Jim Urquhart Featured in "Using Remote Work as an Opportunity to Build Stronger, More Connected Teams"

Posted by Emily Leinbach on April 10th, 2020


Written by Luke Lennon on April 10th, 2020.

MassChallenge FinTech wrapped up last month with our annual FinTech ReFuel event, where all 34 startups and 21 corporate partners gathered (virtually) to share best practices and key learnings on successful enterprise-startup partnerships.

The cohort also participated in our enterprise-readiness programming, designed to provide guidance to startups as they scale. This year’s programming covered enterprise sales, fintech marketing, and building teams and culture.

In light of COVID-19’s impact, the conversation about teams and culture focused on how to maintain a productive, motivated workforce and healthy company culture in an entirely remote environment. This week we sat down with panelists Amy Spurling, CEO and Founder of Compt, Jim Urquhart, Managing Director, FinTech, at The Bowdoin Group, and Su Joun, Principal of [email protected] to hear more about hiring, managing, and motivating remote teams. Here’s what they had to say.

Many startups are used to working with remote teams. What makes this different?

AMY: Whereas before there was the option to work from home, now we are all required to. We are missing that freedom piece that makes this feel so different… There is a whole new level of complexity from a logistical standpoint. There is also a huge difference from a mental standpoint. We are all processing so many emotions during this ever-evolving situation. This is not a normal working from home situation!

SU: We want to recognize that in addition to the above, some do not like or are not effective working from home. There will have to be an adjustment period to cope and to adapt.

For many of us, it feels like the current pandemic is all anyone can talk about (ourselves included). How should leaders approach the need to maintain team morale and productivity?

JIM: I think the starting point is acknowledging the reality of the situation and being totally honest. There are some aspects of this that cannot be sugarcoated; people need to know that leadership truly understands that. Total transparency maintains credibility and is as good a start as any for trying to address and increase morale. Presenting all the facts – good and bad, will aid in this.

AMY: Productivity is absolutely going to take a hit as we all mentally process what is going on. These are extraordinary circumstances. Realize that your team is the same awesome, committed group they were before, and give them some space to process.

SU: Set clear expectations of what needs to be done and when, AND who will do what. In these times, clarity is even more important. Also, not every meeting has to be a video – it can be exhausting. Mix it up.

How should leaders adjust metrics and KPIs around performance during this time?

JIM: I think the first test is to audit the KPIs and metrics quickly. Are they still important? Should anything be re-prioritized? There needs to be a clear and common view of what is truly important to the business now and going forward and make sure everyone is anchored on that. Setting goals and how people should be spending their time becomes pretty straightforward after that.

SU: Remember to ask the team members what barriers they face to getting work done and how they can be removed. And ask them what metrics need to be adjusted.

We’re seeing the unemployment numbers rise and hiring freezes take place. But if I’m an organization still hiring, how can I best position myself to attract talent? How might I consider changing my hiring and/or onboarding process?

JIM: Number one is coming to terms with a reality where you don’t meet a candidate in person before hiring them. If you’re not sure about that, which is not a bad thing, you need to address it up front so you don’t waste time. Understand the pro’s and con’s—both for the company and the candidate—and adjust. You could spend extra time with them—1:1s and in groups—via video; dig deeper into references and back channels.

Give candidates extra time to meet people and ask questions and be very transparent in terms of state of the business, challenges, opportunities and what makes this particular role so important—again, to them and you. There is no magic bullet regarding positioning yourself best. My recommendation is to do all you can with social media and digital channels to share updates about the company, highlight successes and promote what you are doing to help others. This is a time where true colors show and you want yours to shine.

SU: Don’t just take your regular hiring process and make it virtual…take this opportunity to re-examine your hiring process to make sure it is efficient, consistent with all candidates, you are looking for talent in different places, etc. Use this opportunity to take a look at your job descriptions to see if they are open enough (with education, levels of experience, industry background, etc.) to attract a wide range of talent.

How can organizations use this situation as an opportunity to shape their cultures? What questions should they be asking themselves?

AMY: In some ways, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know my team even better since this happened. Sure we saw each other in the office and had 1:1s weekly, but we now make an even bigger effort to spend some time each day chatting about life…I can see where our team is banding together to get through this. I know other teams feel the same. This is a great opportunity to support your team and live your values. If you focus on metrics and numbers and pretend like nothing has changed, your team will feel that and may disengage. You can still get stuff done and rally the team at the same time.

JIM: All of us are judged most based upon what we do when times are toughest. Doing the “right thing” now is more important than ever. Companies who take the “do unto others” approach will endear themselves to people and the market going forward and absolutely will be the winners long term. People want to work for successful companies, sure; but, at the end of the day, they want to work for companies that truly support them in good times and bad.

Connecting the Innovation Community

While the current work environment presents a number of new challenges for teams across industries, there are also many opportunities. At MassChallenge, for instance, we’re working to connect the innovation community in response to COVID-19. See how our startups are responding to the crisis here.

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