Following on from our last blog on why we chose remote working, we’re sharing some of the innovative tools we use to ensure remote working is productive, collaborative, connected and sociable.
The nature of the workplace is changing. In his prescient 2005 TedTalk, Clay Shirky spoke about business changing from closed groups to open fluid networks. Some key trends will see a considerable transformation in how work is conducted and where it’s conducted, pushing the remote working option into the mainstream.
- The continuing distribution of organisations
- The increasing shortage of knowledge workers
- The demand for more work flexibility
- The availability of enabling technologies and social collaboration tools
- The pressure for more sustainable organisations and workstyles
Collectively, these trends will push work and workplaces to be more global across time zones, distributed within regions, and personalized. According to Knoll Workplace Research, the centralised workplace is not going away; however, they will be different, with a greater variety of work settings to support a greater diversity of need. The corporate office will transition to a meeting or collaboration centre for critical face-to-face meetings, such as customer sales and training, intensive work sessions and social events.
Increasingly, top companies from brand-new startups to established industry leaders are realising the amazing benefits of remote employees. Companies like Netflix, IBM, Dell, Airbnb and Salesforce are just a few of the best and most recognisable examples of companies leading this out-of-office revolution.
With nearly 35 percent of the U.S. workforce now classified as freelancers, companies must adapt to the growing challenges that relate to management of remote employees.
As a remote team, here’s what we’ve learned at One15 about keeping productivity, morale and creativity high and the tech tools that enhance connection, collaboration and project management.
Rule #1 Build Strong Relationships
Communication is always important within a team, but within a remote team, it takes on added significance. You need to foster effective communication – getting your point across clearly and succinctly, showing empathy and understanding, in a manner that doesn’t interrupt your teammates workflow. The ability to spontaneously connect with one another in our virtual office is honestly the best way to keep everyone connected.
Rather than isolating and alienating workers as one might assume, workplace technology can bring them together and facilitate greater levels of collaboration and innovation.
We have a few different platforms and standards for communication. First off, the entire team has a bi-weekly “Stand-Up” meeting to discuss individual progress. For this we use Zoom, which unifies cloud video conferencing, simple online meetings, and cross platform group chat into one platform. It allows for face-to-face video, high-quality screen sharing and instant messaging. Also, managers have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with their direct reports to find out how they are doing and what they need to be more successful.
Facebook Workplace is our intranet and the main communication tool we use to exchange news, updates and useful reading resources and also for virtual chat and informal banter. Workplace is both a desktop and mobile app much like Facebook, but for your colleagues to socialise and communicate. The platform sports the same features as its friends and family network counterpart such as News Feed, Groups, direct messaging, live video, reactions, translation features, events and video and audio calling.
For us, ‘Work Chat’ eliminates the need for multiple, time-consuming emails threads and it doesn’t prove distracting as you can pick and choose whether to hear notifications (if you’re doing highly concentrated work) and ensures you can ping back quick answers in a non-disruptive way. There’s also a video function, for fast, impromptu calls, where necessary or to deliver a company-wide video broadcast with the latest developments.
Recognising the good work of employees and celebrating milestones in an announcements group is another Workplace feature that builds team engagement and company pride. There’s also a social group so you can post random chit-chat – our watercooler to exchange the latest banter on House of Cards. It offers cohesive communication and connection with minimal disruption and its pan-company so it gives everyone a voice.
Tools like Workplace and Slack help remote teams collaborate asynchronously – that is, not simultaneously with others – to check in and respond to message threads and document changes as their schedules allow. This is becoming almost essential as teams become more distributed across multiple time zones as well as for busy workers juggling multiple teams and projects.
Rule#2 Enable Productivity through Accountability
“I am OK but have too much to do – crazy things I said I’d do long ago seem to be crowding around…I can’t get those long calm necessary pieces of time”, Iris Murdoch, novelist and philosopher
In a traditional office, checking on employees’ day-to-day progress and altering the course of their work is a relatively straightforward process. But monitoring the performance of people you can’t see is quite different. It is all too easy for an employee to flounder for some time without his or her manager’s knowledge. We use the project/task management tool Trello to give an aerial view of team objectives and progression. It is important to have a remote project management platform in order to get the job done with the best possible outcome, all the while monitoring progress, cost, communication, and delivery.
Trello is a visual-based project management platform using the concept of boards ( which correspond to projects) and within boards, there are cards (which represent tasks). It lets you manage projects, update the necessary info and exchange files from different sources (e.g. Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox). The cards contain lists which can be used to track the progress of a project or to simply categorise things. As a project management and collaboration system, Trello enables members to discuss a project or a task in real-time. It keeps everybody informed through task assignments, activity log, and email notifications. Members can easily be added to a board where they are free to vote on ideas contained in the cards. Some drawbacks we’ve encountered include the lack of an intuitive way to link cards (though you can do it manually) and the lack of a bird’s eye view of where you are on a project progression.
Our CTO, Dave Albert discusses the thought process and rationale for selecting the various tools we use here:
Trello is also key from a management perspective. In a remote team, there is a lot of trust. You trust people are putting in the hours each day to get the job done because you are not (nor should you be) looking over their shoulder. And why would you ever hire someone you couldn’t trust in this way anyway? Through use of a tool like Trello, it’s easy to see tasks getting completed and milestones being met.
‘Discipline’ is often touted as one of the biggest challenges for someone in a remote team. You have to have a personal drive to get out of bed and ‘get to work’ even though that might be at your kitchen table or home office. Trello can also be a support here, helping you keep track of what needs to be done so you can manage your time.
We also have a daily “Stand-Up” on Workplace Chat where the team describes their key tasks achieved yesterday, their goals for the day and any impediments, which gives a shared view of what everyone has on and how we can deliver support to one another (or complain that the day is simply too short to get everything done). Venting these frustrations is also vital in a remote team as it can be isolating at times and you can feel you are the only one suffering so the group therapy is a definite plus.
Rule #3 Go ROWE: The Results Only Work Environment
We operate under a Results Only Work environment – employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long as their work gets done. Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ at the office. The concept behind ROWE is that when employees have control over their lives and they are able to work when and where they feel most productive and they’re able to balance work and family demands, they will be more incentivised to produce.
We have a shared collaboration window where everyone is online simultaneously and able to chat. When people are given control over their own time, they focus and get the job done quickly because it’s in their interest to do so. To manage a team successfully in this culture, you need to hire well (remote working does not suit everyone), ensure that you build a solid foundation of trust, and define job descriptions so that everyone understands what they’re there to do and how their individual tasks and projects map to the company’s objectives.
The most important part of working successfully when you go ROWE is setting clear, meaningful and measureable goals for your team, and monitoring their performance. Discuss this with them individually, and ensure they agree that each one is relevant and fair – then hold people accountable for delivery of these goals.
We have a Tracking Progress board on Trello which is a central location to house individual projects and how these feed into overall business objectives, ensuring everyone is doing the right things to drive growth.
Rule #4 Build a Virtual Team Culture
Lack of team cohesiveness is a common concern when managing remote teams as it often leads to serious problems – loss of focus, disengagement, and increased stress levels and burn-out – that can hamper an offsite team’s success. To overcome this challenge, it is vital that managers create a virtual team culture, fostering the same warmth, camaraderie and relationship-building that an office brings.
You also need to continuously work at sharing frameworks and tips on ‘etiquette’. As the team grows, things inevitably start to become strained and processes that were previously ‘learned’ or just ‘known’ need to be documented and shared. We use both Trello and Confluence to support this.
In order to foster a strong team culture we:
- Encourage social interaction with tools: We use Facebook Workplace chat to communicate and follow conversations in real-time, offering an opportunity to build a stronger sense of community and engage in a fun way. A dedicated space on Facebook Workplace allows for social interactions – we’ve even established a Book Club where we can review books we’ve read and share the learnings.
- Encourage an environment of open dialogue and shared ideas: Trello and Facebook Workplace are great tools for sharing content that’s relevant.
- Acknowledge success and call out accomplishments: Everyone loves a pat on the back.
- Invest in personal development: Offering free trainings and reimbursements for personal growth go a long way in developing culture. It helps employees make leaps within their professional life and keeps them happier.
- Stay Positive: It can’t be stressed enough, that the most important thing for a team is to have a positive environment where people feel safe to express themselves and experiment. Without the right culture as a foundation, tools and processes won’t get you very far.
Rule #5 Always improving
In any company things are never, and can never be perfect. There’s always elements you can improve in terms of strategy, processes or culture. We use Confluence as our ‘wiki’ to document ‘how’ we do things and keep that as a living system. Everyone in the team can map out new and improved ways of doing something and we share it in Confluence so it can be constantly improved. This ‘test, learn and improve’ mentality is something we carry through all aspects of the company.
We also transparently share our business objectives and progress with all the team so everyone knows the focus areas and can also better anticipate or understand the decisions being made.
There are considerable challenges when managing a remote team – communicating virtually, managing performance, building trust, managing across cultures and dealing with ambiguity. When high levels of trust are established, and virtual teams make smart use of technology, all the evidence suggests that virtual teams have the ability to outperform their traditional counterparts. In their 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte consultants Josh Bersin, Tiffany McDowell, Amir Rahnema, and Yves Van Durme argue the most successful organisations today are those that can move faster, adapt more quickly, learn more rapidly, and embrace dynamic career demands.
“Today, many organisations need a completely different kind of leader: a ‘digital leader’ who can build teams, keep people connected and engaged, and drive a culture of innovation, risk tolerance, and continuous improvement,” the report explains.
Technology is certainly an enabler but it will never replace the human touch. Creating genuine relationships is the key to employee motivation and engagement – regardless of whether the team is remote or not. Trust is the essential building block of any successful relationship.
We’re still learning and finding our feet. We’ll continue to share our experiences as we experiment with new approaches. If you have questions about what we’re doing, or advice for us, let us know.