9 TED Talks for leaders managing remote teams

Check out nine of the best TED Talks on challenges related to remote work and managing remote teams. Improve your communication, fight burnout, and strengthen connections
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As a recent Time article pointed out: “The Coronavirus Outbreak Has Become the World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment.” The key word: experiment. Many organizations have transformed overnight into remote-working organizations. Such a sudden shift has left many leaders and their teams grappling with the issues that arise when everyone is suddenly dispersed.

[TEP_CALLOUT_TEXT_RIGHT:Leaders are figuring out how to make remote work succeed – suddenly and en masse.]

Working from home was already on the rise. A 2018 analysis by Global Workplace Analytics indicated that remote work had grown 173 percent since 2005. Two-thirds of U.S. companies allow employees to work from home, according to a 2019 study by TalentLMS, and 16 percent are fully remote. There’s evidence that working remotely can be quite effective, for individuals and the organizations in which they work. Done poorly, however, it can leave teams disconnected, disengaged, and dysfunctional.

[ Do your employees feel psychologically safe? Read Crisis leadership: How to give people psychological safety. ]

Remote work and managing remote teams: 9 TED Talks

Figuring out how to make remote work work – suddenly and en masse – can be difficult. To help out, we’ve gathered nine of the best TED Talks that address the challenges that arise when leading and working from home.

1. Why do ambitious women have flat heads?

Speaker: Dame Stephanie Shirley

The title of this TED talk may seem to have nothing to do with remote working. However, Dame Stephanie Shirley is something of a flex work pioneer. She founded the female-only software company Freelance Programmers in 1962 as a work-from-home organization in order to attract qualified women developers. Her 2015 talk on the topic encapsulates some of what she learned as she developed then novel remote work and job sharing approaches.

2. Why working from home is good for business

Speaker: Matt Mullenweg

Sure, most of us are being compelled to work and manage from our personal habitats right now. Allow WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg to remind us of some of the upsides, like control over your working environment. Mullenweg, whose employees work virtually from 67 countries, eschews the word “remote”, which he says “sets up the expectation that some people are essential and some aren’t.” Instead he uses the descriptor “distributed”. In this talk, Mullenweg argues that the distributed workforce is the most effective way to build a company – if you approach it consciously. Key takeaways include documenting everything and communicating transparently online.

3. 10 ways to have a better conversation

Speaker: Celeste Headlee

When face time is replaced by FaceTimes and in-person meetings become Zooms, good communication skills can go out the window. But they’re more important than ever. Journalist and author Celeste Headlee distills the expertise she’s gained from years of interviewing everyone from Nobel Prize winners and billionaires to kindergarten teachers and truck drivers, into 10 rules for better conversations. Some are emerging as especially important for the digital-only workplace – such as avoiding multi-tasking, listening, and admitting when you don’t know something.

4. Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business

Speaker: Christine Porath

The lack of face-to-face interaction when working digitally can court bad behavior: rudeness, disrespect, dismissiveness, teasing. Management professor Christine Porath studies the cost of incivility. While individual infractions may seem minor, they actually add up – and detract from the bottom line, according to Porath’s research. Incivility makes people less motivated. Porath found that it caused 66 percent of people to pull back work efforts, 80 percent lost time worrying about incivility, and 12 percent left their job. Using Porath’s numbers, Cisco estimated that incivility was costing them 12 million dollars a year. Conversely, Porath has found that civility has a positive impact. Here she shares her advice on little things you can do to make sure employees are respectful and respected.

5. How to make work-life balance work

Speaker: Nigel Marsh

The lines between the professional and personal all but disappear when working from home exclusively. That makes it more important than ever to master a balance between the two. Author and marketer Nigel Marsh argues that no company can create the perfect work-life balance for its employees. Rather it’s up to each individual to design their best days (and he lays out an ideal one, for starters). “Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life,” he says. “With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life.”

6. Want to be more creative? Go for a walk

Speaker: Marily Oppezzo

One of the things most of us can still do today is take a walk. Good news: Behavioral and learning scientist Marily Oppezzo has found that that a simple stroll can often be all it takes to come up with novel, realistic solutions to a problem. Oppezzo delivers five tips for making your walks creatively productive, including being purposeful by picking a topic to brainstorm about, coming up with as many ideas as possible, and recording them as you go.

7. Inside the mind of a professional procrastinator

Speaker: Tim Urban

Procrastination thrives in the work-from-home environment. Tim Urban, the writer behind the blog Wait But Why and master procrastinator himself, weaves a quasi-children’s tale to explain the two flavors of this phenomenon (deadline-based and deadline-less). His talk can spark self-awareness for his fellow dawdlers and understanding among those non-sufferers. It’s more than a navel-gazing exercise, though, as Urban urges his audience to think harder about what they’re really procrastinating on before it’s too late.

8. How burnout makes us less creative

Speaker: Rafaf Hafoush

Burnout is real. And in a remote work environment, particularly one with added non-work stressors and uncertainty, it can be destructive. So-called digital anthropologist Rafaf Hafoush insists that our obsessions with productivity actually makes us less productive. Creativity, she argues, is more cyclical – and that should serve as the basis for daily planning. Here, Hafoush outlines how to redesign our work days around creativity for increased productivity.

9. 5 ways to create stronger connections

Speaker: Robert Reffken

Working and managing apart from one another can leave individuals feeling unmoored. The secret to connecting in a high-tech world, entrepreneur Robert Reffken says, is doing a few small things the old-fashioned way. Some tips include writing a letter (thanking people for advice, praising a job well done), picking up the phone and actually talking to someone (an employee, a colleague, your boss.) Also, ask interesting and meaningful questions, answer questions honestly, and always go video rather than voice only.

[ Read also: 3 mindfulness exercises to try when you feel overwhelmed. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.