Our team recently made the decision to go 100% remote. We do consulting work, so much of our work is in-person, face-to-face with teams helping them plan, build their cultures, make decisions, etc. We already do much of our work virtually, but in this time of uncertainty we needed to take a step back and get aligned on what virtual work means to us now. There are plenty of posts about the best tools out there (we have some of our listed below). But often times, teams skip the most important part…getting aligned first.
In this post, we want to share some of the questions and conversations we had make sure we match the “sociology with the technology” as we say. We do a lot of work on social collaboration with clients, and have pulled in some of our tips and practices for alignment and technology as well.
Step 1. Understand Your Team’s Unique Situation
Having a clear understanding of what matters to your teammates, what their new work-life looks like, and what they need to feel connected and productive are the most important things to tackle first. These conversations will make or break the success of your virtual team. By understanding these areas, you’ll be able to establish realistic expectations with each other, and design the right methods for remote work. Start with these:
- Generally speaking, when will people be available and unavailable for work?
- What can we expect from each other?
- What matters most to everyone as we move most or all of our work to virtual?
Step 2: Align on the Work That Must Get Done
A lot of teams were already maxed out before everything went remote. Take some time to prioritize the work and to identify where and how it needs to change. Some work may not change at all, some might go away, and other work may require a total transformation.
- What work still has to get done? (meetings, projects, tasks)
- What work can we remove or postpone? (meetings, projects, tasks)
- Of the work that must get done, how will being virtual impact the way it gets accomplished?
- No changes needed, keep going
- We need to change one or two aspects of the work (how we handle meetings, make our work more visible, etc.)
- We need to transform the way we do this work
Step 3. Define What Needs to be Communicated
Staying in sync with one another is where the true art of virtual work takes place. Based on our experience, this is where the most experimentation, learning and practice needs to take place to get it right. What’s essential is talking through the kinds of communications needed (news, task, social, learning, etc).
- What do we need to communicate about as a team and how often?
- What does our leader need to communicate and how often?
- How do people want to be kept in the loop?
- How often do we want to connect in non-work ways so that we maintain our relationships and our sanity?
Step 4. Put Your Technology To Work
When you think about online collaboration and remote work to accomplish what you’ve outlined above, consider 5 major groupings of tech that easily integrate and work together to get work done well. The good news is that you already have tools that you can repurpose (like email, texting, video chat). You may have enterprise software that you’ve only scratched the surface with (like Microsoft Office 365). Or, perhaps you’re a smaller organization and can bring in new free or low cost tools (like Trello, Google Apps, or Zoom).
Note: Not everyone will have the same level of skill with these tools. Identify where people will need some learning, support, and help along the way.
Here are the types of tech you need:
Organizing Work and Planning / Task Management & Visibility
People need to know what needs to be done and when, who’s working on things, and when they are needed (tasks and activities). In our shop, we use a kanban tool that helps us to visually plan, manage, and track our work in real time. It’s terrific for keeping everyone informed about where activities stand, their status, and when things are done. These tools let us chat and @mention people so that they can respond to questions about tasks or items in the plan.
Document Collaboration & Storage
Having a place to store documents, files, data, etc. in the cloud is probably one of the more foundational tech for remote work. We have to have access to the things we’re building, sharing, approving, etc. We use Google Docs for co-creating drafts using Google Docs. We also use Box to store files that we share externally with clients because of its security.
Chat & Real Time Communication & Connection
Teams have been using real time chat (instant message and text) for some time. In the world of remote work, it’s even more important for collaboration and connection. When team members have different times they’re available (i.e. childcare and homeschooling), it’ll be important to make sure everyone knows what to expect in terms of responsiveness. We use Slack to stay in touch when we’re not on the phone. We have channels for categories of work but also a social channel so that we can have those water cooler conversations online. Group texts can also work for this.
Video Conferencing & Virtual Meetings
Using video conferencing and screen sharing will improve the impact of your meeting time while remote. We suggest using video as frequently as you can because our communication, listening, and connection are improved (seeing faces is a big deal). We can also use screen sharing to pull up a Trello board so that everyone can see what is being worked on. We use Zoom for our web conferencing, but you could just as easily use your smart phone’s video conferencing technology (like Facetime) for small groups. You may also need a meeting scheduler if you don’t have shared calendars. For that we use Doodle.
Tools: Zoom, GotoMeeting, Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, Doodles (for scheduling)
Announcements & Longer Communication
Email still serves a purpose! Sometimes, there are communications, news, announcements, or information that just doesn’t fit in a chat channel or a text. Email is great for summarizing a series of updates, sharing large announcements, etc. We do suggest going to real time chat for conversations within the team to avoid inbox clutter. You may also want to use video to record an update and post it to your document storage environment so everyone can see it.
Tools: Email, Video, Internal Intranet Site, Microsoft Teams
Step 5. Try Experiments and Make Agreements
This is a time when leaders and teams are trying to “figure it out.” Our team is constantly designing better ways to stay in sync and collaborate using our technology toolkit. We practice experiments when we aren’t sure if something is going to work or not. We agree to “try it” for a period of time and then if it works, we agree to it going forward. It’s also important to explicitly make agreements so that everyone knows how technology will work. To read more about how this works read here.
The most effective way for teams to transition into new ways of working and organizing is by experimenting. Experiment with new tools, new ways of syncing work, and new ways of communicating and keeping everyone aligned and engaged.
Here’s how it works.
With whatever you want to try, first ask: “what matters to us as we (work remotely or insert what you’re trying to do)”. Get everyone involved in his conversation so everyone feels included and heard. People support what they help create, so this is important.
Next, drawing from what matters, invite people to propose experiments to try. These detail exactly what everyone will do and for how long you will do the experiment. Ask for any exceptions and concerns to factor into the experiments so they are realistic and set up for success.
Agree on an experiment, do it, and at the end critique it together. Critique includes three questions: What worked well and why? What did we learn? What would we do differently in the future? If you need to, make tweaks. When the results call for a new experiment, re-experiment and move forward from there.
This simple process makes it possible to work from mutually defined and tested agreements rather than assumptions. You’ll get more aligned, which is key,because alignment = velocity as you learn and perform as a team.
For more on how to apply agreements to anything related to teams working together, get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org