Staying Connected While Working Remotely

Last week, we had the pleasure of sitting down with our friends at High Alpha, a venture capital studio in Indianapolis, to talk about the tools they use to keep their employees connected while working remotely.

Nancy Gutwein, Talent Specialist at High Alpha, joined Coach, Trainer and Consultant, Brandon Wilson, to talk about how the corporate landscape is changing.

According to Gallup, 43% report working remotely during 2017. And 85% of Millennials prefer to telecommute.

These are just two data points reminding us that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities are prevalent, and even expected. People want flexibility surrounding where and when they get their work done.

This creates a multitude of challenges: how we stay connected while working remotely, and how we maintain and build our culture when we don’t have everyone showing up at the same office everyday.

Brandon: Nancy, welcome, thank you so much for being here. Tell us a little about you and about High Alpha.

Nancy: Hi, Brandon. High Alpha is a venture capital studio in the heart of downtown Indy. What we do is ideate, scale and launch new startups. Most are new software companies. We have quite a few and what I do is human resources for those—for High Alpha and our smaller portfolio companies as well. I’m really involved in what makes those employees stay engaged.

Brandon: That makes you the perfect guest! Tell me about the workplace distribution.

Nancy: At High Alpha, we have about 30 employees and we work mostly from the office here in Indy, but we’ve also got all of these portfolio companies not all in Indy; and many of those are remote and don’t work out of any office at all. We are spread out from CA, CO, MI, to FL and MN. And with our entire studio all together, there are over 300 employees.

Brandon: Wow. With so many working remote, as companies spin off, what role do you hope to continue to play?

Nancy: Since many are still small, I onboard them, and then at 20-30 employees, that’s when we see them bring in their own HR team. But we still like to stay engaged with them because we have lots of professional development opportunities and resources. So, it’s really important for us to maintain communication with those companies even as they’ve gotten bigger and left the nest, so-to-speak.

Brandon: As you try to stay connected, what are some big challenges you face in having all those remote employees?

Nancy: It can be tough to know who’s working where and how we get messages to these people so they know what we’re providing. Once the companies get big, we can lose track of who’s starting because I’m no longer the one meeting everyone when they come in the door for the first time.

Brandon: Walk us through some of the strategies you use to overcome challenges of staying connected?

Nancy: We are all on Slack and we have different channels to engage different pieces of the workforce, so there’s High Alpha family channel for all of the companies, then each company has their own channel, and then we have channels for all the women in the portfolio, plus a lot of subchannels. There’s an LGBTQ channel. There’s one just for the designers to talk to each other, for example. This gives us real time message and file sharing no matter where you are across the country. That helps.

We use Zoom a lot, and we throw a camera up any time we have a remote employee. That makes us feel more connected. We use G suite to collaborate real time on documents through Google docs.

And we use an employee engagement app here called Structural. We love it. It’s an app where employees have a profile—all of our employees across the portfolio have a profile—and it lists skills (like whether they’re bilingual), interests (I like NPR or The Colts) and it’s easy to connect and figure out who’s best for a project. And there’s a space for their family so they can list their kids and spouse too. The app helps us really get a good picture of a person before a meeting.

And what’s also really cool is that we are really PI-heavy across the portfolio, and Structural pulls in PI profile data, so we get a look at a person’s personality too.


Brandon: We use Structural at ADVISA too, and this is something we use in our daily interactions. We can see PI really quickly along with their personal information, which is so nice before jumping on a call. Nancy, you told us a lot about your tools, tell us how you engage people in-person at High Alpha?

Nancy: We do a series called Flight School for different business units, which is really professional development, so groups can work together and ask questions, and we bring speakers in. We do these for finance, marketing, product, design—each functional unit does a Flight School on a regular basis, and that’s one way to connect. The value is that some companies are so small, they may only have one designer, so these Fight Schools give them a community.

Every quarter we have a New Hire Happy Hour with all new hires, their managers, the company CEOs, and the entire High Alpha team. People fly in for these a lot. It’s our opportunity to meet new employees, make sure they know what High Alpha is about, and what resources are available to them.

Brandon: Sounds like you have greats tools and great in-person ways to keep people engaged. What are your biggest successes in staying connected with those folks?

Nancy: New Hire Happy Hours are a big hit, I use Structural for pushing information out to everyone regularly and quickly. For instance, we are participating in the Corporate Challenge with Sports Corp in Indianapolis, so we used Structural to announce and drive signups. We share information about fundraisers, and employees are able to use that language to share on their own channels, and just last week we got 40K impressions in a day on one of those posts. So even though we’re many companies in multiple places, we’re finding a lot of success.

Brandon: What’s next for you in this constant pursuit to try and stay connected?

Nancy: As people get more comfortable with these tools, and more comfortable with remote meetings, we’ll see a much larger remote workforce, and not just at High Alpha—everywhere. I think some barriers will go away too. You’ll be able to apply for a job you want even if it’s not in the same city as you, and we’ll also see more working from home.

Brandon: It’s definitely a reality. Given that reality, what excites you most?

Nancy: For sure the ability to look for talent everywhere. We have one employee, for example, who wanted to move to South Carolina and she was able to do that, keep her job, and go be where she wanted to be.  So, I’m really excited for those options and flexibility.

Brandon: Thanks so much, Nancy. Since this is PI Friday, I want to pull a PI thread through this too. When we’re looking at the PI piece and thinking about making sure that people are staying connected, looking at their highest drive is where you’ll be able to make the biggest impact in ensuring they stay engaged even if they’re not right in front of you.

That highest drive tells us where people get their confidence.

For people with Highest A’s, confidence comes internally. They need independence, freedom, challenge and control. So we see a lot of Highest A’s wanting to work remotely because of the independence that gives them. When you think about keeping them engaged, give them objectives and allow them freedom—not a whole bunch of rules. You also want to create some guardrails, though, so they play within the bounds of how the organization does business.

For Highest B’s, our confidence comes externally. So Highest B’s need connecting, influencing and personal, positive praise. The first key if you have a High B working remotely is that you have to build a connection with this person, and give them chances to bond. The High Alpha in-person examples and tools Nancy talked about are great examples of this. Allow them opportunities to network throughout the organization. You want to also proactively stay in touch with Highest B’s, which means keep the relationship up outside of, “hey I need this,” or “did you get this done?” But also make it about connecting on a personal level.

For Highest C’s, confidence from familiarity. They are also looking for connection like High B’s, but what these folks need is time. So, you want to build a depth of connection, allowing them to get familiar with people and process. Take time to get to know them, their goals, aspirations and what makes them excited to come in to work and about life. Allow them time to get familiar with what they’re going to be doing. The more you try and rush them, the less they’ll be engaged at work.

Another key here is to avoid only reaching out ONLY when a change is coming. Remember, changes disrupt familiarity. High C’s can love change as long as they’re given a lead-up time and an understanding of how to get familiar with that change. Where I’ve seen organizations struggle with a remote workforce of High C’s is when they call to tell them about changes. If that’s the only time they hear from you, you’ll start to lose that depth of connection because you’re disrupting where their confidence comes from.

For Highest D’s, confidence comes externally from knowing what perfect is. Their needs are clear expectations, so they can execute perfectly.  Key strategies for them are clarity of expectations and giving them opportunities to learn from other experts. When High D’s become that subject matter expert, their confidence goes through the roof. So, this is where an app like Structural can help give people access to others that are experts. Also, be sure to proactively reach out to give feedback. If these folks aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do, it can be tough to reach out to others because of the fear of “I should know what I’m supposed to do.” Managers proactively reaching out before Highest D’s get stuck is really important.

Like it or not, remote employees will become less the exception and more the norm, the more we can leverage the tools to help us retain and engage them, the better their work.


To watch the webinar, click here:



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