The Importance of People

Working in a distributed company can be a lonely business.

Working in Operations at any company can be lonely business. While the rest of your company works collaboratively, Operations is often expected to be self sufficient and, ultimately, have all the answers. Add into that being a distributed company and you’ve got yourself a whole new bag of loneliness — where collaboration and feedback would naturally happen with a co-located team it no longer happens — which is why it’s so important to cultivate relationships with mentors and colleagues outside your company.

Cultivating Relationships

A great place to start seeking out new mentors and colleagues is at small conferences — like Ops Camp — or at local Meetups (for example, I go to the General Assembly Meetup when I can). Being in a smaller group with a facilitated conversation allows you to identify people who you admire for their knowledge or whose personalities you click with in general. Take time to get to know someone while you’re in-person and find out if they’d be interested in continuing to chat in the future. Don’t be afraid to make your intention explicit by saying “I’d really like to learn more about xx from you” or “I loved your perspective on xx and I’d love to keep in touch — how about a monthly video call?” Chances are they’re totally game.

by applying open source philosophies to the way we share knowledge outside of code bases and technology, we all benefit

The same need for finding mentorship and building relationships outside your company is equally important for roles beyond Operations. Gaining perspective on approaches taken at other companies and sharing your own expertise inevitably leads to growth. By applying open source philosophies to the way we share knowledge outside of code bases and technology, we all benefit — both personally in our careers and as organizations.

Surround Yourself with Awesome People

The first thing to identify in a colleague you want to share your time with is simple: chemistry. Whatever the spark may be it is important that you simply like the person because you’ll need to be able to break down barriers with each other to gain the most out of your new friendship. The whole point of seeking this type of relationship is to make your job and life more enjoyable and enriching. Building trust and letting yourself be open is going to have a huge effect on the impact you’re able to make with each other, so make it easy by spending this time with people you enjoy.

When it comes to seeking mentorship I still apply this same method — plus, I ask, “are they open to sharing their knowledge with me?” It helps to jot down some notes about what you want to learn from them so you can ask directly. If you’ve identified someone that you’d like to have as a mentor but you haven’t met them in person yet, try finding out if you have any common colleagues to get an introduction. If you don’t have any common connections, then send an email describing what you hope to gain and ask if they’d be willing to talk with you. People love sharing their knowledge and too often aren’t asked! The best thing that a mentor will do for you is not only share their wealth of knowledge but also challenge and encourage you. When seeking mentorship it’s of utmost importance that your mentor care about your success, but also that you give credit to the time they’re taking to guide you professionally.

Stay In Touch (Often)

Once you’ve identified the people you want to stay in touch with, it’s up to you to be proactive and continue the conversation. Don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic and get on their calendar ASAP! The sooner you keep the conversation going the more likely it is to stay active long term. I have recurring one-on-ones with several peers from other companies — sometimes we use our chats to let off steam about problems we are facing and other times we come with a question like “how do you do xx?” Setting aside this time to give and receive knowledge is hugely satisfying. If you’re engaging with someone who you respect but who makes you feel a little of the ol’ Impostor Syndrome, remember that they’re gaining value from sharing time with you as well. When developing colleague and mentor relationships, the point is not that we know the most or that we’re the best, it’s that we’re willing to share what we do know — our perspective! Play with the dynamics and allow yourself to sit in the position of peer, mentor, and mentee.

Also, make sure you talk about topics other than work. Building these relationships isn’t only about helping you be better at your job — it’s also about being a better human who is more sane and confident. Plus, just because someone is an expert at one topic related to work doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to learn about something you’re an expert at outside of work.

Feel Nurtured and Happy

By engaging with colleagues and mentors outside of your company you will not only gain a holistic perspective and avoid working inside a bubble, but you will also build a network of friends and cheerleaders! Drawing upon the experience of your peers to shape your viewpoint will help you gain traction on your own initiatives and projects within your company, which is valuable to anyone — distributed team or not. And having a network of people who have your back is equally as awesome for anyone, but extradoubleplussuper important for distributed teams.


“The Importance of People” was written by Elia Albarran and was originally published on FourWord — The Four Kitchens blog, on 4-October-2016.