How to reinvent your remote culture with increased team autonomy

By Susanne May


This year has been difficult for every one of us. Without much warning, our daily work routines were disrupted, creating practical and emotional challenges to overcome. As the pandemic confined us to our homes, many of us were suddenly asked to adapt to a “new normal” until a sense of normalcy returns in two or three years.


I observe many companies focusing on short-term thinking by putting out fires as they move into the virtual realm, while others boldly announce they will “work remotely forever.” This brought me to an essential question: How do we stay aligned and connected as a virtual team during the pandemic and beyond?


I built May & Co. during the financial and economic crisis in 2008. Starting a new company in the midst of a crisis was definitely one of the most painful and important lessons learned in my life as entrepreneur. It helped me to stay confident and focused and to see the pandemic as opportunity to develop my team. My top goal for 2020 is to create a genuinely motivating work culture by helping my team to embrace more personal autonomy in everything they think and do. This means helping them shift to a more entrepreneurial and independent mindset, thus taking ownership while feeling trusted, confident, and supported.


Inspired by research in the field of behavioral economics, I started to support each team member to gain more personal autonomy around four “Ts” – task (what to do); time (when to do it); technique (how to do it) and team (who to do it with). Each team member decides what priorities and tasks they pursue in commonly agreed project management Asana boards which mirror our company functions and areas. They self-organize their resources amongst each other, run effective weekly meetings, and structure their one-on-ones around Ben Horowitz’s philosophy “the hard thing about hard things.”


Maxwell Philp, Digital Marketing and Communications Manager, feels that the transition to more personal autonomy has been a success. “I structure my priorities and time and come prepared to meetings with a list of questions in case I feel in the dark. Working on my own doesn’t feel so daunting, especially with clear and established channels of communication with Susanne and the team.”


Gabriela Rodrigues, Senior Consultant in our Client Engagement, complements Maxwell. “To me, personal autonomy means to be responsible to deal with client challenges on my own. It gives me the power to decide where I am going.”


The May & Co. team has a strong need of belonging and connection. For our young members, working with increased autonomy in a remote environment can feel very lonely. We knew that ‘winter was coming’ in this pandemic and therefore, Ling Lin, a Project Manager at May & Co., beautifully organized a COVID-compliant office meeting schedule around our Chinese horoscopes. Molly Stenzel, Consultant in Client Engagement, organizes virtual happy hours and lunches where the team shares personal family stories and just enjoy being together.


Facilitating team autonomy is key for a remote working culture and needs the right mix of ingredients to become a delicious soup. Make it your leadership priority and work continuously with every team member on their personal development so that they can embrace shared responsibility and leadership. Lastly, embed team autonomy in your entrepreneurial operating system; this means in your organizational design, processes, and communication architecture. You will turn your company’s culture into a vibrant place, even in times of crisis.

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