Meet Laïla von Alvensleben, Remote Work Coach & Collaboration Designer:

Laïla von Alvensleben’s journey to remote work started almost a decade ago. Originally rooted in UX design, she began her remote adventure with Hanno, a digital product design company, where she spent two and a half years. This Swiss-based digital nomad has always been fascinated with the concept of remote work, primarily fueled by her desire to travel while working.

Laïla’s interest led her to explore ‘design thinking’ in a remote context for her master’s thesis. This meant creating collaborative and creative processes typically done in physical rooms with sticky notes and whiteboards into a digital environment. Her research led her to Mural, an online whiteboard for visual collaboration.

Listen Up: Laïla von Alvensleben, Remote Work Coach & Collaboration Designer — Full Podcast Episode on Spotify

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Quick Read: Laïla von Alvensleben, Remote Work Coach & Collaboration Designer

What are the key challenges faced when managing and communicating within a hybrid team?

Laïla highlights that hybrid work environments, which involve a combination of in-person and remote work, present unique challenges. One key challenge is the favoritism towards employees who are physically present in the office, leading to biases in promotions and project assignments. Additionally, the location of leaders plays a significant role in shaping the team’s culture and dynamics. To address these challenges, Laïla suggests leaders splitting their time between remote and in-person work to avoid a concentration of influence. She also mentions the exclusionary impact of proximity bias and the importance of creating inclusive meeting spaces and social interactions that accommodate both in-office and remote team members.

“People who work in a hybrid mode, usually the people who are going to the office tend to be favored when it comes to building connections or being, you know, there’s this kind of bias as well. If you’re more present, your manager sees you more often. So it’s more likely that you will get the promotion or you will get asked to lead a specific project because we see your face regularly.”

How would you define remote work and remote-first mindset in the context of different languages and cultures?

Laïla explains that remote work is referred to by different names in various languages, such as “smart working” in Italian and “teletravail” in French. She highlights the specificity of the term “remote work” in English, indicating a situation where individuals or teams are not physically present in an office setting. A remote-first mindset, on the other hand, involves intentionally shaping company practices, strategies, and policies to enable and support remote work. Laïla emphasizes the importance of inclusivity and adapting practices to provide equal opportunities for remote workers.

“Remote work, it’s interesting because it’s called different things also in different languages… In English, remote work is a little bit more specific, at least to me, it sounds more specific and really goes to show a person or a team of people who are not working in an office right there.

What are the key differences between remote work and hybrid work models, and how do they impact the way teams collaborate?

Laïla clarifies that remote work primarily involves individuals or teams working outside of a traditional office environment, while hybrid work models combine both in-person and remote work. She highlights that hybrid work introduces additional complexity by considering physical location and factors like synchronous or asynchronous collaboration due to time zones. This complexity requires teams to be adaptable and embrace an “omnimodal” approach. Laïla acknowledges that hybrid work is seen as more challenging, but emphasizes that teams can overcome obstacles and create effective collaboration practices with experimentation and adaptation.

“So when you have all these different characteristics put together, you realize that you have to cater for culture or nurture this culture for people who are in completely different environments. And so that’s where the challenge lies… But it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to solve or find things that work. It just means that it’s going to take us a while, a bit longer to get there.”

In the context of hybrid work models, what challenges arise in terms of team dynamics and building an inclusive culture?

Laïla discusses the challenges of managing team dynamics and fostering inclusivity in hybrid work models. She highlights the potential bias towards individuals who are physically present in the office, leading to imbalances in opportunities and recognition. The location of leaders plays a significant role in shaping team culture, and concentration of leadership presence can create unintended focal points that affect collaboration. Additionally, proximity bias and recency bias can exclude remote team members and hinder effective communication and collaboration. Laïla emphasizes the need for leaders to split their time between in-person and remote work to create a more balanced and inclusive environment.

“Another interesting thing I heard recently at the Running Remote Conference was wherever your leaders are, whether that’s remote or at the office, that’s where people will gravitate towards. And that’s where the culture lies… So maybe, you know, ideally to solve that, what would be great in a hybrid work environment to create a better culture is having leaders split their time in a hybrid way.”

How can effective teamwork be achieved in a hybrid work environment, and how can tools like Mural facilitate this process?

Laïla emphasizes the importance of understanding the current state of collaboration within the team before implementing strategies for effective teamwork in a hybrid environment. Conducting synchronous in-person or remote sessions to gauge team members’ feelings and experiences can provide valuable insights. Based on the assessment, organizations can focus on areas such as improving workflows, reducing tool duplication, enhancing internal communication, and aligning best practices. Laïla suggests creating a playbook that outlines the team’s preferred collaboration methods and encourages consistent use of tools like Mural to streamline visual collaboration. This approach helps establish a shared understanding and clear guidelines for effective remote collaboration.

“When it comes to remote collaboration, I think a good starting point would be to get everyone in your team synchronously together, whether that’s in person or remote, whatever way you want to do it, get everyone together and first understand how are people feeling about the way that they’re currently working. So what is the status of collaboration? Almost right. Let’s measure that. Let’s analyze that. Let’s understand.”

What are three key pieces of advice for building a distributed remote team from scratch?

Laïla provides three essential pieces of advice for organizations embarking on building a distributed remote team. First, she recommends studying and learning from companies successfully embracing remote work. Organizations can gain valuable insights and guidance by exploring resources such as GitLab’s Playbook or Grow Remote’s content. Second, Laïla advises approaching the transition to remote work with an open and experimental mindset, recognizing that building new habits and practices takes time. Finally, she emphasizes the importance of prioritizing company culture and involving culture ambassadors or carriers who can drive cultural initiatives and facilitate communication between team members and leadership.

“First thing is to look at other companies who are doing it already and see, especially if they have a blog or if they have content out there, resources which can help you… Second, have an open mindset when it comes to learning this new way of working… Third, prioritize culture because that will make all the difference in how people work together.”