Whether working remotely is a temporary situation due the current pandemic, it helps to know a few best practices when working with virtual teams. Here we share some important tips for getting used to a remote working environment.
During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected and our thanks go out to the medical professionals, grocery store workers, and food delivery drivers who are working nonstop to help contain this virus.
Unlike these heroes, many of us have the option of remote working, thanks to technology. In fact, technology plays an important role in helping to keep everyone safe by allowing more people to work from home and stay productive.
Do not miss this reading: 5 things that software industry can learn from Covid-19
Technology, helping to curb the impact of Covid-19
A couple days before the President issued a mandatory quarantine, here, at Hexacta, we made the decision to shut our offices and have everyone work from home. All 9 of our development centers and 1 office in Seattle are working remotely, and we are making sure that it won’t affect our productivity or our ongoing projects. We are making sure that the situation will not affect our clients and processes.
This is not a simple decision for anyone to make. Luckily, we have expertise in managing remote teams, and with clear processes already in place, the shift to 100% remote working was an easy transition.
Managing a remote team can be a big shift from managing an in-office team. Many of the things that you take for granted when working face-to-face can suddenly become tough challenges once everyone is working from home. Whether working remotely is a temporary situation or it is part of a larger strategy already set, it helps to know a few best practices. This is a good time to share some important tips for helping teams and partners get used to a remote working environment.
Content related: 5 myths about leading virtual teams with Agile companies
1. Establish good communication processes
Without a good system for communicating project details, even your most skilled team members will face an uphill battle when working remotely. They need to understand the project needs and the tasks required of them, and everyone needs to be on the same page about the priorities and what they are supposed to be doing.
That can even be challenging when having an in-house team that benefits from in-person daily scrums and instant access to water cooler discussions and other ad-hoc meetings that help keep communication flowing.
At Hexacta, every team maintains frequent communication with leaders, Product Owner and every stakeholder involved in the project. The way we work has not been affected because technically, we are totally prepared for these kinds of contingencies. Here is our advice:
Use multiple communication tools
To ensure good communication with a remote team, it is all about establishing clear processes. Setting up a diversity of channels with multiple points of contact is a good way to ensure everyone finds a method/channel that works for them.
With the abundance of digital tools available, do not be afraid to use more than just one. Connect with team members and encourage them to connect using several or all of the following methods:
- Zoom video
- Group chats
- Text messaging
Help everyone get set up in advance
Before all the remote work measures were taken at the Hexacta offices, the management team along with the Project Managers and the IT department worked on what was necessary to guarantee that every single worker could access the internal networks from home. They also sent out a protocol to everyone to follow to ensure the network can deliver the necessary resources with the increased capacity.
Consider working asynchronously
In the traditional office setting, where everyone is physically located in the same building, it is common for managers and leaders to have quick, impromptu meetings. Humans are social and we often tend to favor real-time discussion. With remote teams, however, we do not always have this luxury. Fortunately, there are ways to adapt to working together without having regular meetings. Collaborating with remote teams works best when you learn how to work asynchronously.
Meetings allow for instant responses to questions, with immediate follow-up questions. Asynchronous communication allows for communication on your own time, freeing everyone from the need to sync up. They can, for example, catch up on communications when they feel more productive doing so rather than when someone else commands a meeting or interrupts their flow with questions or a discussion. It means they can ask a colleague a question any time they feel like it, via Slack, for example, and go back to working instead of waiting around for an answer. It allows for team members to arrange their time in the way that they are most productive, with long stretches of focus time.
Schedule some face time
Working asynchronously helps with productivity and efficiency. That being said, it is also important to find moments to schedule video meetings. Seeing people’s faces and hearing real laughter helps strengthen ties among team members and with managers and partners as well. Every Hexacta team has scheduled a certain amount of virtual meeting time to keep track of the process of everyone.
2. Build a strong remote team culture
If you have never worked with a remote team before, you might wonder how it is possible to build a strong culture when the team does not benefit from in-person interactions. Culture-building takes time and there are definitely a few extra challenges when your teams are remote but it is by no means impossible. These tips are written based on how we build company culture for remote teams but you can adapt them to any business model in any industry.
- Make time to work in cultural matters and get to know the cultural differences in the team locations
- During the hiring process, take into account the time zone of your candidates — closer time zones will facilitate communication and minimize cultural differences
- Be forthcoming with the company’s mission and be sure the company values are coming across with your communications. Do not forget the outsourcing company you have chosen must share your own values.
- During the hiring process, make fluency in a common language a consideration
- Always keep in mind that there is a real person behind every email, every text message, every Slack chat
- Encourage everyone to have some communication tools on their phone in case they lose power on their laptops.
- Set up a protocol for when last-minute issues appear (the network shuts down, etc.) Our IT team is prepared to face these kinds of challenges and solve problems asap
The most important best practice of all: be helpful
Sometimes remote work is a choice and other times it is thrust upon us by forces that we cannot control.
For many companies, the Coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing is the external push that finally brings remote work into the picture. As everyone adjusts to the new normal, many may find that there are some real advantages to working remotely.
For those who are new to remote teams, technology will play an important role in keeping everyone connected and productive. There will be hiccups, however, as everyone adjusts.
Our final piece of advice: extend patience and respect in these challenging times as your employees get used to their new work environment. Consider daily check-ins to monitor how everyone is doing and finally, keep calm and positive and avoid criticism during this time of unrest. For example, Hexacta has organized virtual meetings with all the employees so they can get the latest news about the crisis, learn how we are dealing with the situation within the projects, and get answers to their questions.
Be a source of stability and remind your teams that nobody is alone. Even when working remotely, we are all in this together.
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