Business Miscellaneous

How to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Staff Using the Pair Strategy

In a digital world, the classic tools to improve the effectiveness of your staff don’t work. As most commodities go digital, the idea of a conventional office makes less sense. Businesses in the digital age often have people spread across the country. At times, over several countries.

Virtual teams come with big advantages. They also demand a shift in management techniques. Communication becomes harder. Trust takes longer to build. It becomes harder to visualize the team acting as a whole.

The Pair Strategy is a method for improving the effectiveness of your staff. Beyond that, this strategy goes a long way toward avoiding absenteeism. It also promotes long-term employee retention.

It works great in conventional businesses, but it shines when managing virtual teams. The basis for this strategy? Doing stuff in pairs.

Give Them A Running Start: Pair Onboarding

The way your business takes in new employees makes or breaks their effectiveness in the long run. In fact, in more than 10 years in the recruitment industry, one thing that I’ve noted is that the first seven days are crucial. During this learning period, the new employees adapt to company culture and process.

To ensure that this starting week rocks, assign every new employee a mentor for that week. This is one of the most important steps we take when onboarding remote employees.  Mentorship gives the new hire access to a veteran who can answer their questions and makes them feel welcome. To maximize availability, you should ask for volunteers close to the new employee’s time zone.

The mentor should introduce the new employee to the team. At my company, we do this via the general Slack channel. Use whatever works for you — an e-mail is fine, if that’s the way your people roll.

The mentor should check up on the new person every now and then. Not too much. That could make him or her feel under surveillance. Doing it once every couple of days during that crucial first week is enough to see how the new hire is getting along.

The important thing to get here is that the mentor should make the newbie feel at ease about asking questions, even silly questions like “why is the CEO sending me cat gifs every morning?”

This approach exposes the new hire to the “unwritten rules” of the company. These processes are born from culture but never written, yet are part of what makes the business work. They get transmitted during the time-honoured tradition of  “water-cooler conversation.” And those are easy to lose when working in isolation.

By engaging the new hire daily — even if for chit-chat — the mentor gets the social pendulum swinging.

Doublespeak: Pair Communication Tools

When managing a distributed team, there is no such thing as too much communication. You need it to make up for the lack of proximity. It’s not like you can look around and see everyone working.

Sure, you can make them install super privacy-destroying time management apps. But that’s not a great path to earn employee loyalty. Here’s the next best thing: communicate often, and with redundancy. This means using a pair of tools instead of just one.

Everyone should find the system that suits them best; just make it a dual system. I ask for daily morning reports via Slack, and expect to see those same tasks updated on Trello by the end of the day. Everything — messages, people responsible, relevant documents — lives on both these platforms. Before we’ve decided to use Slack, it was Trello and e-mail.

Especially when everyone is busy — which is a good sign — it’s easy for people to forget stuff. It’s twice as easy when you don’t bump into them daily in the office. So have your employees communicate in duplicate.

It might seem a bit bothersome at start. I get it — we’re fans of keeping remote work simple, too. But take the time to set up this system and you’ll see results in a week. When you pair two different communication tools, it’s much harder to miss out on a specific piece of the puzzle.

Beyond Mentoring: Building a Team of Dynamic Duos

It’s no wonder the best crime-fighters come in pairs. Starsky and Hutch. Batman and Robin. Holmes and Watson. Turner and Hooch. Bonnie and Clyde… Well ok, the latter aren’t crime-fighters, but still a great pair!  The software industry has caught on to this a long time ago. Pair programming is a method employed by some of the most successful developers in the world.

Pair programming means that two developers work at a single workstation on the same task. One of the two is programming. The second focuses on reviewing that code, identifying bugs and recommending alternative solutions. The two may also take turns and switch roles from time to time depending on the situation.

This has become accepted as a path to better, less error-prone code. The extra pair of eyes finds mistakes that are all but invisible to the author. The extra brain comes up with different perspectives and solutions. Jeff Atwood, the co-founder of Stack Overflow, seconds this value:

“The minimum remote team size is two. Always have a buddy, even if your buddy is on another continent halfway across the world.”

I’m surprised that more industries haven’t picked up this practice. I get it, the immediate reaction is that you’re spending double the manpower on a one-person task. But that is an extreme simplification of the actual math that you should be doing. The added input will make the task be done faster. You’ll see fewer mistakes, and less “back to the drawing board” moments. And the interaction will make your employees grow way faster than they would on their own. It is a huge increase in effectiveness.

So, as much as possible, take a page from the software development industry. Try to get people to do work in pairs as often as possible. This can work for writers. It can work for designers. It can work for copywriters. It can work for artists. It can work for everyone that gives it a shot. Collaboration tools like Slack or Skype now offer screen easy sharing functionality. It is now trivial to put this tactic in place. And the payoff is huge.

Improve Teamwork, Effectiveness Follows

The Pair Strategy boils down to reinforcing communication and teamwork. In modern work, interactions with our co-workers become virtual. This can lead to an attitude of isolation and loss of effectiveness as a team.

Doubling down on communication bridges the gap. Recovering the human element in work by having people work in pairs makes the job feel alive again. Pair these with my other suggestions on how to make each employee feel more like a part of the team, and you’ll be in excellent shape.

We are, as the philosopher king Marcus Aurelius once said, born to work together. Make your people feel they are working together, and effectiveness follows.

About the author


Sharon Koifman

Sharon Koifman is a specialist in global IT recruitment, with more than a decade of experience. He has modelled a unique method to hire and manage IT talent, and as a result, founded DistantJob, a boutique recruitment agency. This model for remote work earned him the trust of national and international businesses. He writes and talks about about recruiting and leading.

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