#SHRM18 Speaker: Jane Watson, Secrets to Making “Remote Work” Work


Virtual/Remote teams seem to be a bit of an enigma and some employers can’t seem to get it just right. Luckily, Jane Watson, Head of People Operations, will be able share with attendees the secrets to making it work and how her company, Actionable. got it right! One of my prime selections for Monday is Jane’s session, World-Class Virtual Teamwork: The Secrets to Making “Remote Work” Work .

I had an opportunity to catch up with Jane to get acquainted and learn more about what attendees can expect by attending her session. Read on to get Jane’s take on her topic and why it should be a staple in this year’s conference session planning!

JR: Jane, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and what made you decide to be a part of Actionable.?

JW: First of all, thank you so much for the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my session at SHRM. I’m a Toronto-based HR professional with 15 years’ experience in a variety of industries and sectors, and I write about HR at Talent Vanguard. I had always worked in office-based organizations until I joined Actionable, a fully remote start-up, in early 2017.

I made the decision to join Actionable because I believe that the way organizations do training needs to change. Our mission is to make learning actionable, by shifting it from event-based training into collaborative conversations that result in measurable behavior change and new habit formation. We work with an incredible community of learning consultants who share our vision.

JR: What is your favorite thing about being the Head of People & Operations and your industry overall? Do you have a success story that you can share with our readers?

JW: We’re a growing tech start-up, and by virtue of being a small team, I’ve had the opportunity to wear a few different ‘non-HR’ hats over the last year. This has been a great experience as it’s allowed me to develop a much deeper understanding of our business, my colleagues’ roles, and our consulting partners’ objectives and challenges.

The leadership that our Founder, Chris Taylor, provides and the values we share have allowed us to weather growth, pivots, and rapid change without losing the sense of who we are as a company and what we stand for. I’m most proud of what a truly kind and fun team we are, no matter the pressures or demands we face. One of our values is ‘MacGyver It’, meaning “adjust on the fly and make it work”, and we definitely do!

JR: There seems to still be some controversy about virtual/remote value in the workplace for organizations of all sizes, what is the one key piece of advice that you can share with our readers?

JW: I think the perception that remote work is controversial is mostly based on a few recent high-profile organizations that are recalling remote workers (IBM and Yahoo come to mind). But in fact, the dataoverall shows that remote work continues to grow in popularity, and for good reason; Gallup found that employees who spend most of their time outside the office are more engaged, and another large randomized control trial found improvements in productivity and performance among partially remote workers. There are more obvious benefits too, in terms of cost savings, time savings (dispensing with commutes), and the ability to draw from a much larger talent pool.

One piece of advice I’d offer to employees interested in working remotely is to share the data with their employer or manager, but also recognize that an organization’s or manager’s resistance to remote work is often connected to trust (or lack of it), not ignorance of its benefits. Understanding that can help frame your discussion with a manager about working remotely. I’ll talk more about this in my SHRM session.

JR: Your session, World-Class Virtual Teamwork: The Secrets to Making “Remote Work” Work – what is the key take away for HR and business leaders when attending this session?

JW: The biggest take away I have for HR and business leaders considering (or re-considering) their remote work policies is to get clear on the business challenge you’re trying to solve with it. Remote work does involve trade-offs (for example, communication can be more difficult), so if you’re not clear about the benefits and challenges going in, you’re likely to give up at the first sign of difficulty. Going in with clear eyes allows the organization to decide if remote work is right for them, to design remote work programs and policies to mitigate some of the challenges, and then problem-solve if and when they crop up. This greatly increases the odds the program will be successful.

I’ll also spend some time during my session talking about specific and practical ways HR professionals and leaders can manage the challenges of having fully or partially remote employees, with examples from Actionable.

JR: Is this your first time speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo? If so, what attracted you to present to the global HR community? If not, what brought you back to this event?

JW: Yes, this is my first time speaking and attending SHRM. I’m really excited to present and to attend the rest of the conference, which I’ve heard great things about. I love Chicago, and I’ll actually be delivering my presentation on my birthday, so it feels like a wonderful gift!

I’m looking forward to meeting HR professionals from all over the world. I learn so much from other leaders and practitioners from outside my industry or country, because even though we’re often facing the same HR challenges, we tend to come at it from different viewpoints and experiences. It can be tremendously valuable to consider alternative approaches.

JR: I see you’re based in Canada, in your experience, what can employers expect when managing remote teams in other countries?

JW: Well, aside from the obvious differences in employment legislation and the relevant regulatory regimes, there are cultural differences that can be difficult to pick up on in a remote environment. Working remotely limits our ability to observe others as we would in an office-based environment, and leaves a lot of ‘blank canvas’ for us to fill in. In the absence of data our brains have the tendency to make up stories to explain what we see, and that can definitely lead to assumptions and misunderstandings. At Actionable we tend to heavily favour transparency, to a degree that a lot of organizations might find uncomfortable, but I think it’s a critical way to try to reduce the blank canvas that each of us would otherwise fill in with our own biases and experience.

JR: Do you have any advice to share with first time or returning attendees when attending your session?

JW: I have a ton of research-based insights to share, but a lot of my learning about remote teamwork has been based on the last year and a half of working entirely remotely myself, after spending 15 years in office-based environments. It’s been challenging and at times uncomfortable. I’ve realized that I made a lot of (incorrect) assumptions about the challenges and benefits of remote work before I had experienced it myself, so my session is meant to help others learn from my mistakes. I hope attendees will bring questions and their curiosity; I’d love to see them at my session, and they can feel free to connect with me in advance on Twitter at @JsarahwatsHR.

Jane is excited to share her wealth of knowledge with session attendees on how to make virtual teams work and I appreciate Jane’s willingness to share her advice, key takeaways and a few extras that she’ll be covering during her session. Let’s be sure to give Jane Watson, a first time SHRM conference speaker, a warm welcome and join me for her session on Monday, 6/18 @ 1045am. You don’t want to miss out on these world-class secrets!


Originally posted on Resilient HR blog.



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