As companies start implementing work from home policies, the key question that emerges is how to do this effectively. Teams that are used to face to face contact and meetings need to be taught new ways of working together to maintain effectiveness.
The good news is that work from home can often lead to an increase in productivity once these ways of working are mastered.
Through DYDX’s experience with working with companies across Europe and Africa on “future of work” and building team behaviours to support digitisation, there are a range of tips we can share.
The most important one is taking some time to set up new working agreements. This may seem arbitrary but changing how you work requires new agreements between people working together, to avoid unnecessary frustration and communication breakdowns. This is because a physical space provides a lot of social and spatial queues that we don’t have in virtual spaces or in remote working.
Nevo Hadas, Partner at DYDX, unpacks key areas that if not implemented successfully will lead to breakdowns. The opportunity is for the team to discuss and agree, thereby improving teamwork while remote:
- Immediacy: you are used to walking up to somebody to get an answer and now you sent them a message or an email and … nothing. Reaching an agreement regarding how long people will take to respond before you escalate and how to deal with urgent requests helps clear up a lot of frustration in the team.
- Shared Schedules: just because you can’t see people being busy doesn’t mean they aren’t. Team members should be good at sharing calendars of when they are at meetings or working on a document/project and should not be disturbed or won’t respond. This helps everyone understand what availability is. This also means that you should check a member’s calendar before calling them, if it’s urgent, send them a message and wait for a response.
- Economise your time: You will have a lot more calls now that you are remote, but not everything needs to be one hour. Think about the meeting structures and agendas carefully and allocate shorter periods of time. You would be surprised what can be achieved in 15/20 minutes of focused conversation.
- Agree on working hours. While there is the legislated time of work but that does not convert as effectively into virtual work as you would think. Now that you don’t have to commute, don’t use that time instinctively for working or sleeping. Develop a routine to use that time effectively, either exercising, reading or online study. While we may think that having calls/meetings for more hours is increasing productivity it’s actually not, there is a limit to how long you are effective in these mediums. Allocate time for deep-work (i.e. don’t disturb) versus meetings if possible.
Video/Voice Call etiquette and format
Video or voice call etiquette is a real thing. These elements always trip people up:
- Share the call location (i.e. dial-in number/links etc) on the meeting request
- Prepare the platform. If you don’t have the right software, download it before the meeting starts (see the tech section for more on that.)
- Have a good headset that is either plugged into your laptop or phone.
- Be in a quiet space.
- Mute when you aren’t speaking. Background noises can be very distracting.
- Have a clear agenda (just like a physical meeting).
- Use video if you have the bandwidth or at least for a couple of minutes to say hi, there is nothing wrong with doing voice only.
- Decide a meeting cut-off time i.e. if you haven’t joined the meeting in 10min, please don’t join late.
- Not all calls have to follow the same format. You can choose or create a variety of call formats that will increase productivity for the type of meeting. i.e. a decision-making forum could use individual voting (many online tools have this) and then a discussion.
- Checkin/checkout – what is done visually after a meeting by looking for discomfort in attendees needs to be done more consciously in virtual meetings. Take the time to ensure that everyone is on board by checking-in when closing a meeting.
- Distractions are a real challenge on calls and it is easy to lose people’s attention in key moments. Etiquette agreements can make this clear i.e. don’t respond to your emails while in the meeting.
- Having fun is still important. Create channels and spaces where people can share silly gifs or other jokes. Allow people to still enjoy communication but also agree on how to bring it back to the topic.
How will you share information and progress, is there a common folder everyone can work in, is there a directory structure? While these are obvious to many people the need to have a common space that you can use increases with remote working.
Take breaks throughout the day and recognise them as breaks, the fear is people will think you are slacking off but very few people actually work non-stop for 8 hours a day. Grab a coffee, take a walk, chat to a friend.
Different zones in the house may be useful, i.e. morning versus afternoon spaces, as long as they are quiet with low background noise or conference calls become a nightmare.
Choose tools that work for your teams i.e. don’t let IT dictate things that just don’t function for you. Experiment with different tools before deciding. Agree on the tools you will use and make sure everyone has them and knows how they work. If you have people who are new to remote working, dedicate some time to onboard them into how the new tools work. It only takes a few minutes but saves a lot of frustration.
Collaboration tools provide a new way of working together. Everything from slides to diagrams can now be done using these tools. You may find that you need more than one tool depending on what you are doing.
Here is our list of tools, though it may not be right for you:
- G-Suite (Google) – this is our basic workspace i.e. slides, docs, sheets (excel), storage, email all live here and allow us to collaborate on work done.
- Slack – this is our communication space. We have channels per project where teams discuss issues and share document links (the documents live in G-Suite)
- Asana – task management to ensure people are on track. Each person can update their own tasks which is a big plus and reduces unnecessary status calls and stand-ups.
- Lucid-chart – this is what we use for diagramming complex flows for designing working processes
- Pipefy – this is what we use for expense and invoice management and it is integrated with
- Xero – which we use for accounting.
- Zoom/Hangouts/Slack – is what we use for calls, but varying call quality may make us switch from time to time.
Even if you are highly experienced in working remotely, the practice of experimenting with new ways of working can improve your effectiveness and overall experience. Experiments don’t need to be anything big (e.g. today we will try a quick check-in before starting or a check-out at finishing), but do introduce some novelty and re-engage your team, it provides an active learning mindset that can build a team’s cohesiveness.
The most important factor for remote teams to be effective is not the productivity tools they choose, nor is it how smart they are. The most important factor for success in distributed teams is a common set of behaviours – an agreed team culture. Backed-up by research, our own experiences with global clients, and common sense, along with the Dutch government, we created the Culture Canvas: Making culture actionable to help you shape your team’s culture.
We have also created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to benchmark remote working capabilities and quantify team effectiveness, and a free ebook, me.we.us – Remote Team Management, where we provide recipes and formulas on creating an effective Team Working Agreement with your remote team.
You can find it and download the free eBook here.