Tips for academics who are researching/teaching from home?

I was asked the following question on twitter (

Q) What are your top tips for academics who are researching/teaching from home?

A) Hey, 👋 I’ve got five tips which may help

1) Firstly, remember right now is crisis working, and not true remote working

2) Redefine productivity. Think about Writing journal articles as a project (not a task). Break the project into manageable steps and allocated a timebox to work on that step.

3) Work the time available, and it’s probably not 9-5. It may be knowing that it’s a 30 min window before the kids wake up, or after they’ve got to bed (if you’ve got the energy). Plan the most important task for that uninterrupted window.

4) if you’re managing a team—have a group comms channel, so it’s easy for you to co-ordinate your work and let your teammates know when you are/aren’t available.

5) Keep a paper or video diary of what you’ve done with your time. It will help you to remember just how productive you have been, even if you can’t measure it in publications.

HTH 🙂 if you or your friends from #academictwitter have any other qs then please reach out 🙂

What your business should be thinking about when planning for a future of remote work.

It’s looking more an more likely that remote work will be an ongoing feature of our working lives.

It’s been a big adjustment getting to this point, but now’s the time to plan for an extended period of remote work.

Answer the following questions and be honest:

1. What important activities have you or your colleagues had to put off/not be able to do without being at the office?

2. What limitations has there been in your, and your colleagues ability to communicate and collaborate effectively?

3. How easy has it been for you and your colleagues to share and access data and files, without having to resort to sending documents via email? (Email is a close channel of communication meaning that documents will get out of sync when modified by multiple colleagues)

4. How well have you been been able to support your colleagues to fully participate in their work activities even if they are unable to attend in real-time?

5. Do you and your colleagues have clarity on what you’re being asked to achieve and by when, and do you have access to all the tools, data and assets they need to complete the task?

If you answer no to one or more of these question then now’s the time to work on your longer-term remote working strategy.

Not all collaboration tools are created equally.

Q) What tools should we use to support our remote work?

A) As a rule we try not to focus on tools. For us the tool ≠ goal, we want people to focus on the principles behind good remote working practices first and then find the best tools they can to support it.

As a refresher the basic principles of remote working are:

  • Trust – Trust that your workforce will do the right thing, it’s natural to want to interrupt them frequently to make sure they’re working but resist. Without trust your remote working experience will be poor and you’ll create stress for yourself and your team.
  • Clarity – Make it clear what you want your team to achieve and by when. Allow your team the space and time to work towards those goals.
  • Transparency – Find tools that enable your team to share their progress, outputs and to communicate with their colleagues and stakeholders easily.

Out of the three principles Transparency is the only one that refers to the tools we use.

We recommend using tools designed to support remote working such as Slack or Microsoft Teams

  1. These tools support open channels of communication, meaning that team mates can be aware of what’s going on with the rest of the team without actively participating in that conversation.
  2. These tools have persistent chat channels. That means that everything you write in the channels is preserved when the team has change and moved on. This historical record is invaluable for on-boarding new team mates and helping existing team mates remember what’s been done before.
  3. They are available on as both desktop and mobile applications meaning you can easily access any shared outputs or chat from either platforms without having to copy and paste content from one app to another.
  4. They have video conference built in (or can easily integrate with a video conferencing provider). As you collaborate more digitally you will experience the limitations of the chat. At some point you’ll want to move the conversation to a video conference. Swapping out to another app, away from the documents and previous conversations can reduce your productivity and make the meeting less productive.
  5. It’s important to use a tool that’s distinct from the ones you might use to chat to family and friends. Tools like WhatsApp, SnapChat and Facebook messenger are personal chat tools and should be left for that context. It’s easy to blur the lines between work and home. Using separate tools helps to create a distinction.

There are also some really good security reasons.

  1. Most collaboration tools, have much stronger security features, such as single sign on which protects your data from external threat. It also allows you to remove access to, or content from staff members who leave the organisation.
  2. Most collaboration tool vendors have European data centres which adhere to European privacy laws which protect the data hosted in them, and your companies intellectual property.

Personal chat tools typically do not have these features and should be avoided when discussing sensitive business matters, or clients related topics.

While you can use any tools that support ‘chat’ to collaborate with your teams, finding the right digital collaboration tool now will pay dividends in the future.

Resist the urge to choose what you’re familiar with just because it will dig you out of a hole now. Take the time to find, and adopt a dedicated digital collaboration tool and ensuring it works for all your use cases. 

Pay particular attention to mobile/desktop use, how you’ll share and collaborate on documents, and how you’ll escalate discussion from chat, to video and your remote working journey will become a LOT easier.

In December 2018 Gary Walker and I wrote a book called Ready For Remote. We wrote it to help business adapt to the changing work environment caused by remote working.

If you need any further tips then drop me or Gary Walker a note and we’ll be happy to assist. Don’t forget you can see some more useful content on Or if you fancy, our book Ready for remote is available on Amazon.

Remote working: the pressure is about to build. How non-realtime communication will save the day.

UPDATE 2/4/2020 – On Sunday 29th March the deputy chief medical officer of the United Kingdom indicated that this ‘lockdown’, in some form or another, could last for 6 months, so now it’s even more important to consider how your organisation can be productive whilst being sensitive to the unprecedented demands on their employee’s attention.

Your team members are going to be under an immense amount of pressure, doing their work, homeschooling their children, looking after loved ones. In addition with all nonessential shops shutting their doors for the next 3 weeks the nation’s broadband infrastructure is going to be under immense pressure.

This is going to be a tipping point for how effective your remote working strategy is. You will notice that:

  • Some people will not be as responsive as you may like, either due to technology or pressure on their private lives.
  • Some people will not be able to connect to virtual meetings properly due to technical issues.

Your primary responsibility is to ensure that your team members are okay, there may be little you can physically do but noticing and supporting is the order of the day.

After that, you may need to consider going ‘async’ with your communication (asynchronous means not in real-time). 

First of all accept that people may not be able to work at the exact times you need them to; owning this will limit any anxiety you’ll have about whether someone is working or not.

Then follow the basic principles of remote working: 

  • Trust – Trust that your workforce will do the right things, it’s natural to want to interrupt them frequently to make sure they’re working but resist. Without trust your remote working experience will be poor and you’ll create stress for yourself and your team.
  • Clarity – Make it clear what you want you team to achieve and by when, allow your team the space to work towards those goals.
  • Transparency – find tools that allow you to create ways for your team to share their progress and to communicate with their colleagues and stakeholders. You can use Slack, Teams, Basecamp. You can even use Skype, if that’s all you’ve got.

If you follow the principles then it’s easy to consider:

  1. How you might use a screencast uploaded to your collaboration tool to set the work. No need for a meeting at 09.00 when your teammate is trying to get their kids online learning platform working.
  2. If you have a daily stand-up then follow Basecamp’s advice, flip the narrative to create daily checkouts, ask your teammates to post a video or voice memo at the end of **their** workday detailing what they did today and where you can find the work.
  3. If you have review meetings, then screen record yourself reviewing the documents/code/designs and post that to the document author.

These DO NOT need to be worthy of a James Cameron production, **the only important thing is that you are clear in what you’re trying to communicate**. Video works best, because you can show the things you are talking about.

Remember, no one likes videoing themselves but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll get used to it. I hated videoing myself so much that I challenged myself in January to vlog for a whole month! It was painful at first but I finally got used to it. While I’ll never be an ‘influencer’, I’m a lot more comfortable with the process.

There are lots of really great tools you can use. I work on a Mac and have used Quicktime, Snag it and Camtasia. 

Recently, I have started to use Loom for screen recording as it has a nice simple interface and automatically uploads to a web interface which I can share easily in Slack.

Regardless, find a tool that works for you, then start using it to move to non-realtime communication and ease the pressure on yourself and your teammates.

In December 2018 Gary Walker and I wrote a book called Ready for remote. We wrote it to help business adapt to the changing work environment caused by remote working.

If you need any further tips then drop me or Gary Walker a note and we’ll be happy to assist. Don’t forget you can see some more useful content on Or if you fancy, our book Ready for remote is available on Amazon.

Slack and Teams

[Microsoft Teams Overtakes Slack With 13 Million Daily](Users

This is hardly surprised given the treasure trove that is Microsofts o365 Enterprise agreements, where it bundles Teams for ‘free’.

From one perspective Teams is equitable(ish) to Slack if you’re comparing features, but Slack still wins hands down on UX and extensibility.

Slack’s Problem

The biggest hurdle for Slack is how it migrates its predominately technical user base to be more organisation-wide. Something they’re working on, but even they will admit it’s a big challenge. This is why they’ve been pushing their aligned workforce strategy (which I think is exactly the right thing to do).

They know they need compelling use-cases which show off nontechnical workflows, something they’re working on really hard (especially as soon they’ll have a workflow builder you don’t need to code) but can they get non-technical teams to buy?

Hopefully! Now it has oodles of cash from its DPO it certainly has the money and opportunity to push a massive campaign into the heart of the enterprise.

Teams’ Problem

Teams have to ditch its ‘Skype for business replacement’ label and prove itself as a new digital collaboration tool shifting mindset from DMs and video conferencing to an open collaboration platform.

In my experience of a Teams deployment to a company of 5000 people currently, the most used features are:

  • Video Conferencing (Meetings)
  • Direct Messages

Most conversation happens in private channels DMs or private groups, and moving communications into open channels requires work, and modelling good behaviour.

Yes, this shift needs to happen within the corporate mindset but that is facilitated by tools, and pitching Teams as the new Skype for business bakes in the old, closed channel behaviour.

Also, there are odd limits on the number of users and channels per team.

Currently, only 5000 people per team which limits a large organisation from having a company-wide team for announcements and only 200 channel per team and that you’re not able to have a mix of open channels and private channels per Team.

These restrictions are limiting when you’re creating focused areas for discussion, and have a genuine need for some private spaces.

This is a legacy of having built Teams on o365 groups, rather than building new, for a new model of collaboration. I have a feeling this architectural decision will bite them in the arse.

Microsoft’s answer to the company-wide Teams argument (for more than 5000 users) is Yammer; yet another tool to fragment communication.

Shifting the mindset

Teams biggest strength is its footprint (anyone with an o365 subscription) but its weakness is how it’s marketed to replace a product which reinforces close communication channels.

Slacks weakness is its footprint. It’s small (requiring IT departments to pay for it in addition to other capital expenditure) but its strength is that it forces an open communication channel nudging user/org behaviour change.

Changing behaviour is where the long game is.

Personalised Enterprise Workflows.

To make the platforms work for the enterprise the development environment has to support internal app creation.

Currently is much, much easier to build apps for Slack than it is for Teams.

Slack’s API is consistently documented and essentially in one place.

Microsoft’s Development environment is spread across graph API (beta), bot kit and connectors making it surprisingly difficult to develop for. I expect this to consolidate over the next few years, but for now, it’s hard.


If like me you believe the future of work is digital collaboration in remote/distribute teams then how Slack and Teams evolve will have a massive impact.

For now Slack is king and as an organisation, you should seriously consider the true cost of ‘Free’ you may have to pay for Slack, but you will be investing in an open digital culture which will pay dividends in the long run.

Teams could get there, but it’s foundations are based upon a series of a closed communications tool, and it’s gonna take some time for this tool to open up.

Daily stand-ups for remote teams

I recommend having daily stand-ups via video conference so the team can talk about what they’re working on, ask for help, and strengthen team bonds.

However, one of the advantages of running a remote working team is that you can hire people in different time zones.

My current team consists of people who live in the UK and New Zealand, and I’m aware that daily stand-ups imposes a burden on Alex, our UX lead from New Zealand, especially when for 6 months of the year there’s a 13 hour time difference.

It’s possible for Alex to get a complete understanding of what the team’s been working on from the kanban board and collaboration tools, but as a team we’ve come appreciate the connectedness of the daily video calls.

If daily stand-ups work for you, and like us your team spans multiple timezones, then it’s important to ensure there are suitable overlapping working hours.

Alex usually starts work after the school run, has some time off in the afternoon and then resumes work in the evening, just as we’re starting to work in the UK. This time shifting has enabled us to put aside some time, UK morning, when the whole team is able to work together.

However, If I need to speak to Alex about a piece of work and there’s no need to include anyone else from the team, I will call him in the evening UK time, his morning, to redress the balance.

When setting a time for your standup (regardless of the time zones your team are working in) it’s important to pick a time and stick to it. The earlier the better, so the team can get on with their work without being interrupted.

If someone can’t attend the standup for whatever reason then it’s important they provide a written status report which can be included in the team discussion.

How long should the stand-up be?

I’m asked this a lot.

The stand-up should be as long as necessary. We have calls that last anywhere from 10 mins to 1 hour, depending on what we need to discuss.

I rarely allow the call to break over the hour mark, but if it does then so be it. I’d sooner we spent longer on a call to create the clarity we need to complete a task then cut it short and have the team go off and do the wrong thing.

What do you talk about?

Depending on the day we discuss the following:

  • Monday – Weekly goal confirmation, and any issues that are unresolved from last week.
  • Tuesday – Thursday – Task focused discussion, blockers, and briefing in any new work.
  • Friday – Task focused discussion, blockers, and a retrospective of what we’ve achieved this week.

That said, our stand-ups are pretty informal, sometime we walk the kanban board. Sometimes we do a round-robin. Sometimes it’s a show-and-tell.

Remote work shouldn’t lead to isolation for the team. Our stand-ups helps to connect to team to each and ensure that we have all the clarity and transparency we need to get our work done.


When i originally published Daily stand-ups for a remote working team. I got the following article recommended to me on Medium:

Status meetings are the worst kinds of meetings. Eliminate them and you’ll actually know more, save a pile of money…

Jason Fried offers a persuasive case for ditching daily stand-ups and using digital (written) check ins.

I agree this is a worthy goal. Daily stand-ups as, i mentioned in my article, are a burden especially to people working in different timezones. They are also quite redundant, if all you’re doing is walking the task list and restating what you’ve already written down.

However, remote working, especially in the early days, can be quite isolating. and quite a few people tell me they worry about missing people, not getting out of the house etc.

Managing a remote working team

Managing a remote working team isn’t as scary as it might seem. You need to focus on two changes:

  1. Embrace digital working.
  2. Compensate for the fact that your team isn’t in the same room as you.

Here are my guidelines on running an effective remote working teams.

  1. Select the right collaboration tool.
  2. Curate the working practices.
  3. Ensure the work is tracked.
  4. Establish weekly goals.
  5. Keep an eye on people’s working hours.

Select the right collaboration tool.

Having a set of digital tools that support ‘open’ conversations is essential, it is the bedrock of a functioning remote working team.

The primary goal is to create a digital environment where the team communicate as effectively and freely as if they are in the office together.

The secondary goal is to create a digital environment where discussions are open and accessible to team members so they can absorb what’s happening in other projects/discussions with having to be directly involved.

The secondary goal is the hardest to understand, but consider what happens in the office. You and a colleague might be discussing a issue on a project, another colleague might overhear and provide some insight which helps to resolve the problem quicker.

When everyone is working remotely, all there is is what’s visible on the screen. If that conversation isn’t happening in an open channel, then there is no way that other colleague could ‘overhear’ and jump in to help. They simply have no idea that conversation is happening.

Over the years, I’ve used several different tools to support this type of digital collaboration: Skype, Basecamp, Slack and Microsoft Teams. All have their pros and cons, and any one of them will help you to be successful. 

My advice is choose a tool which allows you to configure the notification settings. With all these open conversation going on you don’t want the team to enter notification hell. One of the benefits of remote working is to reduce interruptions, not increase them.

The collaboration tool should be set to DO NOT notify unless a person’s name, @all, @channel or @everyone is specifically mentioned (this is called an @mention, as most notification keywords start with the @ symbol). 

This puts the onus on the person writing the message to be clear who they want to be made aware of it, and reduces the interruptions on the rest of the team.

Curate the working practices

When embedding remote working practices into a new team I know that i’m going to have to curate the process.

My job is to remind everyone to:

  • Use the tools,
  • Track their work,
  • Show their work early and often,
  • Pick the most appropriate communication method — usually prompting people to switch from text to video conference when I can see things are being misunderstood,
  • Stop working ridiculous hours.

Having done this with multiple teams, across multiple organisations, over many years, I know there is no short cut to embedding a good remote working culture. In one particular team I had to call everyone up first thing in the morning to remind them to switch Skype on so the team could communicate effectively.

Start by creating a few core disciplines. These are the practices that as a team you will always follow to ensure you’re able to work well together.

Be contactable

  1. When you’re working, the collaboration tool is switched on and you’re showing as ‘available’.
  2. If you have to pop out, in a meeting, or don’t want to be disturbed you must update the ‘team status’ channel with a brief update on what you’re doing and set yourself to ‘away’ or ‘do not disturb’.
  3. If you have any doubt that what you’re typing is being misunderstood, start a voice or video call.


  1. If a task isn’t in ‘In progress’ then it’s not a task, and we have no business working on it.
  2. When a task is moved into ‘in progress’ it has to be assigned an owner; the person working on the task.
  3. A person can only have one task in ‘in progress’ at any one time.
  4. When a task is complete the task is immediately marked as complete, moved to the next column in the workflow, and a comment is added to the task detailing what’s been completed.

Ensure the work is tracked

I’m not talking a time and motion study type tracking here but It’s important for there to be a visible dashboard of what the team is working on, so that colleagues and stakeholders know what’s going on.

We use Trello, a digital kanban board, for this but I’ve also use Microsoft Planner and Basecamp to-do lists, which works just as well.

The purpose of the board is to make visible what the team is working on, and where in the delivery process it is.

I’ve come to believe that constructing a board which shows the state of the task (Backlog, Up Next, In progress, Complete) is a mistake as it’s hard to see from a glance where in the delivery process the task is.

Instead I favour a workflow based board (Backlog, Design, Dev, Deployed to Test, Deployed to UAT, Deployed To Prod), the beauty of this is that you can attach additional meaning to the columns.

For example, I know that when a task is in ‘Deployed to test’ my developer believes they’ve completed the work as per the specification, it’s been tested on their machine, peer reviewed, unit tested and deployed to the test server. When I’ve tested the feature I’ll label it ‘tested’, which is a signal to the developer to deploy to UAT, for further testing. When this is done, the card is moved to ‘Deployed to UAT’ and the tested label is removed.

If this task was visible only in an ‘in progress’ column then the team would have to spend more time interrogating the cards, adding additional statuses, comments and labels just to get the same type of information.

The workflow is visualised from left to right, and the priority of the task runs from top to bottom, with the most important item being at the top. I often use and ‘Up Next’ column to be explicit about what the next most important task is.

The priority order is fluid, we often change priorities based up on stakeholder feedback, or external factors but once a task is in progress it’s there until it’s completed.

I prefer the team focus on one task to completion and will, unless it’s a emergency, not disrupt ‘in progress’ work. Our tasks usually last no more than a couple of days so the delays aren’t great, and the work is staggered meaning that someone is usually free to pick up the ‘emergency task’ sooner.

Establish weekly goals

At the start of each week I like to reiterate to the team, either verbally or digitally, what our goals are to ensure the team is focused on what’s important and to make clear our outcomes for the week.

Keep an eye on people’s working hours.

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about remote working is “Aren’t you worried that people will get distracted and not put in the hours?”

In my experience the opposite is true, I’ve noticed that every remote team I work with, work longer hours. This is because without a commute people naturally repurpose that time for work, instead of driving for an hour to start work at 09.00, they start work at 08.00. Instead of finishing work at 17.30 to drive home for 18.30 they finish work at 18.30.

I try my best to be aware of the hours my team are putting in and I frequently have to remind them to switch off and stop working, when I believe it’s becoming excessive.

One of the benefits of remote working is a better work-life balance. Working more hours, every single day, is not conducive to that.

8 good reasons for choosing remote working.

When you first start looking into remote working it’s easy to get caught up in, or turned-off by, the evangelical zeal that accompanies the topic. 

So, I thought I’d share with you the main reasons given to me for starting remote work.

Office Space issues

  • You’re running out of space in the office for new/growing teams.
  • You’re refurbishing the office and don’t have enough space while that’s happening.
  • You want to save money on the cost of office space/rent.
  • You’re working on an moon-shot project and want to protect the project team from interruptions.

Access to skilled workers

  • You want to hire skilled workers from the rest of the world.
  • You want to hire someone with specialist skills that are either scarce or in high demand.

Employee benefits

  • A valued employee has had a lifestyle change such as their spouse’s job has changed, or they’ve had a child and you don’t want to loose them.
  • You want to give your team flexibility over when/how they work.

As you can see the reasons for choosing remote working are mostly utilitarian or mundane, they are definitely not making a statement about the future of work.

However, by choosing remote working they were able to solve a problem, and enjoy a slew of other benefits such as increased productivity and increase staff loyalty.

Is your team ready to work remotely?

More and more people are wanting to remote work. As a manager how can you say yes and be confident that your team will be successful?

My checklist below will help you decided.

Are you Ready for Remote? checklist:

  1. Do you trust your team to complete their work in an unsupervised environment?
  2. Do you already allow for work from home days?
  3. Does your team spend 80%-90% of their time mediating their work through a screen?
  4. Do you use a digital collaboration tool as your primary mechanism for coordinating work?
  5. Does your team have clarity about the work they need to complete on a daily/weekly basis?

Do you trust your team to complete their work in an unsupervised environment?

Without trust remote working doesn’t work. If you don’t trust your team then you’re doomed to failure because you’ll end up interrupting them just to reassure yourself they’re working.

If you do trust your team then you’re one step closer to saying yes and enabling your team to remote work.

Do you already allow for work from home days?

Working from home and remote working aren’t the same thing; the goals are different.

Working from home gives a team member temporary leave of absence from the office. If the setup isn’t right then the risk of an employee missing out on key pieces of information, or being unproductive is limited. Typically they are back in the office in a couple of days and any issues can be resolved relatively quickly.

Remote working gives a team member the ability to work away from the office for weeks or months at a time. Any issues with the setup can cause problems if they aren’t resolved quickly, seriously impacting on productivity and undermining the success of any remote working initiative.

If you are able to support working from home then you should have some of the building blocks in place to enable remote working.

Does your team spend 80%-90% of their time mediating their work through a screen?

This is a no brainer, if your team spends most of their time completing their work digitally, then they are already prime candidates for remote working.

There are two thing likely to stop your team from making a success of remote working, they are:

  • What they spend the rest of their time doing, and if those tasks can be moved to a digital channel.
  • What external access is there to the tools/systems they need to do their job.

Remaining time

If your team spends most of the rest of their time in meetings then you should ask yourself if they can be conducted via a video conference using Skype for Business or Hangouts? 

Most people are used to telephone conference but modern video conference tools can provide a much better remote meeting experience.

If your team spends the rest of their time in design/code reviews, can this be achieved digitally with tools such as Invision, GitHub or Visual Studio online etc.

You’ll be surprised what tools are available to replicate day to day activities digitally. 

With some common-sense guidelines such as ensuring the tool use SAML for integrating with your authentication directory. You can be sure that you’re still in control of your companies data.

Access to tools

If there is no external access to the tools and systems the team needs to do their jobs, then remote working may not be possible without lots of workarounds.

Whilst it’s possible to email yourself all the files you need this is a sure-fire route to becoming unproductive, and can have significant security implications.

At the very least a VPN will be required to allow access to internal file servers and tools. However, given most people’s experience of using a corporate VPN you’ll want to give serious consideration to using a secure file syncing tools such as OneDrive, or DropBox. These tools make it much easier to access documents without annoying colleagues to send you the most recent versions.

Do you use a digital collaboration tool as your primary mechanism for coordinating work?

This is critical, if you’re already using a collaboration tools as the bedrock for coordinating your team’s work then you’re 95% there.

A remote worker needs confidence that when they’re not in the office they are still ‘involved’ in the project, and are not being left out of key conversations.

If you are not using these tools already then this is the first step. It seems strange at first to use a collaboration tool to talk to a colleague you’re sat next too, but it’s essential for creating transparency and clarity which is a fundamental principles of remote working.

At its simplest all you need is a chat client with persistent groups (group chats that don’t expire). Invite your project team and, use that for all future team and project discussions. 

When I first started remote working, I used Skype with a couple of named groups to run a team of 6 UX designers for 6 months.

When setting up your collaboration tool, it’s typical for most conversations to happen in private chat sessions. This should be avoided, all conversations should be in open channels unless privacy is absolutely critical, such as when discussing project financing, team performance etc.

To make this openness bearable everyone should change their notification setting to only notify when they are @mentioned or @channel mentioned. The onus is on the person posting the message to notify the right people when they want to draw their attention to a message.

Using open channels for communications has the secondary benefit of helping everyone become more aware of what’s happening across the whole team. It also ensures that the team is more likely to offer help and support each other which becomes even more import in a remote working environment.

Will email work?

Yes, but…..

One of the key drawbacks of using email is that conversations happen in private channels. Unless you included everyone which as everyone knows from bitter experience can get very frustrating.

It’s also very difficult to ensure you have the most up-to-date view of a project, as conversation tend to go off at tangents and sub-conversation are created without all participants knowing they exist.

Does your team have clarity about the work they need to complete on a daily/weekly basis?

When people work remotely they need absolute clarity on what you want them to achieve, and by when.

Make use of project management tools, such as Trello, to detail the ‘in progress’ work and ensure that the team keeps the board up to date. That way you’ll all have a clear idea about whats being worked on and what’s up next.

If you can answer yes to all points above then you should feel confident that you can run a successful remote working experiment.

If not then hopefully you’ve been able to take away some tips to help you create an environment for remote working to flourish.

Are you ready for remote working?

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.

Team Principles

  • Trust, clarity and transparency
  • Communicate early, communicate often
  • If in doubt go voice… even better go video.