be so far from home and the hospital—but, that's the reality for many mamas.

This experience was central to our decision at Motherly to have a fully remote workforce as a way to support families and working parents. We also took lessons from my days as a consultant helping organizations increase agility and spent time talking to other office-free founders before taking the leap.

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The bottom line? Inflexibility and commuting take up precious hours of a working mom's day.

Today, remote collaboration is easier than ever with video conferencing technologies and synchronous communication tools becoming ubiquitous, prompting a growing number of companies to opt for no office at all. It helps the bottom line for businesses in terms of savings on office space and improves employee retention and satisfaction.

And in today's dual-income families, the flexibility provided can be a key ingredient in helping families thrive. In the four years since launching Motherly my co-founder, Liz Tenety, and I have only been co-located for a total of four months. In fact, we didn't see each other at all the entire second year of Motherly—and we've still thrived.

With a growing team of more than 50, we've found that we are on the cutting edge of an important trend for workplaces. Research shows that companies with a substantial remote workforce have a higher percentage of women in leadership roles, which amounts to roughly four times as many women in CEO/founding roles than S&P 500 office-based companies.

Along the way, we've learned a lot of lessons on how to establish and maintain a cohesive remote team—here are the top 10.

1. Go all in.

Fully remote teams function more effectively than a hybrid where some work remote and some co-located. In my experience, having a co-founding and/or leadership team co-located when the rest of the team is remote can make it hard to set reasonable expectations and can result in an us versus them mentality. Leading a remote team requires working remotely so that the challenges the workforce feels can be genuinely understood and appreciated.

2. Nurture an empowered culture where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and across functions.

Proximity breeds comfort and without it, people tend to stay polite and surface-level longer. Stressing the importance of being empowered and speaking truth to power is critical to encouraging a team to share constructive criticism versus platitudes.

3. Establish shared core work hours to ensure synchronous communication can occur across time zones reducing bottlenecks.

Remote work has been proven to increase team efficiency but time zones can kill gains if not addressed head-on. Businesses can benefit from around the world coverage and support but collaboration can be hard if teammates can't connect realtime. Core co-working hours are a simple but effective fix.

4. Utilize video conferencing to support human connections.

In today's digital world most everyone is comfortable interacting online but the nuances of human interaction are easier to decipher face-to-face and help form bonds that are critical to overcoming the eventual miscommunication that will occasionally occur between teammates. Make a point of holding video calls whenever possible—screen-sharing via video can also help with collaboration and problem solving.

5. Leverage tools (like Slack) with small talk channels to serve as a virtual #watercooler.

Slack is a lifesaver for a remote team providing synchronous communication with organization and notification features to make it manageable, limiting information overload. And don't just think about it as a business communication tool but also a team building tool. Plugins exist to facilitate virtual coffee meetups between colleagues and a general #watercooler channel can also become a hub for non-work discussions that serve as a way for remote teammates to get to know each other at a personal level.

6. Schedule weekly "flare" sessions for free brainstorming to keep creativity flowing.

Ad hoc group problem solving can be limited for remote teams so creating the structure to mitigate lost opportunities can be helpful to keep creativity flowing. A weekly team or company wide "flare" or brainstorming session that teams or individuals can claim and lead can provide an opportunity to solve problems together and build camaraderie across teams and functions.

7. Host annual (or more!) IRL retreats to build team intimacy and bonds through shared experiences.

Notice the word retreat, not conference or all-hands—while it's important to have time to communicate company strategy and important initiatives, for remote teams the in-person time must prioritize team building through shared experiences. Casual meals, volunteer projects, a cheesy city tour, bowling outing, or museum visit can become company lore and tradition that over time become part of the foundation of a company's culture.

8. Hold virtual holiday parties + celebrations.

Get creative! Set up virtual secret Santa or cookie exchange, order lunch in for everyone remotely, leverage Amazon to synchronize deliveries for a baby shower and get everyone on video conference for a festive good time. Another one to try—cancel meetings on a Friday afternoon and send everyone on a spa treatment at their local spa!

9. Organize cross-functional "Think Tank Projects" to integrate teams and benefit from cognitive diversity in problem solving.

Cross functional team integration is as important, if not more important, for remote teams. Identify a company-wide initiative and assign it based on skill set and individual superpowers versus functional teams, creating an opportunity for inter-team collaboration.

10. Set aside time to review and address hardships as a remote team.

Being purposeful about removing obstacles and modifying structures, processes, and tools as teams evolve. Creating a culture of honesty means acknowledging challenges and facing them head-on. Encourage teams to share obstacles and hardships and take the time to appreciate them rather than jumping into problem-solving mode from the start. Everyone needs an occasional venting session and you'll find that through the discussion, the team will find its way to solutions and a recognition that the tradeoffs are totally worth it. It's so much more authentic if they draw that conclusion themselves vs leadership cheerleading the benefits of remote work.

A strong, cohesive team culture is possible for remote teams and like all relationships it takes time and continuous work. In the end, teamwork makes the remote dream work creating tangible and intangible benefits for the business and employees, as well as their families. Put in the time in to establish the structure, behavior and processes and you'll be rewarded with a committed, loyal, and united team. More than that, you'll have thriving mamas and families.

[A version of this post was originally published June 20, 2019. It has been updated.]

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    To your child, you are safety. You are security. You are where (out of anyone or any place), they can come undone. Where they can let it all out, let it all go. Where they meltdown, break down, scream, cry, push.

    Where they can say—"I AM NOT OKAY!"

    Where they can totally lose it. Without judgment or fear or shame.

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    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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