Remote work in pandemic times
One of the best things about working in the IT industry is that we are in a state of constant digital transformation, which means that we are able to use technology to adapt our processes and meet the high standards of a fast-paced world.
It has been 7 weeks since we started to work entirely remotely at Tango, following the government’s recommendations to avoid the spread of the virus, but that doesn’t mean we are new in this game.
Just to add context, Tango has offered the possibility to work remotely, even before the pandemic situation. Consequently, we have been improving our process to manage distributed teams for the last decade. We know transitions to working remotely can strain your internal performance at the beginning if you’re not used to it, but it can help you get ahead of the curve.
You should be prepared for distributed teams, with or without the pandemic, for various reasons like increased productivity (35-40% more productivity), better quality (40% fewer quality defects), higher engagement rates (41% lower absenteeism), and higher profitability (21% higher) (Forbes, 2020). All of these reasons are driving companies to go remote.
Given the benefits and the current situation, organizations are preparing to invest in remote teams more than ever, so we need to find a way to train ourselves to dive into this not-so-new way of working.
Here are 5 points that I’d like to keep in mind each time that I need to work with distributed teams.
1. Trust isn’t negotiable:
According to the research report “Why Trust is Critical to Team Success” by Reina and the Center for Creative Leadership, trust is a must for you and your team. By building trust you can:
- Deepen the engagement of your talent
- Foster collaboration
- Drive change
“Trust building helps teams step into the ambiguity, to stay committed to managing the unknown with confidence, and to embrace change as an opportunity to learn, grow, and do great work together.” (Rina, PhD, Reina, PhD, and Hudnut, MIA, 2017)
2. Communication is key:
The lack of communication can lead to the worst outcomes. N. Sharon Hill and Kathryn M. Bartol wrote an interesting article about communication that is worth giving a try: Five Ways to Improve Communication in Virtual Teams.
The book “From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams” mentions:
The first principle for successful geographically distributed agile teams is to establish acceptable hours of overlap. The Key is enough communication time and sufficient communication tools.
According to Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby, authors of “From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams.”, an agile team requires a minimum of four hours of overlap a day for sufficient collaboration. Teams without the possibility of adequate hours of overlap can avoid chaos if they follow an organized agenda.
3. I need a committed team:
This is important to keep up with the Continuous Delivery model we are following at Tango. I need to know I can trust my team will get the job done.
Increasing commitment involves the two aspects we previously mentioned: Trust and communication, according to “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” (Lencioni, 2019), also adding the importance of healthy conflict, which drives commitment to decisions, avoids an environment where ambiguity prevails.
Lencioni mentions in his book how the lack of commitment can lead to the avoidance of accountability, which results in inattention to results.
4. We should be looking for continuous improvement:
The Institute of Quality Assurance defined continuous improvement as “a gradual never-ending change which is focused on increasing the effectiveness and/or efficiency of an organization to fulfill its policy and objectives”.
This definition does not exclude the growth of your team, and that should encourage you to seek the improvement of your organization by the gains of your team members.
A way to keep teams motivated is by showing them that failing is part of the learning process and success comes with a lot of failures. No one is going to hit you if you break the staging server; just rollback and check what happened, taking on the responsibility to determine what you missed.
5. We should follow a methodology:
We decided to follow the Scrum methodology since it has worked the best for our team, but you can choose any methodology you think it’s most appropriate for your team.
Using a methodology will allow you to understand your processes better, know your limitations, be consistent across your projects, and it will give you consistent metrics and expectations.
In case you are interested in the Scrum methodology, let me share our routine.
On Monday, we start with our Sprint Planning meeting, adding a quick standup to check what the team did during the last working day. All work must be ready and without missing details. The whole team follows the Definition of Ready and the Definition of Done, so we don’t have chunks of non-working products. We run 2-week sprints, following the Scrum methodology.
We have a standup from Tuesday to Friday and don’t use a camera at all unless it’s our Retrospective meeting (We like the feeling of privacy in our teams), and when we do have our Retrospective meeting, team members feel motivated to turn on the camera, so we all interact.
Here are some practical tips I like to take into account when I approach any of my team members:
- Before calling my team, I ask myself: “Do I need to call them? Could a message or email be enough?”
- Icebreakers to start, don’t take too long, but that would make any meeting run more smoothly.
- When messaging your team, include the reason for the message right after the salutation. This is not rude, people’s time is essential, and just because you combine the greeting and a question doesn’t mean you don’t care about the person.
- Agree on the best time to have a call. Unless it’s an emergency, it’s better to have an arranged call than to cold-call your team members.
- If you create an event, always add the topic, so that everyone is aware of the discussion.
- Be patient. We all have to deal with bad internet connections, interruption by our pets, family, and other external situations.
Remote work is no longer just a perk, in fact, it’s more like a way of living. Let’s be more intentional about how we work and show that we can still be productive while adding value to the work we do while being a remote team member.
Productivity is a top concern for companies, but we found that working remotely actually makes us more productive overall. So, if you are in the process of transitioning to a distributed team, you can start by implementing some of the tips I shared here.
As an additional benefit, remote work has allowed me to join worldwide teams that share work-related ideas, workshops, and helped me to continue growing as a professional.
Have you observed any similar situations in your remote working experience? Let us know in the comments down below.