So, here are a few thoughts on the Remote working.
Culture, attitudes etc.
The hardest part of remote working is adapting to the cultural attitudes of people not being in the office.
The only way to change this is to build a culture of visibility, through digital tools, which benefits office based and remote workers.
People have to be trusted to get their tasks done, but a remote worker has to be able to show evidence of having done the work, as I tell my daughter about her maths homework, “you’ve got to show your working out”.
Tools like Microsoft Teams (trust me on this, Microsoft have done a good job with Teams. We’ve been using it since its beta launch, December 2016, and have seen nice adoption figures in non-technical users. Also, it’s free in Office 365 so it’s a good bet for large companies who already have a licence arraignment with Microsoft) or Slack, Invision, Basecamp etc. create a digital workspace where people can post status updates, ask for help and upload their work to a central location for review. This replicates most of the things a person does in a physical office, making it much easier for the team to get their work done.
The point is when someone is working remotely you lose the ability to observe what they’re doing on a day to day basis. Instead they have to be measured on their output.
Team spirit and values
This was my biggest area of concern for the team, will remote working fracture a good team culture?
The answer is no, you combat this issue by having an open ‘water cooler’ channel for the whole team to chat and/or daily video chats, as if they are in the office together.
You must also arrange regular get togethers so the team can meet, discuss their work and to blow off steam.
Tools, connectivity etc.
Remote teams need reliable access to digital tools, that they can connect to from wherever they are, whenever they want.
This means that as an organisation you must decided what’s accessible from outside the corporate network via VPN, and what’s hosted externally.
In my experience things hosted behind a VPN are more unreliable. When the VPN goes down so does the remote workers ability to work, just as when the network goes down in the office.
There are now hundreds of cloud based tools that can be secured by an companies internal authentication system. Tools such as Office 365, Invision, Slack, Github, Visual Studio Online etc. can all be secured by Azure AD, and are available on the open internet, making it so much easier for a remote teams to get their work done.
Internet connectivity is a big problem when you’re out and about. Mobile broadband is essential, and home broadband must be fast and reliable, especially if you want to do daily video chats.
Roles and tasks
I firmly believe that anyone who spends most of their time communicating through their computer is a candidate for remote working, but the tools they’ll need to support their tasks will be different.
Developers will need something different from designers or BAs. It’s important to ensure you provide the right tools to your team to enable them to be effective.
Typically you’ll need to shift from desktop to laptop machine, and for some people perhaps tablets are best.
A bit of background.
Before October 2013 I didn’t believe it possible to maintain a highly productive team and facilitate remote working, but given that at the time my team of 6 were going to be made homeless due to office consolidation I had to come up with a strategy to keep the team productive and functioning.
I spent two weeks analysing the team to see how they worked and discovered that 90% of the time they were working primarily through their computers.
When they did work together on a problem, the team would gather round someones screen to discuss things. I was certain that there were screen sharing tools and collaboration tools which could replicate the same thing. So we tried a few out and found some that worked for us and our stakeholders.
We spent a month using the tools in a traditional office based environments, so that the correct behaviours could be embedded. After that was successful we experimented with a week of complete remote working to see what additional problems there were.
After that we moved to complete remote working and the team is as gelled as it was before. An additional bonus has been that when we do meet up there is greater camaraderie than there was before.
I use the following principles with the team, which I think should be at the front of every remote team.
- Trust, clarity and transparency
- Communicate early, communicate often
- If in doubt go voice… even better go video.