Sacha Connor, former exec at The Clorox Company and now at the helm of Virtual Work Insider, recounts her early endeavors into the world of remote work. In this episode, we explore:
I recently sat down with Sacha Connor to talk about her journey as a remote leader, which began in 2010 when she moved across the country while working at The Clorox Company. She asked if she could keep her position at the company, headquartered in California, even though she would be living in Philadelphia to be closer to family.
"What had started out as an experiment of being this remote work pioneer within the marketing function turned into eight years of me leading large hybrid and distributed teams while working out of my home office here in Philly." - Sacha Connor, Founder/CEO of Virtual Work Insider
At that time, Sacha Connor felt the weight of knowing that if she wasn’t successful in leading her remote teams, it would be unlikely that others would be allowed to do the same. Thus, she spent time learning and focusing on how to effectively lead, communicate, and collaborate when working across distance. For the next eight years, Sacha Connor successfully led large hybrid and distributed teams while working from her home office in Philadelphia.
Sacha Connor wanted to formalize a community of remote work pioneers within different functions at Clorox to help her better connect with and lead her distributed teams. That led to her founding of Orbit, the first virtual workforce Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Clorox.
The ERG focused on virtual work and leadership development and started with simple initiatives, such as teaching teams how to use video conferencing technology. It also worked on creating better hybrid and virtual meetings within the company and teaching leadership skills for influencing across distances, which Sacha Connor now continues to do through Virtual Work Insider.
Originally intended for fully remote employees, Orbit quickly became the largest and fastest-growing ERG at Clorox, even though less than 5% of employees worked remotely. Members of Orbit included not only fully remote employees but also employees working in virtual teams across different Clorox sites.
Sacha Connor pointed out two biases to watch out for when leading remote teams: distance bias and recency bias.
Distance bias refers to our brain’s tendency to put more importance on the people and things that are closer to us than those that are farther away. This bias can make remote team members feel undervalued or left out. Recency bias is where our brain tends to put more importance on the people and things that we have heard from or seen most recently, which further exacerbates the sense of exclusion..
“It wasn't that people were leaving me out on purpose. It was an unconscious bias that because I was not there in the building, that sometimes I was not being thought about or undervalued.” - Sacha Connor, Founder/CEO of Virtual Work Insider
To mitigate these biases, Sacha Connor said that leaders and team members must practice intentional inclusion and communication. Taking notes and sharing information with remote team members can help combat recency bias and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Training programs on virtual leadership skills can also help leaders and teams become aware of these biases and develop strategies to mitigate their effects.
Sacha Connor emphasized that building relationships and seeking mentorship may require more intentional effort in remote environments. She shared valuable insights on how to build relationships remotely, including broadening your network—within and outside your organization—to gain exposure and influence. She also advised mapping out your sphere of influence to help identify the individuals you need to connect with at different levels – up, down, inside, and outside the organization.
“Oftentimes, it’s really helpful to actually go to your manager or to go to somebody else in the organization and further map out your unknown network.” - Sacha Connor, Founder/CEO of Virtual Work Insider
Sacha Connor believes that digital mentoring relationships can be developed from any location and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. She recommended utilizing in-person office time to meet up with potential mentors and establish a connection before moving into a virtual mentorship relationship. By actively seeking guidance and mentorship, individuals can overcome the challenges of remote work and continue their journey of personal development.
Sacha Connor explained that remote work often leads to digital presenteeism, where employees feel the need to overcompensate for their lack of physical visibility. This involves being available at all hours and promptly responding to maintain a perception of dedication to their work.
Sacha Connor warned that digital presenteeism can be detrimental to work-life balance and overall well-being. She shared her personal experience of overcompensating in her remote work role at Clorox that eventually led to her feeling burned out. She decided then that there must be a better way for employees to balance their work and personal lives in remote work situations.
“Part of the approach that we take with the teams is having that empathy and then providing them with really tactical tools and techniques to enable them to come up that learning curve.” - Sacha Connor, Founder/CEO of Virtual Work Insider
According to Sacha Connor, organizations should focus on fostering trust and outcomes rather than measuring hours worked. Clear expectations and communication regarding work hours and boundaries are essential. Managers should set norms around response times for different communication tools to avoid misunderstandings and undue pressure.
Sacha Connor said that leaders should give proactive permission for employees to prioritize their well-being and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Ultimately, having empathy and providing tactical tools and techniques are key approaches in helping teams navigate remote work successfully.
Sacha Connor acknowledged that the distance and recency biases presented in hybrid work environments can make it harder for remote workers to be included and valued. Therefore, she noted that it's important to create a location inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and included regardless of their location or time zone. This includes providing equal access to information, development, and career growth opportunities across locations.
”Hybrid is much harder than fully remote because we do have these groups that come together that might be in the location majority working with other people in the location minority.” - Sacha Connor, Founder/CEO of Virtual Work Insider
Sacha Connor believes that—by embracing a location inclusive culture—organizations can tap into the skills and techniques developed by fully remote employees and extend those benefits to the entire team. She has created a guide to creating a location inclusive culture, which can be downloaded from https://virtualworkinsider.com/skedda/.
Jenny is a top Go-To-Market (GTM) leader in the Greater Boston area, where she has a track record of building powerful brands and categories, generating demand (for both sales- and product-led orgs), and creating energizing mission-driven cultures of belonging in the B2B tech space.
Sacha Connor is the CEO of Virtual Work Insider, a consultancy that provides thought leadership and training on how to lead, communicate, collaborate, and build culture in hybrid and remote teams.